Galactic Era: Imperial Period Time: 5 ABY Keywords: Metellos, Gotal, BoSS Characters: OCs (Bess Heiger) Genre: Action Beta Reader: @Findswoman Resources: Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat: A Discourse by Craig Page; KOTOR game files; Haitian Machete Fencing The Dark Jedi Mardo & Bess: 3 Theirs is a visible world sheeted in grey. Smells are questionable as the olfactory sense is greatly reduced in one subspecies (the ones with the tiny noses), while absent in the other (the ones without). A pair of cones rise from the top of the head or emerge from the forehead. Misconstrued by the mob as simple horns, these ossified sensory organs are receptive to a wide band of the electromagnetic spectrum and an assortment of chemical compounds. Theirs is a world of rich perceptions. "But is it the right shade?" Bess asked of the vendor, a human female with drowsy, painted eyelids. The eyelids took one slow blink before the human's face assumed an honest glow and she stated that the lipstick did look very pretty on a Gotal. Bess Heiger had at least a foot on the human in terms of height allowing a few inches for Bess's blunt horns. Bending over the reflective mirror to examine her long grey face with its thin lips and button nose was unnecessary—it was a holdover from years spent with non-Gotals. "It looks black," Bess replied. "It's red." Bess's yellow eyes flicked again to read the innocence in the vendor's face. * * * It's been a while since I had real free time, Bess thought as she wandered the street market. The morning was still fresh paint. Sharp-winged sunlarks skeetered through purple boughs. A small human child jabbed his finger at the sparkling glass spires of the Qaagnal District as if those peaks might leap up and flee before his parental units could turn their heads. The billowy noise of aircabs and suspensor lorries was thick overhead while ground traffic grazed on the asphalt in the wide lanes. I like Metellos, Bess told herself as she moved through the marketplace colonnade. It's so much more sensible than the up-up-down-down-down of Coruscant. The very business-like meeting of three major avenues in the colonnade was dubbed the Zhangii Curve. Megalithic buildings clobbered together here giving the impression of stalwart soldiers bucking up for the daily biz: ‘Keep all that twisty-wisty touristy stuff down there, if you please; our top floors are flat-front trousers and Blackest Nebula perfume only.' In the small hours of that same day, Bess had rocketed through those skyrises in the frenzied rescue of Baron Basmere from Kanorge the Hutt†. Rifleman Mardo Tel was somewhere down in Midtown securing their final payment, while their Twi'lek companion, Cami'rytha, dipped their commandeered gunship in a nearby river. Bess was left to spin the convincing narrative for their planetary departure to BoSS. Just so, her wrist chronometer humbuzzed with a new message. The BoSS agent had changed the location of their meeting as a convenience to her. The real reason would be that something had tripped the bureau's binary sequencer filters. With Kanorge the Hutt screaming for the immediate and theatrical demises of Bess and her crewmates, business might best be concluded away from the office. BoSS's unofficial motto "Just register already" suggests the bureau's inclination towards trip accuracy over authenticity. BoSS prides itself on its star maps and hyperspace routes incessantly researched and released at a financial outpouring to drown the combined yearly economies of any two oversectors. To forgo a submission report with BoSS was to invite getting sucked into a sun or vie for the deepest accidental crater in the galaxy—currently held by the Ithorian Mimma Waawat for an impressive 6.33 kilometer divot on a small moon in the Bagini System. There were also the standard bureaucratic entanglements if caught without the appropriate slathering of visas and the licenses on the suitcase of intragalactic travel. Largely virtual, resourceful souls could still stop in at the local BoSS shop where their persuasive skills—or pheromones—could smooth over irregularities. And, Bess rationalized, holding up a bolt of decorative Zelosian silk cloth in front of the fabric merchant who tried appearing nonchalant by resting on an elbow, BoSS is less curious when there is a biological signature imprinted on the file. Luckily, my bland Gotal DNA complicates precise identification. * * * The new coordinates turned Bess onto