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Star Wars Vae’d Xiin: Saga of a Bounty Hunter Episode: I

As word spreads across the galaxy celebrating the Rebel victory at Yavin, some factions use the news as an opportunity. The Empire, in an attempt to find the Rebels responsible for this atrocity, have begun enlisting bounty hunters and vigilantes to infiltrate the Rebel structure. One bounty hunter, the Mandolorian; Vae'd Xiin, contemplates the Imperial's offer. But he is reluctant to turn his back to the Rebels and opts to find business on his own‌

CHAPTER 1 [In traditional Star Wars fashion, our view pans downward to show the still blackness of space. The scene is interrupted as a single black and gold X-wing exits light speed and passes across our view. The perspective then switches to the cockpit of the X-wing.] XIIN: Make certain the area is clear, and continue to monitor maximum kilometer radius. Alert any movement immediately. R7-X4 beeps a confirmation as the pilot's eyes fixate on the vessel they are approaching. XIIN: I suspect the Empire is well aware of this little piece of equipment by now. We don't have much time. The X-wing begins to slow as the target comes within scanning distance. The pilot selects a number of switches and a monitor comes to life. The presence of lifeforms seems improbable, but the pilot has no intentions on taking that fact for granted. The monitor beeps as the scan confirms no lifeforms are found. As the X-wing glides by the port side of the vessel, it seems that the fighter bay is open. XIIN: He's in there, I can feel it. Confirm these lifeform reading, Droid. R7 verifies the report. XIIN: I see. Prepare to land in the port side bay.

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XIIN (to self): You may be able to fool a computer, pirate...but you’re only making this harder on yourself Xiin makes a cautious pass by the docking bay. Seemingly satisfied with what he has noted, the X-wing swings around to enter and land in the bay. R7 makes a note that life support and gravity systems are dead. XIIN: Copy, R7. Activate the landing clamps. R7 activates the X-wing's magnetic clamps and the landing gear responds by forging themselves to the landing bay floor. XIIN: Stay with the ship. Report any movement. Monitor my progress throughout the ship. Have the ship prepared to leave immediately upon my return. R7 confirms the orders. Xiin, wearing traditional Madolorian gear, checks his life support equipment on his wrist monitor and opens the canopy. His uniform is black with a dark gray sub-color...orange accents complete the scheme he has adapted from his clan flag. He has always hated zero gravity, but this bounty was too good to let some minor nausea to get in his way. He activates his propellant to move through the dead space. Xiin moves through the bay to the corridor access doors. The Star Destroyer name is imprinted on this door, but is obscured by soot and dust. Xiin wipes away the filth, revealing the name...Brazen. XIIN (to self): Ironic. As a preventive measure, the doors had been sealed shut since the life support systems failed. This also makes opening the doors next to impossible. Xiin produces a small pistol-like item from his backpack unit, and applies the tip to the door. The mini-torch has little difficulty slicing through the metal door. Within moments, an opening large enough to fit through is created. Xiin pokes through with his sub-rifle drawn. Its pitch black in the corridor, but a quick tap on his wristmonitor activates a red night-vision display on the inside visor of Xiin's helmet. A blast door to Xiin's right makes his choice of direction for him. Floating slowly down a darkened hallway of a sleeping Imperial Star Destroyer is surely not high on anyone's list of things to do. Random items float about the ship. Weapons, power cells, droids, droid parts...and corpses. Xiin pushes a drifting Stormtrooper aside as he reaches the end of the corridor. The door here did not close completely before the power was lost, held open by a body of a black uniformed TIE fighter pilot. With some effort, Xiin manages to pull open the door. This leads him out onto a mezzanine overlooking the primary docking bay in the keel of the giant ship. The view from here is awesome, as the docking bay door did not shut down at all. An unobstructed view deep into space through this giant hole in the bottom of the Brazen is one to behold. Off in the distance is a shiny blue/green planet. Xiin doesn't bother taking a moment to even concern him what world it could be. Xiin carefully navigates the large expanse of open space to reach the TIE fighter docking bays that separate the main bay from the forward launching bay. Inside the launching bay, a ghostly sight takes shape, as the drifting dead shells of dozens of Stormtroopers and TIE Pilots litter the area. The bounty hunter begins to systematically search each of the racks that support the TIE fighters. However, seemingly unobserved by Xiin, high above him, the arm one of the seemingly perished Stormtroopers slowly moves to aim a laser rifle in his direction. R7-X4, his sensors being triggered by the accelerated heart-rate of the pirate, sends a silent alert to Xiin.

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Xiin purposefully slips into a hangar to block the view of the pirate. He takes cover behind the ship in the hangar. The ship is a Corellian freighter...YT-1210 model...looks much like the Solo's Millennium Falcon, but about 1/3 smaller and some slightly different features. Xiin finds this curious, as it seems out of place that a small freighter would be sitting in a Star Destroyer dock among dozens of TIE Fighters. The pirate, not able to see Xiin, pushes his feet gently against the wall to force himself downward toward Xiin to gain a better vantage point. Xiin had just wedged himself in a corner when R7 alerts him to a new presence...the Star Destroyer White Wolf has just come out of hyperspace just moments beyond the Brazen. ****************************** LIEUTENANT: Captain Sotis, we have exited light speed. The Brazen is located 120 kilometers off port deck. CAPTAIN: Come about to intercept. Advise within scanning range. LT: Aye, Captain. Captain Sotis, a burly, graying man who is barely below the require weight requirements of the Empire, was mildly surprised. He had figured reports of the Brazen surviving the destruction of the Death Star a fallacy. It was a bittersweet situation for Sotis, having served aboard the ship during his cadet days. CAPT: Hail the Brazen, all channels. LT: Aye, sir. A sinking feeling overwhelmed Sotis. He was here for a mission he would not enjoy. Uncharacteristically, he was overly optimistic that the day would end with all well. LT: Captain, the Brazen does not respond. Her power signature is negative, and only trace lifeforms are found on long distance scan. It seems that the Electro-magnetic Pulse from the Death Star had completely knocked out their power core. Do we proceed? CAPT (to self): Not the information I was hoping for. CAPT: Proceed. All weapons at ready. Deploy TIE wing Sigma to probe the ship. We need to know what we're dealing with. LT: Aye, Captain. That sinking feeling set in again. Sotis was not looking forward to issuing the order that was only moments away... ****************************** The pirate desperately scans the area for the bounty hunter. Guiding himself downward toward the area he last saw him. He is regretting not pulling the trigger when he had the chance. He is about to turn tail and make for his spacecraft when he spots the bounty hunter, his back to him, squatting near the freighter. Carefully, the pirate takes aim and pulls the trigger...the bolt scores a direct hit on the bounty hunter's idle rocket pack.

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From the far corner of the bay, Vae'd Xiin fires 2 quick bursts from his sub-rifle, the first disarms the pirate, the second to his leg which immobilizes him. Xiin had removed his pack as a decoy, and it had worked flawlessly. PIRATE (in obvious pain): AHHHHH! Please don't kill me! VX: Why would I bother? Then I'd have to carry your worthless corpse back to the Hutts. PIRATE: Not the Hutts! Please! I'll give you anything you want! VX: Don't waste your breath. You already put a bolt hole in my gear. Let's go...and if you try anything stupid, I'll just rip the airhose out of your helmet...got it. PIRATE: Just listen! I can make you a rich man! VX: As rich as you? So I can live in a broken Imperial battleship? Save it for the Hutts. Move it... The growl of an Imperial TIE fighter in the distance reminds Xiin that there is a sense of urgency to get out of here immediately. ****************************** LT: Captain, TIE Wing Sigma reporting in. The Brazen is completely down. Life systems are negative. However, they are picking up humanoid signatures from the primary docking bay. Shall we send a team in to investigate? CAPT: Negative. Have Sigma Wing take up an escort pattern to our bow. Prepare to fire upon the Brazen. LT: Sir?! CAPT: You have your orders, Lieutenant. Once Sigma wing has cleared the area, open fire on the Brazen. The Emperor himself has issued orders to scuttle the vessel. LT: As you wish, sir. ****************************** Xiin and the pirate, with his bounty's hands bound behind his back, reach the lip of the gaping expanse that is the primary docking bay. VX: Listen, if you don't start pulling your weight, I'm gonna shove you into this pretty little void. Those TIE's weren't doing fly-bys as a salute...got it? PIRATE: I rather be caught by the Imperials...prison is better than dead! Without hesitation, Xiin grabs the prisoner by his cuffed hand and pushes him toward the opening in the bay. The pirate plunges helplessly into space...screaming incessantly. Xiin watches intently, trying to imagine a worse fate. He is reminded of a similar situation he experienced as a boy. He doesn't remember screaming like stuck Gamorrean.