a narrow street where stuffy limestone residences were busy reproaching an obtrusive stripe of morning sky. Each house corralled the same purple tree in the same small patch of grey soil out near the curb. The affluently pedestrian traffic reserved its best suspicious gazing for aliens like Bess with her confident stride, blunt horns, and cropped red hair. Children here would point, but not at towering skyscrapers. Bess stopped in front of the three-story marked by her wrist nav. The front door gave Bess a slack grin from the top of the stairs, but a small BoSS holographic decal gliwinkled in the sidelight window. The house overall exuded a prickling reluctance as if it contemplated a full manifestation. "A dampening field," Bess said. "How intriguing." She pushed the opened door wider and stepped into the entry way. "Ah-h, hello? Tuthsil Shabenac to see Agent Jost Bisu," she called, using the name on the identification chit tucked in her pocket. "We have a ten o'clock." The waiting-slash-reception room on her left sat starved of furniture. Bess was not surprised to find dry leaves fiddling like old spinsters in the corners. A gruff masculine voice rumbled up from someplace beyond. "In the back parlour." "Charmed, I'm sure," Bess muttered. She pressed through a set of wide wooden double doors at the back of the W/R, and three tall casement windows flashed her retinas with bright natural light. Nerf-herder's mistake, thought Bess as she blinked in the temporary blindness. Other senses unfolded —Jedi training called up. "You will come with us," the gruff voice said. Light and shadow disgorged a human shape near the wainscoting. He wore a thick leather cap and (cheap) battle goggles plunkered on his egg-shaped head; tan pants that might fit a Wookie consumed his lower half. His snub-nosed pistol pointed at Bess's chin. "If you wanted to dance at this springtime gala," Bess answered, soaking in the sensations of the low ballroom, "you're needing only to ask." He sweats. Nervous—but it's not just me. Fear is directed towards something—someone—else in the room. The underfed Duros at the servants' door gripping the beefy stock of a particle cannon—the lanky alien's posture screamed of uncertainty and ill training. Not it. A metal shockprod chattered to electric life to irritate Bess's horns with stinging static fuzzies. An instectial Gand rounded the stone fireplace mantel, scooting several paces away from the insecure Duros. Perhaps… her? Bess's head canted towards the low performance stage at the opposite end of the room. A scattering in my periphery, she thought. It's not an organic and rattling away in the lower frequencies. "Your friend on stage there," Bess called to Baggy Pants the Human Hitman. "His second-rate cloaking shield unit is playing raggedy jatz across the radio spectrum. Might as well have him join the party." Baggy Pants' pistol coughed, but the stun bolts collided with the swishing swash of white-on-blue. He cramped to a side, his gun arm now nerveless and numb. Twitchy the Duros brought his particle cannon up to fire, and Bess's head flinched in that direction. He lifted off his feet and launched through the door behind him. A loud crash and clatter of falling cookery escaped from what the Duros had just discovered as being the kitchen. Bess turned towards the stage where the air shimmered silvery and a tall droid slipped out of the obscurity. It followed the basic humanoid plan: two arms, two legs, a durasteel chassis, and a skull-shaped head. Death! Danger! Bess thought as the droid took a thunkering step towards her. "Disclosure: I am following a programmed directive that I cannot refuse." It said to her. "You will either perish or submit to capture. Addendum: Please allow me to dispatch you quickly. Although imaginative for an organic, Kanorge the Hutt employs the most rudimentary of tortures." The blasters integrated at the ends of the droid's arms triggered and Bess's left arm blurred. Red energy bolts splashed around the room. Baggy Pants dove to the floor and covered his head with his good arm. One particle bolt buried itself in the oak ceiling beam above the Gand. The little alien cocked an eye at the smoking scorch mark. Bess snapped her lightsaber off, facing her droid assailant. "I know you." * * * "Statement: That you certainly do! HK-50.82r-104 ready to serve!" "Wonofor?" Bess asked the droid. "Answer: Correct, again. It has taken some time to locate you, although I was inactivated for 