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Xiin fires his grappling dart at the drifting pirate and it wraps around the bounty's wounded leg. Now instead of screaming for his life, the pirate is yelping in pain. The bounty is still several meters away when the first turbolaser blast rocks the Brazen. XIIN: You still want to wait for your friends? PIRATE: NO! NO! Get me out of here! Several more blasts tear through the ship, explosions escaping from the corridor that leads back to Xiin's Xwing...completely severing off his escape route. VX: Where's your ship? PIRATE: It's on the starboard deck. We'll never make it! Blasts continue to rip throughout the ship. The primary bay erupts into a ball of flame knocking Xiin and the pirate back into the TIE fighter staging area. The force pins Xiin to the inside of a TIE wing and he loses his grip on his bounty. He realizes it's time to go, with or without his paycheck. Shaking off a concussion, Xiin spots the Corellian freighter again. With a hefty push, he aims himself to the starboard side of the freighter. Upon reaching the vessel, he skillfully removes a panel on the bottom side of the ship and pulls a handle. This emergency switch releases the boarding ramp. Without gravity to assist him, Xiin must pry the door open himself, and squeeze through. The bounty hunter's first instinct is to reach the cockpit and power up the freighter, but the ignition fails. A fire ball rolls down the docking corridor, but Xiin hardly notices. Quickly, he removes his rocket pack, and strips the power cell from its backside, wires dangling. Floating his way down the cockpit access hallway, Xiin stops and removes another panel and tactfully reaches in to tear out a rather outdated piece of equipment. An explosion in a nearby bay slams Xiin into the far wall and he feels a wave of unconsciousness starting to take over. Fighting back the urge to give into the pain, he surges forward and jams the power cell from his rocket pack into the empty panel. Twisting wires frantically, he notices movement from his left and quickly turns to draw his weapon. It seems the pirate has made his way to follow his captor. Xiin holsters his sub-rifle and guides himself back into the cockpit and pushes the ignition switch. The generator of the sleeping freighter groans and howls as it fights to start off such a small power cell. Xiin uses his legs to kick down the cockpit hallway and snags the bounty once again. Just as he secures him against the coolant pipes, the freighter comes to life...instantly activating the artificial gravity. The sudden force nearly brings the bounty hunter to his knees, but he is well aware he is far from completing his mission... ****************************** LT: Captain, a power signature has just appeared on the scope. It's originating from the main hangar forward of the primary docking bay. CAPT: Identify. LT: Sir, its signature matches that of a Corellian freighter. CAPT: Cease fire. Have Sigma wing investigate, weapons at ready. LT: Aye, sir.

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The turbolasers cease activity, but the damage has been done. The Brazen is clearly ablaze and listing to its starboard side. A few more cannon rounds will surely disintegrate the vessel. But Captain Sotis has let his curiosity get the best of him here. Who could possibly be on that ship? ****************************** Xiin sits it the captain's chair of the freighter. He flips several switches and makes some mandatory checks. He reaches down to punch the button that releases the landing clamps, and runs up the throttle. The triple engines roar to life and propel the freighter forward. Carefully, he guides the freighter out of the hangar and down the bay corridor, away from the primary dock. His only chance is to reach the forward launching bay. ****************************** LT: Captain Sotis! Sir! CAPT: What is it, Lieutenant? LT: Sir, the power signature from the freighter, spectrum scans have identified more than just the freighter's power source signature...something unique... CAPT: What do you mean? LT: Well, sir...the signature suggests there are..*ahem*..[quietly] classified materials onboard. CAPT: [irritated] You need to clarify what you mean by "classified", Lieutenant. LT: [quietly - almost whispering] The freighter is carrying Particle Accelerator Cells that were bound for the Death Star, sir. The Captain pauses for a moment, absorbing this new information...and as a realization comes to him, he felt the color leaving his face. CAPT: OPEN FIRE! LT: Sir? CAPT: OPEN FIRE ON THE BRAZEN IMMEDIATELY! LT: But, Sir! Sigma wing is... CAPT: OPEN FIRE, LIEUTENANT! AND DESTROY THAT SHIP! THAT IS AN ORDER! LT: AYE, Sir! Open Fire! The White Wolf's turbolasers re-animate. Green bolts streaming from dozens of cannons. Each scoring a direct hit on various parts of the Brazen. A particularly well aimed blast strikes the rearward located reactor core of the helpless Star Destroyer, igniting in a brilliant flash... ****************************** Xiin has to slowly navigate past a fallen beam as he reaches the bay, and as he steers downward and out of the Brazen, a deafening explosion engulfs him and lifts the Star Destroyer upward, as if it were pealed

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away to expose the hidden freighter as it makes it's way out from underneath the battlecruiser. Several explosions follow and within seconds, the Brazen is nothing more than sparking metal against the black sea of space. The resulting shockwave sends the freighter spinning end over end. Righting himself, Xiin points the ship toward the nearest planet and pushes ahead at full throttle. Within moments, two TIE fighters are on his tail with lasers firing. The hunter now has become the hunted. Xiin reaches for various switches, calculating a jump to lightspeed. But he gets back nothing but errors. The hyperdrive computer has extensive damage, and fixing mid-flight is going to be impossible. XIIN (to self): Well, my friend, it seems you're getting a ride to the paradise on Ord Radama Punching some more keys, he instructs the ship to fly at maximum power to Ord Radama, a planet known for its sprawling forests and seaside beauty. The freighter, without hyperdrive or weapons, doesn't have the power to outrun the TIE's or an Imperial Star Destroyer. But with the ships agility and a solid deflector shield, he may be able to at least keep them at bay until he reaches the planet... ****************************** LT: Sir, shall we leave a shuttle to attempt a salvage of the Brazen? CAPT: Negative, Lieutenant. Your concern is to intercept and destroy that freighter at all costs. LT: Yes, sir...understood. As the First Officer relays the commands to the crewmen, Captain Sotis has a firm belief that these P.A. Cell canisters are the reason that the Emperor himself ordered the Brazen to be scuttled. After all, they were to be delivered to the Death Star to as an auxiliary power source for the main weapon. Select few officers among the Imperial ranks knew of these cells, so it appears they were left aboard the Corellian freighter as a precaution until the Star Destroyer escort arrived at the Space Station. Of course, the report is that the Brazen arrived shortly after the Rebel attack. The ship was thought to be destroyed at the conclusion of the Battle of Yavin several months ago, so Sotis theorizes that the ship was ordered to clear the area just before the Death Star was destroyed...they made it just far enough to avoid being vaporized, but not far enough to clear the concussion of the blast. Ultimately, it doesn't seem that either fate mattered, as the Brazen is now a hot pile of floating scraps. When the instructions to locate the fallen ship were first wired to the White Wolf, Sotis figured he was chasing a ghost. It's a minor miracle it was found so far away from Yavin, having drifted several million kilometers from the site of the battle, between two nearby planets of Korriban and Toprawa, and slowly creeping toward Ord Radama. Had another few days past, she may have found her way in the path of the Hydian Way, the main trade route that connects the Corporate sector with the rest of the galaxy. It would have been fair game to many a smuggler had it reached that point. The Captain could not help but fear what the Emperor will do to him if these cells were not destroyed. He has witnessed officers of lesser failures victimized greatly at the hands of Lord Vader. Sotis himself was reprimanded by Vader when the Dark Lord demanded landing clearance on the White Wolf, purposely doing so without proper security codes...a relatively small error seeing the Dark Lord himself was transmitting the request. Being picked up by the scruff of his uniform in front of his men, although embarrassing, would be child's play compared to what would happen to him with such failure here. He was not looking forward to reporting this news to Imperial Command...unless...