37.64 standard years." Wonofor drilled two blaster shots at Bess's head. Seeing an HK-series droid like Wonofor was to take a giant step backwards in time. Bess recalled memories from her younger days on Munto Codru when her bizarre Jedi Master had introduced the relic droid for combat and comradery. Bess's inherited lightsaber was yesterday's HoloNet news next to a droid constructed at the time of the Sith Triumvirate. "Observation: You have not aged a day to my photoreceptors." Wonofor's blasters flipped over into his forearms to reveal mechanical hands. The droid's slender fingers recessed a storage panel on his thigh to reveal the hilt of a lightsaber. "Master Melioken's gift to me," Bess answered, sliding her feet into a Soresu dueling position. Unconsciously, she pursed her lips as she lined her shoulders—lips that still wore Corellian Bloodstripe No.1. "Statement: Then my logic circuits are not in error," Wonofor said. "You possess the Lamproid's blood knowledge. This makes you a formidable adversary." The droid assumed a Makashi opening stance. "Statement: Were my processors to allow it, I would envy you." Wonofor's lightsaber blade leapt into existence: a yellow-on-yellow beam. The slash came in a brutal overhead chop. Bess sidestepped then sucked in her stomach as Wonofor rolled his wrist to slice back at waist level. She stepped in after the blade and touched her empty hand to the droid's shoulder. Normally, Explosive Touch sent combatants flailing as Force-driven kinetics unleashed. But the droid was simply too strong and too balanced. Servomotors and hydraulics shrugged off the attack, and the droid borrowed from the momentum to drive the tip of his lightsaber at her in a lateral riposte. Bess skipped out of its reach. Twitchy the Duros emerged then from the kitchen and scooped up his energy rifle. The heavy gun kept accelerating and smacked him in his flat face. The dazed alien wheeled about until he collapsed upon the most unlikely of podiums. The shorter Gand dropped her shockprod to slap the Duros off her head. "Observation: You have upgraded your talents and skills, Master Jedi," Wonofor said. He flourished his saber through swings, feints, feints-within-feints, and lunges. "Haven't you heard?" Bess pirouetted around the droid. "It's been decreed that I'm a Dark Jedi.‡" Her lightsaber rose into the classic roof block and then angled down to redirect Wonofor's smooth thrust at her kidneys. A bootheel connected with the back of the droid's knee joint with a little extra zest courtesy of the Force. The leg buckled. "Suggestive Answer: I heard of the Atzerri massacre. Had I been there, things would have gone differently." The droid blocked Bess's chest-level attack. "Conclusion: I do not accept the Rebel Alliance's subjective assessment of your alignment. You do not exhibit the same aggression as those who have gone to the Dark Side." His movements are mine from when I was an apprentice, Bess thought. He's faster, yes. Heavier. But—one, two, three—his next move is the Creeping Viper. Bess danced through a deathly routine of strike and counter, intercepting a slash at her forward ankle. She dipped with her knees, keeping her back straight and her lightsaber in the vertical, easily meeting his blade with hers. She rose again, angling the hilt so that her lightsaber pushed Wonofor's sword wide. Her rising open palm, driven by the power of her legs, smacked Wonofor under his chin. His anticipated counterpunches—a rapid jackhammer action delivered from the shoulder—connected with air. Bess had dipped again, reversed her grip on her saber, and dragged its blazing tip along his torso in an alternate tràkata. A bright red line appeared on his grey torso. "You have a few upgrades, too," she said. "Information: Whoever reactivated me must have replaced my old shell with this exemplary one. I have also registered several new systems and protocols. Why, my software updates took two weeks to fully cycle. Observe—" Discordant music blurted through Wonofor's vocabulator grill as his eyes pulsed in different colors to the beat. "Explanation: I have a seven-day free trial of—" "Shut it off," Bess ordered. Bess twisted to the inside Wonofor's straight thrust, blocked at the extended forearm with hers, and banged the elbow of her sword arm on the cooling heatline. Nothing. He's as armored as Hutta echuta in springtime. Over by the windows, Baggy Pants had recovered enough to haul himself upright. He reached for his