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CAPT: Lieutenant Tylec, front and center. LT: Sir. CAPT: Call off Sigma wing. LT: Yes, sir. (The Lieutenant is obviously puzzled, but he has heard far too many strange orders today to question this one.) CAPT: Meet with me in my quarters as soon as the order is given. We need to discuss our options. LT: Aye, Captain. Captain Sotis quickly marches away. Maybe there is a way to turn this in his favor, no matter the outcome... ****************************** The TIE Fighters are firing relentlessly at the rear side of the Corellian freighter. The deflector shield has so far held up, but no telling how long this was going to last. Xiin is hopeful. But even at maximum throttle, it will be hours before he reaches Ord Radama. Xiin sets the auto-pilot and heads to the back of the freighter. Almost immediately the pirate starts wailing profanities in some random alien tongue. Xiin has to grit his teeth to keep from kicking him as he walks by. He's got more important items at hand, and the laser blast that rocks the freighter is a grim reminder of that. Certainly, there must be some sort of weapons aboard. But he quickly remembers, this is not like other Corellian ships. Gun turrets were not an added feature until the YT-1300 series. The only stock weapons were a forward firing laser cannon. Dejected, Xiin heads back to the cockpit. At he takes the pilot seat he glances down at the power gauge for the rear deflector. It reads 35%. It turns out that his initial estimate was way off and this would surely not buy him enough time to reach Ord Radama. Weighing his options, he grips the flight stick and prepares to flip the freighter into an offensive posture. Xiin violently banks the ship to the left and yanks back on the stick, forcing the freighter to come about at its minimum turn radius. Xiin pulls the trigger...and nothing happens...

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CHAPTER 2 Vae'd Xiin can't believe his eyes...or his luck...as the TIE fighters have turned tail and are leaving the area. He can see, off in the distance, that the Star Destroyer has ceased it's pursuit as well. Perhaps he is not such a hot commodity after all. Still, not one to take chances, Xiin quickly cycles the freighter back around and continues his escape to Ord Radama. Cruising around in a ship with no hyperdrive and no weapons is not something he's willing to toy with. As the distance between him and the Imperials increases, the tense cloud diminishes. Xiin finds himself replaying the events that led him here. All at once, a sense of loss overcomes him. Not only has he lost his X-wing, but his Astromech droid, R7-X4, was vaporized as well. He had spent countless hours customizing his ship, but the droid was special to him. R7 had helped him apprehend many bounties. But more importantly, he saved his life on more than one occasion. Purchased from the Jawas on Tatooine, Xiin had taken the time to strip the original paint scheme of red and gold and replace it with the colors of his clan. The dominant color, black, covered the droid, with panels of dark gray. A fire-orange trim was added by hand. He kept the original brain of the droid, but expanded the memory to upload weapons and bounty data. R7 was truly a unique droid, and a very dedicated one at that. Although uncharacteristic of a Mandolorian, he actually felt saddened by the loss of his only friend. Xiin continues his journey to Ord Radama...but carries an emptiness he cannot shake. ****************************** LT: Permission to enter, Captain. CAPT: Proceed. Lieutenant Tylec enters. The door to the Captain's quarters closes with a whoosh. Sotis is sitting behind his consol with a look of worry. The officer takes a stance at attention several feet away. The Captain can sense the concern in his underling. LT: Sigma wing has returned. I've left instructions for the fighters to flank the White Wolf instead of returning to dock...if this is sufficient, sir? CAPT: That will suffice, Lieutenant, thank you. LT: Permission to speak candidly, sir. CAPT: Choose your words carefully, Lieutenant. LT: All due respect, sir, I feel the orders pertaining to the recent events warrant an explanation. CAPT: Perhaps. Have a seat. Tylec, a wiry fellow with dark hair, takes a seat in front of the Captain's consol. Sotis can't help but feel sorry for him. The Lieutenant has applied for numerous positions across the Imperial Fleet, but has been consistently turned down. At the same time, Sotis is glad to keep him aboard the White Wolf as he tends to be fair, with a voice of reason. The crew respect and respond to him, despite his apparent physical limitations. CAPT: When Fleet Command dispatched us to locate the Brazen, I was given the impression that it would be a search, rescue, and salvage mission. However, the Emperor himself contacted me while enroute. He gave clear and strict orders that the Brazen was to be scuttled if the ship was adrift...regardless of any life

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readings. The Emperor did not elaborate as to why he issued this order, but I have a feeling it had to do with the particle accelerators that are aboard that freighter. LT: I see, sir. But why did we let the freighter escape? Sigma wing was bound to destroy the ship before it reached any destination. CAPT: I realize this. However, as of this moment, no one except you and I are aware that this freighter is carrying those Cells...nor does anyone have to know that the freighter has..."disappeared". LT: But, sir, this is not something I would recommend. If either the Emperor or Lord Vader find out, we both may find ourselves expelled...if not dead. CAPT: Your concern is noted, Lieutenant. But fear not. The freighter is bound for Ord Radama, as it's obvious the hyperdrive is not in working order. I've decided to use this situation to our advantage. We are to take up orbit at Ord Radama, and we will "find" these Cells before they are able to make their way to the smugglers market. If we portray this as an additional investigation to the Brazen mission, we may find ourselves with promotions...at the very least, some added respect in the Imperial Fleet for you and I...and some positive reinforcement for the crew of the White Wolf. LT: But again, sir, if the Emper... CAPT: Fleet Command will never hear of this. Immediately upon leaving my quarters, you will report to Command that the Brazen has been destroyed without incident. If we fail to recover the Cells, there will be no evidence that it was due to our mistake. LT: Aye, sir. (Tylec is still concerned, but he has obviously given in to the Captain.) CAPT: Put your faith in me, Lieutenant. I will not steer you wrong. LT: Yes, sir. Is that all, Captain. CAPT: For the time. You are dismissed. And remember, not a word of this to the crew. LT: Yes, sir. I will see you on the bridge, sir? CAPT: I'll be there momentarily. See that we continue to Ord Radama. LT: Aye, Captain. The Lieutenant exits the Captain's quarters, but in obvious dismay. Perhaps the Captain is right and they will never be realized, but that still doesn't make him feel better about the deception. Tylec takes it upon himself that they will not fail, and the Cells will be recovered at all costs...he will see to it personally if necessary... ****************************** Ord Radama is a beautiful planet, a virtual paradise. The world is spotted with expanses of tropical forests, sprawling wetlands and marshes. The cities, although small, are bright, clean and gleaming. The architecture of the buildings is sharp and mirror perfect, the reflections producing a blue rainbow effect. Xiin has been to this planet only once as a boy. He still remembered the allure the planet demanded, and silently wishes he was here under different circumstances.