pistol. Bess dropped her blocking arm to the droid's wrist actuator. A length of energized whipcord shot out from Wonofor's gauntlet and snared the human. Bess let the stun cord play for a few seconds, shocking the human onto his back and set his teeth to chittering like an enraged gundark. Bess's white-blue blade severed the filament. "Compliment: That was exceptional! Worthy of a master Jedi! Might I add that I'm overjoyed at your prowess?" "Can't you access your full memory?" Bess replied, stepping aside Wonofor's propeller-like moulinets. "Answer: Negative," he said. "My primary cores are restricted. I am operating in safe mode." His free hand flipped back into a blaster that pulsed out ten shots in less than a second. "Reboot?" Bess asked, executing a Pass Below while glancing at his back and neck for a point of weakness. She let her blade trail where it sparked and spat against the ultrachrome of Wonofor's gun. "Statement: You know that I am not capable of performing such. An organic administering either a full or incremental system... blah, blah, blah. Exclamation: Tedious!" More blaster fire ensued. Across the room, Twitchy's rifle tracked in drunken circles. A droid was a droid and this Gotal was more than what was bargained. But the haft of the shockprod wedged between his knees twisted, and Twitchy dropped onto his tailbone. He rolled to shoot the duplicitous Gand, but then got sucked out into the side garden. The Gand stood with unblinking eyes in front of a gently swinging window. "Statement: That was well done," Wonofor said of the Duros' forced exit. "He will find the quododendrons are blooming. A shame about their thorns." There's a magnetic vibration just below his chest plate, Bess thought. Somebody planted a restraining bolt where Wonofor couldn't notice it. Otherwise, the old rust bucket might've knocked it off. "Don't hate me, Wonofor." Bess coiled her legs under her for an attack. "Statement: Even though I cannot fully remember you, Bess Heiger, I do not detect negativity towards—" The droid's last words cut off as Bess feinted right and rose up inside of Wonofor's defenses again. She activated her lightsaber straight into his chest. Bess hastened several steps backwards and snapped her saber into a ready position. Wonofor's yellow eyes flashed and flared. His head filled with hollow clicking whirs as it jerked stiffly from side to side. The vacant gaze came to rest on Bess. "Statement: Bypass initiated. Hmm-mm-mm. HK-50 is ready to serve. —I am... Wonofor? Yes. Yes, and Bess Heiger is a friend." * * * Bess motioned for the droid to lower his guns. Baggy Pants proceeded to issue quiet gaks over by the wall, sputtering and clearly out of the fight. The unreadable Gand stood motionless as if she were just another decorative piece of the stone fireplace. She had not taken as many as five steps since the fighting started. "Desist, Wonofor." Bess stayed the droid, eyeing the Gand. "There's no need for further violence." "Compliance." The blasters flipped over and locked inside Wonofor's forearms. "Extrapolation: In my short time with this motley crew, the Gand never acted brashly. Her intentions might have simply been like my own: to find you." The Gand animated. She clicked, whistled, and droned, which Bess recognized as her native language. "Translation: This Gand holds no animosity towards you," Wonofor said. "But," Wonofor continued, "this Gand most persistently will defend its Gand self from an attack on this Gand's physical or mental being, by which this Gand means —and something-something, something else. It's quite a condensed language to unpack. I could just blast—" "We have no intentions to harm you if you leave peacefully," Bess told the Gand. The little alien deactivated her shockprod and approached in tottering steps. She produced a holoprojector from inside her robes and held it up in one gnarled palm. A whirl of blue light shifted into the shape of a lean Echani man. He wore a tailored white suit casually and a smile of satisfaction openly. "Jost Bisu. What is this?" Bess asked, recognizing her BoSS contact. She clipped her lightsaber in its holster at the small of her back, using the hidden moment to flash Wonofor instructions in finger code. The Echani will read in the minute change in my expression, Bess thought, but he won't know the details. If this all goes wrong, we'll need a fast exit. I only hope that destroying Wonofor's restraining bolt gave him full access to his memory core. "This, Bess Heiger, is a fortunate welcome. Allow me to introduce you to Criih'Shi Hiidi-janwuine. She is an intelligence agent for us. "No," the Echani added quickly, "I assure you that we're not in an affiliation with Kanorge the Hutt. And Mardo Tel speaks highly of you, of course. But he could be acting under an unwholesome influence—it's happened with other Rangers." Bisu removed his hands from his pockets. "We had to test your motives for ourselves." Bess sighed. "What do the elusive Antarian Rangers want with me? I am no Jedi." Her naturally flat intonation disguised the thick strand of reluctance wrapping her gut. "This is a BoSS safe house," Bisu said, shifting weight to his back foot and moving his shoulders inline. "Even so, we must guard our words until we meet in person. There is a speeder waiting at the curb. This matter—" Bisu indicated the room with an open palm, "will be handled." "Let them go if they wish it," Bess said. "Kanorge might forget them, but he won't forgive them. It's unlikely they'll go back to him willingly." "It will be as you say." The Echani appeared ruffled, shifting his weight off his rear foot, which slid just behind the other, knee flexed, but out at a small angle. Balestra! thought Bess. The Jumping Lunge. He's pressed for time. Something is coming. "A House Chorus battle convoy inbound for Metellos must be intercepted," Bisu said. "Lord Negs' subservience to the Empire is no secret. In these uncertain times, Edwin Chorus—the Lord Negs—has become unreasonable and a liability to the ruling family and Metellos. The House has proclaimed Lord Negs' abdication in absentia." "And you wish that I participate in your coup?" Bess asked with steel in her voice. "Swing the ol' saber through seas of stormtroopers, is it?" "The Antarian Rangers are not assisting in an overthrow of House Chorus," Bisu riposted. "Nor is that instability desired by any ruling House—publicly stated or otherwise." The Echani warrior raised his hands as if to ward off the suggestion. "For our part, there is a person vital to operations in this region who must be recovered," he said. "The Antarian Rangers will handle the Imperials while Baroness Van Chorus and House Chorus persuade their men in the convoy to stand down. "But," Jost Bisu continued, his little blue figure catching the odd light in his pale eyes, "Lord Negs travels with this prisoner. We have little hope against an adept of the Dark Side." Bisu's hands dropped to his waist. "Our hope is in you." "And hope in this assassin droid should I had proved evil as well?" Bess finished. "That is the truth of it," Bisu confessed blithely. "The droid's instructions were to eliminate you, and you chose to spare him—a most satisfactory outcome for all, I believe." Bess was quiet for long moments. She could hear Wonofor's servos, muted and oiled, as the droid continuously scanned the room. She suspected that he had traced the holo and would have reported any duplicity in the call's origin. The Gand—did she operate with the same Ranger single mindedness for "The Mission" as Mardo Tel? Could Bess get off Metellos without drawing more attention to herself? Would her companions understand if she abandoned them? And then there was Lord Negs, a loyal subject to the old Imperial regime, who had once held the ear of the Emperor and shadowed Darth Vader and Tarkin. Bess was pursing her lips. Fear and doubt she felt—at their strongest since the horrors under the waters of Manaan. Cold panic nibbled on her knees. Could she handle a Dark Jedi? Can they? she thought. There is no try. "Alright, Bisu," Bess said. "Count me in." End Spoiler † - mentioned in Flight to Safety [5 ABY, Metellos, MB2, Ocs] ‡ - mentioned in The Last Deep Breath [4 ABY, Manaan, OCs] Bess Heiger’s lightsaber style was inspired by Alfred Avril and his Haitian fencing martial art (https://www.haitianfencing.org). As Jedi Master Melioken would have a unique physiology, Bess’s style should also be distinctive. Jost Bisu treats the Gand word janwuine as an honorific title suffix like our -hakase and -sensei. Whether or not this is consistent with Gand societal norms is not evident to the author, but might be a reflection on the Echani and their culture’s heavy martial emphases. Additionally, Criih'Shi Hiidi refers to herself in the third person out of formality. The author's notes regarding her character tell that she will use the culturally allowed personal pronouns with those she is intimate with.