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The bounty hunter chooses to bring the ship down on the outskirts of a city, finding a swath of forest with a clearing just large enough to clear the freighter. This will benefit greatly, as it provides a natural camouflage from ground level, as well as from the skies. As the ship touches down, Xiin lowers his head to his chest. He has allowed himself to be tense for far too long, and his neck and shoulders are screaming at him for it. However, he reminds himself that he’s not quite finished yet. After a personal moment, he rises from the pilots chair and heads to the cargo bay. The pirate is finally lying silent, his hands still bound to the exposed cooling tubes. Xiin is unsure if he's dead or sleeping. Xiin didn't care which, as the whiney smuggler is blissfully quiet. Xiin's first thought was to figure out what is in the cargo holds. After some initial probing, he didn't find much. The main hold just had some old food, a makeshift bunk, and a variety of worthless garbage. The forward hold only had a dozen or so peculiar looking canisters. It seems that the Imperials must have confiscated everything they felt was worth taking. He locates the circuitry maintenance closet and noses around. He removes his helmet for the first time since embarking on this bounty run. Xiin is a rather striking young man of about 23, with a flawless complexion and flowing jet black hair. A thin scar running from his left ear to his shoulder is the only imperfection, a gift from his father during his training as a boy. After some rummaging, he finds the problem. The hyperdrive motivator, coupler switch and auxiliary power throw have all been cooked crisper than a womprat at a Tusken barbeque. Throw in the need for a power converter on the generator and a coil cluster for the laser cannon, it completes the Mandolorian's bad day. All Xiin can do is grunt to himself. Getting parts on Ord Radama should be rather easy, as they are along the major galactic trade route. But paying for said items...well...it won't come nearly as smooth. Xiin will have to wait until dusk. One of the quirks about Radamians is that they do not believe in working after dark. They take it so seriously, in fact, that many of the streets are not even illuminated artificially. He will have to take his advantages where they lay. There are still several hours before then, so he opts to start stripping the ship of unnecessary bulk. After all, this is now the space vessel of Vae'd Xiin... ****************************** Captain Sotis stands at ease, staring at the bright planet outside his window. His face mere inches from the thick glass that separates him from the vacuum of space. He always made it a point to take a moment to himself and enjoy the scenery. His peacefulness doesn't last, as the silence is broken by a hail at his office door. LT: [over the comm.] Permission to enter, Captain. CAPT: Enter. Lieutenant Tylec enters and bows a salute. The Captain has not turned to face him. LT: Sir, as you can see, we have made orbit over Ord Radama. The scanners have not picked up the freighter's signature as of yet. But there is a large area to cover, so it may take some time. CAPT: Time you have, Lieutenant. Ensure that we are being thorough...that is the key here. The Captain continues to stare at the blue/green planet below, his eyes never wavering. LT: Absolutely, sir.

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A pause. Tylec is waiting for something. CAPT: More to add, Lieutenant? LT: Yes, sir. Sotis finally turns to address Tylec. CAPT: Speak. LT: Captain, I would like to offer my personal services. CAPT: Can you elaborate on this "offer"? LT: Sir, I would like to take a shuttle to the surface with a team of troops. I want to ensure this mission has the follow through it deserves. The Captain turns back to the window. CAPT: I will have to take a moment to consider your offer. We are in no hurry. LT: Aye, sir. CAPT: You are dismiss... The sound of running footsteps approaches the Captain's quarters. A crewman enters with a huff. Sotis spins to see the crewman appear. CAPT: CREWMAN, I did NOT give you perm... CREWMAN: I apologize greatly, Captain, but the Emperor demands you make contact with him immediately! Sotis feels flush again. Each time he gets the communication that the Emperor wishes to speak to him, he has a nauseating rush that grips him. Like a youngling speaking to an adult after he's been reprimanded. CAPT: Affirmative, Crewman. Thank you. You are dismissed. The Crewman backs his way to the door and bows, before sliding out of sight. CAPT: You are dismissed, Lieutenant. I shall handle this privately. LT: As you wish, sir. Tylec makes his way out of the office and Sotis pushes a button to close and bind the door. And takes a stance at his consol. He selects several prompts onscreen, and a miniature holographic version of the Emperor appears on his desk. CAPT: Greetings, Your Highness. EMPEROR: Greetings, Captain Sotis. I hear your mission was successful.

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CAPT: Without flaws, Your Highness. EMP: I see. What brings you to Ord Radama, Captain? CAPT: Your Greatness, a small freighter was spotted in the area of the Brazen after its destruction. I felt this was a rather peculiar place to find a single ship wandering in the area. I gave instructions to have my crew follow the freighter to investigate. EMP: I see. CAPT: My Lord, I'm concerned that this freighter may have attempted to salvage materials from the Brazen, as our initial scans indicate this may be a smuggler's vessel. EMP: Very well, Captain Sotis. Notify Fleet Command immediately upon obtaining the freighter. I'll expect the report shortly. CAPT: Without fail, Your Highness. As the scowling holograph of the Emperor fades, Sotis slumps into his chair. He has never attempted to mislead anyone in a ranking position, let alone the Emperor. After a short reflection, the Captain calms himself as he remembers that there are no other souls besides himself and Tylec that know what is aboard that freighter. Sotis rises from his chair and steps to the window again. As he enjoys the view of this glowing planet, his thoughts are of his confidence in his crew. They will not fail him... ****************************** A large pile of scrap has collected near the starboard boarding ramp of the freighter. It was quite obvious that the previous owner tended to horde useless and broken items. Xiin is standing in the center of the now relatively clean main cargo bay. Dusk was approaching, and Xiin still needed to prepare for his "walk" into town. The forward hold will have to wait until later. Xiin makes a quick check on his bounty on his way to the equipment closet. He has moved the pirate to different part of the main hold. His legs bound with chain, the other end secured to an anchor bolt. Xiin sets a small ration and fluid container next to the captive. XIIN: I will be venturing into town to locate some supplies. You better be in the same spot when I return... PIRATE: You can threaten me all you want...my life is over either way... XIIN: I've injected you with a Tracer Mite. If you attempt an escape, I will know... PIRATE: You injected me with WHAT?!... XIIN: A Tracer Mite...If I see that you've changed your location, you will not be privy to a second chance... PIRATE: YOU PUT SOME CREATURE IN MY SKIN?! XIIN: ...I will easily find you...and I will not hesitate to put a bolt in your hollow skull...understood?

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PIRATE: I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU PUT A CREATURE IN ME!!...AHHHH! Xiin grabs the pirate by his disgusting shirt and pulls his face to his own. XIIN: Do you understand. PIRATE: Yes, YES! I understand! Just get the thing OUT OF ME! I can feel it CRAWLING! XIIN: When I return. The bounty hunter leaves the whimpering pile of flesh and exits the freighter. Xiin wonders how a pirate, one who surely has been merciless toward his conquests and prisoners, could be such a coward. Never in his time has Xiin witnessed such a pitiful display of weakness. Not to mention that there is no such creature as a "Tracer Mite". He made it up as a way to have his bounty second guess any escape attempts. It worked far better than he could have hoped. Xiin hooks on to his rocket pack, but then has second thoughts. Wandering through the town of such a peaceful society would have him pegged as trouble at first sight. He opts to leave all but his sub-rifle behind, even his helmet. The less he looks like a bounty hunter here, the better. Vae'd locks up his gear in the lower hold and heads toward the shining town, making his way through the dense overgrowth of the forest. His weapon is drawn until he reaches sight of a road, and then sheathing the gun to be as hidden as possible. He exits the forest careful so as not to be seen, and makes his way on to the road. Just ahead, a sign marks his entry into the Ramadian district town of Hijou. Dusk has set upon the town, but light of the distant blue sun still illuminates the tallest buildings. Xiin realizes he must move quickly. But to his advantage, there are very few people still out of their dwellings. As he turns to walk up a main road leading to a business section of town, to his left he notices a shop. Duft Manki's Pawn and Trading. He makes a deliberate increase in his pace and approaches the shop. A quick glance into the picture window and he see's a small man standing behind the counter with his attention to the counter in front of him, his head down seeming to be reading something. Xiin enters nonchalantly. The man behind the counter barely lifts his head to acknowledge his entry. He is a short, stocky man...human. His graying hair gives good indication of his age, but Xiin knows better than to assume age equals weakness. Xiin makes a point to pay some attention to the goods on the shelf to his right, acting as if he is just browsing...but also to help hide the weapon holstered on his right leg. Finally the shop keeper looks up. DUFT: Good afternoon, young man. Can I help you find something? I'm supposed to be closing down soon. XIIN: [still looking at the shelf] Possibly. I'm looking for some parts to a Corellian freighter...1210 model. DUFT: Oh sure, I have just about anything you need. Most the Corellian parts are interchangeable among the YT models. Could prob'ly build a whole ship in the yard out back! The shop keeper lets out a hearty laugh. Xiin doesn't find this funny at all, but manages to crease a smile. XIIN: How much? DUFT: Well, what exactly do ya need? I can make you a good deal.

- 14 -


XIIN: A hyperdrive motivator, a power converter, a coupler switch and auxiliary power throw are necessities at the moment. DUFT: Great Gasta! I hope you didn't pay a lot for this bucket! Another belly laugh from the keeper. Xiin couldn't help but like this guy. XIIN: I didn't pay much. It was...a gift. DUFT: Some gift, my friend. Anything else? XIIN: A coil cluster. DUFT: Oh, that's a tough one. Um…I don't have a Corellian model. Hmmm…[he looks at the digital clipboard on his counter]…ah, yes…I DO have a Nubian cluster that will fit with very little modification. It actually turns out a bit more power, and the core charges much faster than the Corellian. Since you're getting all this stuff, I won't charge you extra for the Nubian and I’ll pretend it’s just a Corellian model. XIIN: Very well. Xiin is silently wishing to himself that he would have worn some sort of disguise. He is very impressed with the keeper thus far and he would have liked to do business with him in the future. DUFT: We're looking at about L3,400 credits with everything here. What kind of credits you carrying? XIIN: I'm not. I'm looking to set up a tab. DUFT: I dunno, son. I only give credit to my regulars. Forgive me, but I've never seen you in here before. XIIN: That's too bad. Are you the owner? DUFT: Yepper. Duft Manki, that's me. Xiin draws his weapon and aims at Duft's head. XIIN: You are wanted by Jabba the Hutt, stand down or be disintegrated. DUFT: [obviously pissing himself] Ye..Yes, sir! I'm unarmed! Please...this must be a mistake. XIIN: I don't make mistakes. DUFT: N...No, sir, I don't imply you do...but someone must have given you wrong information...I don't owe anyone any money! XIIN: That's not my concern. DUFT: But, sir, you don't understand...I've never gambled any more than 5 credits in my life! Nor have I broken the law! XIIN: I don't make the bounty, I collect them. Start walking.

- 15 -


DUFT: WAIT! Sir, honestly, this is wrong! I give you my word, I have not harmed a soul! XIIN: You can cry about it on the way to Tatooine. DUFT: NOOO! WAIT! Uhhh...uhhh...You can have anything you want from the shop! Take all the parts for your ship, no need for credit! How's I just pay you instead to not take me? XIIN: I'm listening. DUFT: Look...uhhh...look...I don't have a lot of credits...I can offer you anything in the store. XIIN: There's nothing in this heap that I have a use for. DUFT: WAIT!...PLEASE!...there must be something you can use! How about a droid? Anything! XIIN: What kind of droid? DUFT: Protocol...Astromech...Po.. XIIN: Astromech. Show me. DUFT: Sure! Sure! This way. The shop owner leads Xiin to a back room. The look and smell of the room reminded him of Jawa sandcrawler. Old, busted droids and droid parts lay everywhere. A maze of makeshift walkways is the only way to navigate this room. Duft seems to be leading Xiin to the far corner, where a large pile of dusty junk sits idle. DUFT: See anything you like yet? XIIN: Keep your chatter to yourself. No, Xiin did not see anything worth while. In fact, he was becoming more and more convinced that this was a dumb idea. He wasn't going to harm the man, nor take in an innocent and make himself out to be a liar. Xiin decided he would just think of an excuse to back out of here when the shop owner reached the corner. DUFT: I don't suppose I can ask you to look away. Xiin's blank stare answers the Duft's question convincingly The owner carefully and purposefully selects a specific droid arm and pulls forward, then down. The pile of junk moves silently to the left, exposing a hidden doorway. DUFT: Follow me, please. Xiin follows. Inside is a well lit room, with about 12-15 well kept and shiny droids of several different types. Xiin sees the Astromech he wants almost immediately - a black R5 type unit with gold trim - this will be a suitable replacement for R7-X4. However, Xiin realizes that he cannot seem eager, or the cover will be flawed. XIIN: There's nothing here for me. Now you're wasting my time.

- 16 -


DUFT: No, sir, this is all I have! XIIN: Let's go. DUFT: LISTEN!...forgive me...I...Uh...I... Xiin has to fight back laughter. He knows that he's not taking this man anywhere, and yet he can't help but toy with him a bit. DUFT: I think...[fighting back tears]...I think I know who you're looking for... Xiin's curiosity peaks. XIIN: Speak. DUFT: There's a man...a smuggler...he just arrived here about 3 days ago. XIIN: Continue. DUFT: Linbrae...he's here...and I hear he's worth quite a bit to the Hutt's. But, sir, please... XIIN: I don't deal. And you're still coming with me. DUFT: You don't understand, I've never swindled anyone or backed away from a debt...and I would especially not deprave the Hutt's! There has to be a mistake!...besides...Linbrae is an old friend. All I ask is that you don't tell him that I have given you this information. Xiin decides this charade has gone on long enough. XIIN: Where do I find Linbrae? DUFT: In the marshes on the other side of Hijou. He's living in his ship. Please go easy on him, he's been retired from smuggling for some time. XIIN: I'll be taking this droid here, along with the parts for my ship. I'm not going to advise Jabba that I found you, but I...suggest...that you forget I was here. And stay away from the gambling circuits. Other bounty hunters aren't nearly as forgiving as I. DUFT: Ye...yes...YES! I understand...thank you! XIIN: Don't thank me. I may be back. What kind of weapons is Linbrae carrying? DUFT: I have no idea... Xiin quickly raises his weapon to Duft's neck. XIIN: The chances of me putting a bolt in your skull have not faded yet... DUFT: OK...OK...I know he has a number of rifles, pistols...a concussion rocket launcher...he's kind of a collector of odd weapons. He has donated a lot of gear to my shop as well.

- 17 -


XIIN: Don't try contacting him to warn of my presence. Jabba will be the least of your worries if I have to return here. You're better off forgetting I ever set foot in this shop. Understood? DUFT: Und..[fighting tears again]..understood... Xiin collects his parts and his droid and makes his way out of the shop. It has gone completely dark now. This little town definitely is no Coruscant. A bright moon throws an eerie glow across the town, but these inhabitants seem to disappear once darkness falls. Not a soul in sight. Xiin needs to return to his ship before he makes his way to the marshes of Hijou.

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CHAPTER 3

Upon his return to his new vessel, Xiin immediately checks for his gear in the lower storage compartment. All seems well, and the bounty hunter lets out a huff. He instructs his Astromech to board and login into the ship's computer. This unit has had its identification marks removed. So he will have to mull over what numbers to give to this new droid. This train of thought leads Xiin to another question. What shall he name his new vessel? Irony had come full circle with regards to his X-wing. It had been named Brazen II in honor of the very same Star Destroyer that it had met its demise on. Several years ago, when Vae'd was about 14-15, his family was traveling home from a clan meeting on Malastare. The family transport ship came under attack by pirates, but the Imperial Star Destroyer Brazen was patrolling the area and took the time to intercept the pirates. Xiin didn't remember much of the events, and he didn't know if the Imperials intervened out of kindness or personal gain, but he never forgot that the crew of the Brazen saved the lives of his family that day. It was with the utmost respect that he name his first space vessel after the ship that gave him the chance to be here. However, in recent years, Xiin has grown more and more tired of the Empire. While he will take an Imperial task now and then, it's usually out of boredom. He never gets paid what is promised, and the jobs are far more dangerous that what is portrayed. With this in mind, the chances of his vessel being named Brazen III is deemed inappropriate. He opts to look to his family as inspiration... When his father, Vopris Xiin, passed on, his only request was that he be entombed with the weapon that he had wielded for his 50+ years of hunting across the galaxy. The weapon was a heavily modified laser rifle that his father had affectionately called the "Scepter". Therefore, Vae'd felt it would be fitting to call his new vessel the Scepter II. His attention to modifying his ship as his own will have to wait for now. He enters the main hold, his bounty passed out once again. The pirate had broken the ration container, and it seems that he attempted to use the pieces to dig at his arms. Xiin found this peculiar until he remembered that he instructed the pirate that he injected him with a mythical Tracer Mite. Vae'd secretly hopes that he can dump this bounty soon, as he has grown to hate this worthless pile of waste. As Xiin prepares his gear, his focus is directed at the smuggler, Linbrae. Linbrae is one of the few bounties that have eluded him over the years. In fact, Linbrae had escaped on two separate occasions. Once on Naboo, when Xiin was just getting out on his own. And again on Rodia, when the smuggler paid a decoy to allow himself to be captured. Vae'd was halfway to Tatooine before the ruse was found out. To further his frustration, Xiin has never even gotten close enough to know what Linbrae even looks like. Xiin cannot bear the thought of failing a third time. Having collected himself and his gear, Vae'd Xiin is ready to attempt his second bounty of the trip. He leaves instructions with the droid to notify him of any intruders to the area, and makes his way into the darkened forests of Ord Radama... ****************************** The approaching Imperial shuttle pierces the quiet night sky. Floating slowly just meters above the darkened tree tops of the Radamian forest. Lieutenant Tylec stands between the pilots, shifting his gaze between the forward glass and the dash instruments.

- 19 -


CREW COMMANDER: Sir, we have not picked up any trace of the freighter's power signature. It's possible this smuggler has shut the power off to avoid detection. He could be anywhere. LT TYLEC: I suspect you're right, crewman. But I'm sure our friend will be looking for parts to repair his ship, so it behooves him to stay near a civilized location. What is our current location? CC: Approximately 16 kilometers from the city called Cransous. 55 kilometers from Hijou. LT: Locate a landing area between these two cities. We will have to set out on foot. Split the troops and investigate each of these towns. Question all townsfolk and see if they have noticed anyone or anything suspicious. CC: Aye, sir. Pilot, monitor the surrounding terrain for a suitable landing area... Lt Tylec is already growing impatient. He knew this would be a rather difficult task, but he didn't quite prepare himself that this could take days to complete. Secretly, he is furious at Captain Sotis for allowing the freighter to come this far unopposed. Smugglers are good at hiding, and the Captain should have taken this into heavy consideration. None-the-less, what's done is done. He will find this smuggler and retrieve the Cells and move along. Besides, this is better than wandering through the galaxy with nothing to do. PILOT: Commander, a clearing has been marked 3 kilometers out. Permission to set down. CC: Granted, Pilot, commence landing sequence. Lieutenant Tylec, what orders shall I forward to the troops? LT: Prepare two groups of five. You will escort the first group to Cransous, I will lead the second to Hijou. We need to move quickly, as I'd like to arrive in town by morning light. CC: As you wish, Lieutenant. LT: Pilot, open a channel to the White Wolf. PILOT: Yes, sir. Channel open. LT: Shuttle Alpha to White Wolf. Captain Sotis appears on the monitor above the forward glass. CAPT: Report, Lieutenant. LT: Captain Sotis. Our initial scan of the forests did not produce any results. We are landing momentarily and will be visiting nearby settlements acquire further information from the locals. CAPT: Very well, Lieutenant. I expect a report shortly. LT: Aye, Captain. The locals are a peaceful society, we should not have any trouble finding a smuggler among them. CAPT: Let us hope so.

- 20 -


The monitor goes dark as the communication is ended. PILOT: We've touched down, Commander. All indicators are green. CC: Copy that, Pilot. Lieutenant, we are ready. LT: Let's move, Commander. As the Stormtroopers stream out of the shuttle, their white uniforms produce a ghostly reflection against the darkened Radamian sky. Behind them, two small transports roll down the loading ramp. The troopers file into the transports quickly and precisely. Soon, each of the vehicles is heading to the nearby towns... ****************************** Xiin checks his wrist monitor. A large metal object has been located 50 meters ahead. Several different life readings come up, but nothing larger than a Bunka Frog. He muses to himself that our friend Linbrae may have taken a little nighttime walk. He continues forward to better assess the situation. Pushing some brush aside, Xiin gets his first clear view of the Tithus, Linbrae's signature ship. As with many smuggler's, Linbrae had opted to adopt a Corellian light freighter as his transport of choice. His model, YT-1150, was the choice for many old-timers, as its light frame and reduced payload made it a very fast ship. The smuggler even went as far to camouflage the ship by painting it a dark green. The remains of a burned out fire smolder nearby. Xiin decides he will wait for him to return and scales a nearby tree for a well hidden vantage point. As he settles in, weapon drawn and pointed in the direction of Linbrae's camp, he continues to scan the area. Without making a sound, he reaches to his arm to select his infra-red viewer. Inside Xiin's helmet, the night sky turns a brilliant red. Linbrae would not be able to come within 100 meters of his ship without being noticed. LINBRAE:I don't suppose you'd like to join me for a late supper?...early breakfast? Linbrae had approached from his rear, completely undetected. Xiin could not even comprehend how he knew that he was sprawled in this tree. The smuggler is carrying a dead boar of some type by the scruff in his left hand. The right hand has a rifle pointed as Xiin's helmet. Vae'd, in a compromising position, dare not even move his weapon. XIIN: Stand down, smuggler. You are wanted by Jabba the Hutt. You can come peac... LINBRAE: You can drop that nonsense, son. I can pull the trigger faster than you can twitch. You can drop your weapon and accompany me, or I can kill you. It's your choice..."bounty hunter". Xiin has no choice. He drops his sub-rifle into the brush just below him. He'll have to be patient and think of another way out. LINBRAE: The pistol in your leg holster as well. Come on, now...I'm rather hungry. The bounty hunter reaches to his leg and pulls out his pistol, and that, too, is dropped to the ground. LINBRAE: Now just slide on down here. Don't worry, son, if you don't try anything funny we'll both be doing OK for ourselves.

- 21 -


Xiin has no other choice but to agree. He drags himself slowly to the ground and faces Linbrae. LINBRAE: Take off the helmet, son. I'm not talking to a droid. The helmet is taken off. LINBRAE: Well now! You're just a youngling! No wonder I had such an easy time walking up on you. XIIN: If you're going to shoot me, just do it. LINBRAE: If I wanted to shoot you, you'd already be dead. Now move yer feet, we have a dinner to prepare. XIIN: You must be joking. LINBRAE: I don't joke about food. You hungry? Yes, Xiin is hungry. But he chooses not to answer. LINBRAE: Suit yourself, youngling. More for me. Linbrae marches Xiin back to his camp... ****************************** The transport carrying Tylec and his troops makes its way down a darkened street of Hijou. Not a soul stirring. The Lieutenant is not sure what to make of this. He's sure the town is not deserted, but it's odd that not a single lifeform is to be found. He brings his left wrist within speaking range. LT: Captain Sotis, please respond. A brief pause. CAPT: What is it, Lieutenant. LT: My team has entered the town of Hijou, but oddly, there are no beings present. CAPT: I would expect as much. The Radamians are not sociable during the dark hours. LT: I see, sir. What do you recommend. CAPT: Hold firm until daylight. Try not to cause a stir with the locals, Lieutenant. I don't need any unnecessary information being passed on from this planet. LT: Understood, Captain. We will hold firm until first light. Tylec felt his impatience growing again. This was not like the Lieutenant at all. Despite his inability to move up in the ranks of the Empire, he is always commended for his tactfulness and patience in most situations. This time, though, Tylec feels more is at hand than a simple promotion. He is tired of waiting. But he and his team needn't to wait much longer...

- 22 -


Dawn is approaching... ****************************** The first indications of dawn begin to show. Linbrae sits in front of a neat and crackling fire and is smacking away on a perfect slab of boar ribs. Xiin is sitting on a log a few feet away, his hands bound with a steel pipe over his elbows and behind his back. The bounty hunter has let fatigue set in and he has made the mistake that may cost him his life. All he can do is watch Linbrae eat and wonder what it would be like to be sitting at the bottom of a marsh pit. LINBRAE: Sure you don't want none? More blank stares from Xiin. LINBRAE: Suit yourself. But I know what you're thinkin'...you’re thinkin', how in the blasted boar did I get myself into this? There's an easy answer...you're just a little green, that's all... Xiin really doesn't care to be hearing this. LINBRAE: Just a little more experience would take you very far in your work. Now I know you Mando's like to work alone, and I respect that, but with all the enemies you make, you also need to find a way to build some acquaintances as well. I've been doing this a loooong time...a long time. Trust me on this. In all my years, I've but one person I can call a friend. I need to start doing better than that. Linbrae notices Xiin starring at his food. LINBRAE: Look, kid, I wanna let you loose...I really do. I know you're hungry, I can see it in your eyes. But I can't go havin' you tryin' to put a tree branch or something through my head. If you're willing to let me be, I'm willing to feed you...plus make this time well worth your while. XIIN: Taking you to Jabba would better serve me. LINBRAE: See, that's where you're wrong. Hold tight for a click... Linbrae goes into his ship and comes back out with a silver case and Xiin's weapons and gear. He sets it down nearby to Xiin. LINBRAE: To prove my point, your weapons are here in perfect order. Inside this case is the value of the price on my head...doubled. L20,000 credits to be exact. Xiin can't help but to show a bit of emotion, as his eyes light up. LINBRAE: I know you probably think I've lost my mind. I could've just killed you and kept this money. But then some other bounty hunter may come along and I may not get so lucky as to find him sitting in a tree. I don't know how you found me here, and I don't care...but I do know that if you could track me down, then I'm sure someone with much more experience can do the same. Linbrae is poking at the fire. Xiin sits motionless, listening intently. LINBRAE: So here's my proposal. We call a truce, and I give you this case and your weapons for your trouble...and I'll even give you that meal that I promised...

- 23 -


XIIN: ..and what do you want from me? Linbrae exposes a large grin. LINBRAE: My request is two-fold. First, I want you to go to Jabba and tell him that I am dead. Maybe tell him that you forced me into the lava rivers on Mustafar. Or maybe you fed me to a Wampa on Hoth. I don't care. The thing is, I'm far too old to continue running from Jabba and everything else. Its bad enough I have to live out of my ship here in the swamp of a beautiful planet. I'm retired from smuggling...the game is over for me. XIIN: And the second? Linbrae stops prodding the fire and leans in closer to Xiin. LINBRAE: I'd like to make you an acquaintance of mine. Xiin cracks a sarcastic, and condescending smile. LINBRAE: Listen, I can't go on without help...not if I want to survive...there's no denying that. I feel that the Force has willed us here, together. Any other set of circumstances could have meant that one of us would not be here right now. Either of us could be dead. I've heard of some of your conquests, Xiin...you are a strong bounty hunter and with some more experience I expect you to be the best. I've put some honest thought into this meeting. You and I could make a strong alliance. XIIN: I work alone, old man. LINBRAE: Of course you do. I'm not proposing that I join you, but rather be here as source of information. I've made countless trips from one end of this galaxy to the other. I'm sure I would be more valuable to you as an asset than to be rotting away in a Tatooine prison cell...or dead. Xiin contemplates his offer further and he decides to humor him a bit. XIIN: And what if Jabba doesn't believe me? LINBRAE: He will. Jabba has got a sweet spot for you Mando's. I know he looks to Fett for just about every difficult bounty he requests. And...you're also going to show him this... Linbrae pulls out a lightsaber hilt and sets it on the case in front of Xiin. LINBRAE: This was my lightsaber during my time as a Jedi Padawan. Unfortunately, I decided to leave the Jedi Order and I never completed my training. This was in a time well before the Clone Wars. But I kept this as a reminder. And I did some tinkering to it over the years. There's a new set of crystals in here that makes this unique. Linbrae pick up the hilt again and ignites the blade. A brilliant orange glow fills the immediate area. LINBRAE: I found these crystals while hiding on Mustafar for a time. I still have a small stash of them, so I plan on building another. Hell, I got the time for it now. But by showing this to Jabba, you should have no problem convincing him that I'm gone. The blade disappears and Linbrae sets the hilt back down on the case.

- 24 -


LINBRAE: Do we have an understanding? Xiin mulls it over. He has a chance here to double, possibly triple, the value of this smuggler's bounty just by walking away. He decides that only a fool would not take offer. Besides, fooling Jabba would be relatively simple. XIIN: Agreed, old man. I accept your offer and give you my word, on the condition that this offer remain between you and I. If Jabba or anyone else approaches me with information that suggests that you turned on me, I will see to it that you regret it. LINBRAE: [chuckling] Fair enough. Linbrae rises up and cuts Xiin loose. It felt good to finally be out of this crude confinement. Linbrae extends a hand to Xiin. Reluctant at first, Xiin extends his own hand and shakes with the smuggler. LINBRAE: GOOD! Now for the meal I promised you. Xiin new Linbrae was right. The smuggler had a vast amount of experiences that would definitely be an asset to Xiin. This would give him an advantage unmatched by most. Slowly but surely, Xiin was convincing himself that he made the right choice. In a sight unseen in this galaxy far, far away, bounty hunter and smuggler sit down to enjoy a meal together...

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CHAPTER 4

Day has begun on this part of Ord Radama. Almost as if a switch has been turned on, the townsfolk of Hijou stream from their dwellings to begin their day. The people here are friendly and peaceful and have no enemies. Crime here is nearly unheard of, and the majority of that is due to outsiders looking to take advantage of the lifestyle. Weapons, while not forbidden, are looked upon curiously. There is no need for arms on this planet, and those that carry them are cause for alarm and demand caution from the locals. So when a team of Stormtroopers are viewed marching down the main thoroughfare of this quiet town of Hijou with rifles in plain sight, the entire community is put on alert. Lieutenant Tylec leads intently. The troops following neatly behind him in a 2/2/1 formation. The pristine look of the city combined with the glaring white perfection of the Stormtroopers makes for an oddly picturesque vision. An older gentleman of about 40 approaches the Imperials as they pass by a local merchant store front. He is rather short, bearded, and wobbles heavily when he walks. By his dress, he seems to be someone of importance. JUSSTRA: Officer!...officer!...Hello!...Can I offer some assistance? LT: Who approaches? JUSSTRA: My name is Pila Jusstra, officer. I am the town spokesman for this peaceful community of Hijou. LT: I see. You may address me as Lieutenant Tylec. We are looking to apprehend a smuggler that may be visiting your lovely city. JUSSTRA: Yes, sir, Lieutenant Tylec. I will be happy to help. We do not appreciate their type on Ord Radama. Please accept any help we can provide to you. Our resources are at your disposal. LT: Thank you, Spokesman Jusstra. The Emperor will be pleased with your willingness to cooperate. JUSSTRA: Thank you, Lieutenant. How may I help? LT: We will need to question some of your citizens. It seems this smuggler may have come to your planet to hide and make some repairs to his damaged vessel. May you direct us to local merchants would have such items? JUSSTRA: Most definitely, Lieutenant. We have several parts dealers. Kilvin's shop is just around the corner. We may also want to visit with Mr. Manki on the town line as well.

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LT: Excellent. Lead the way, Spokesman. JUSSTRA: Yes, sir. Follow me. Jusstra leads the group of soldiers the length of the road, in obvious distress that he has Imperials walking his streets. Once arrived at Kilvin's store front, the troops move quickly to enter and contain the owner and his patrons. Tylec enters after receiving a nod from the lead Stormtrooper. Jusstra is blocked from entering and the rejection has him more worried than before. He can do nothing but pace the store front and hope for the best... ****************************** For the first time since leaving home, Xiin has begun to trust another living being outside of his family. Linbrae has shown he would live up to his word and then some. Although there is still some apprehension, the bounty hunter feels that there is no reason to believe this old smuggler is a threat to him. After all, if Linbrae was an enemy, Xiin would surely not be sitting here. The two have been having discussions on a variety of topics...from conquests to family. Soon the conversation turns to equipment. LINBRAE: So what kind of transport does a Mando like you travel in? I can see you cruising around in a nice Firespray Class like your friend, Fett. XIIN: Fett is not my friend. LINBRAE: Lighten up son, it was a joke. XIIN: Well up until recently, I had an X-wing that I took from Jabba in trade for a bounty. I put a lot of work into that ship. LINBRAE: What happened? XIIN: I lost her on a Star Destroyer. LINBRAE: Ahhh...damn Imperials confiscated your ship, eh? XIIN: Not exactly. They vaporized the Destroyer with my ship aboard. LINBRAE: They blew up their own ship? XIIN: Affirmative. It was a Destroyer damaged by the Rebels at Yavin. It was a ghost ship when I found it. LINBRAE: Still, why would they waste the resources? There must have been something rather important on that boat if they took the time to demolish the thing. The Imperials do not treat their battleships like they do the fighters. That's a lot of material to just throw away. XIIN: I agree. But I was there. I had to abandon the Destroyer with the pile of junk I arrived here on. LINBRAE: So what are you flying now? XIIN: An old Corellian freighter.

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LINBRAE: You're joking! What type? XIIN: 1210 model. LINBRAE: Sweet Sarlacc! That's fantastic! XIIN: Why's that? LINBRAE: I know a guy in town that can help you out. I get all my parts from him. Xiin quickly changes the subject. XIIN: I found it on the Destroyer. I call her the Scepter II. The plan is to fix it up a bit. But there's no working weapons onboard. If I have any run in's with Imperials on the way back home, I'm in trouble. Linbrae kind of stares at Xiin for a moment. LINBRAE: You know, I have a number of modified weapons on this bucket here that I haven't a need for. I could "loan" them to you. I'm sure they'd be easily adaptable to your boat, being Corellian and all. XIIN: I appreciate the offer. But I'm sure I'll be set with the bounty credits you just gave me. LINBRAE: Nonsense. I told you I'm retired, and I meant it. I have little use for them. I like your style, Xiin. You were brought up right. I know most of you Mando's try to be the tough guy, taking whatever the feel like, hurting and killing whoever stands in your way…operating without mercy. You hunt bounties, I know, but I see you pour your attention toward the true criminals. Pirates, dirty smugglers, murderers and the like. You call yourself a bounty hunter. I call you a vigilante. XIIN: Don't get carried away, old man. I also have worked for the Empire. LINBRAE: I'm sure...when it was necessary. As have I. There's bounty hunters that kill for sport. You fight to survive. I've seen you, Xiin...I've seen you go out of your way to avoid harming innocents. Fett is a piece of osik* with the way he treats the lifeforms that are in his path. I've watched you and your progress over the last few years. I've let you come close on a few occasions, just so I could see how you operate. I knew it was you in that tree. Had it been Fett or Bossk on that limb, I would have pulled the trigger without saying a word. (*osik is the Mandalorian word for “crap”.) XIIN: How do you know so much about me? You playing some mind trick on me? LINBRAE: No, no...of course not. I never mastered that portion of my training. But I can sense the good in people rather easily. You and I are a lot alike, Xiin. I'll have you know that in all my years, I've never hurt an innocent, and I despise vermin who do. I took up smuggling because it was a job with a low profile...at first it was to stay out of the Clone Wars...but after it was the way Jedi were hunted down after the war. XIIN: Then why are you wanted by Jabba? LINBRAE: I'm wanted by Jabba because I dumped a metric ton of spices on the roof of his palace. He had the nerve to send one of his thugs to try and steal the load out from under me. So I gave him what he wanted, just not where he wanted it.

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Xiin actually chuckled. He had not laughed in years. LINBRAE: Like I said, I have no use for this stuff anymore. I have no kin to carry on for me. Just take it and use it. If I need it back...well, we'll just have to see what happens. XIIN: Well, if you insist. LINBRAE: I do. Just promise me you take care of them. Some of them I built myself over the years. There's a turret cannon, and a rocket rack that are just sitting in the cargo hold at the moment. It's at least a start. We could set you up with a decent ship to get your job done. XIIN: I no words for this. Thank you. But I do need to get back to my ship, I still have a bounty sitting in the hold. LINBRAE: Then grab some parts, youngling. I'll walk with you. ****************************** Lt Tylec emerges from the storefront doorway, with his Stormtroopers in tow. This was the 3rd parts dealer that the team has visited this morning, and have gotten no leads as of yet. TYLEC: Spokesman, we are not obtaining any information that it necessary to our cause. Perhaps we should be speaking to someone other than yourself? Someone who understands the severity of the situation. JUSSTRA: No, sir, Lieutenant, sir! I have shown you all but one of our local stores. It's possible that your smuggler has not visited our small town. TYLEC: Your thoughts do not concern me, spokesman. And I suggest you recognize with whom you are speaking. JUSSTRA: Yes, Lieutenant. I did not intend to upset you. TYLEC: Very well, spokesman. Let us visit the next shop. Jusstra is visually distraught. He doesn't like the idea of Imperials questioning his citizens. It may cause his constituents to lose faith in his leadership. Within moments, the troop arrives at the front of Duft Manki's shop. Once again, the troops enter to contain the area. Tylec follows shortly after. TYLEC: Mr. Manki, excuse the intrusion to your establishment. We are in need of some information. Duft turns pale white. The events of the previous evening had left him shaken, and this encounter wasn't going to be much better. He very badly wanted to run from this situation. DUFT: Ye..yes, sir. How...can I help? TYLEC: We are attempting to locate a smuggler. We believe his ship has been damaged and is need of repairs. Have you experienced any strange outsiders to your business recently? Duft could not find any words. He wanted to tell them of the bounty hunter, but they are looking for a smuggler. He could not bear to turn on his friend Linbrae for a second time.

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TYLEC: Mr. Manki, do you understand the question? This is all becoming a bad dream for Duft. He is torn between friendship and fear. All he can do is open his mouth, but no words come out. TYLEC: Are you refusing to answer the question, Mr. Manki? You know something, don't you? Finally, Duft blurts out... DUFT: You don't understand! TYLEC: Excuse me, citizen, but you will not raise your voice to... DUFT: I know nothing, please leave! TYLEC: Perhaps you will need to visit an Imperial cell! DUFT: I don't know any smugglers! TYLEC: Officer, bind him. He is coming with us. A Stormtrooper walks around the counter and approaches Duft. DUFT: NOOO! I was robbed last evening! By a bounty hunter! TYLEC: Stand down, officer. My patience is at an end, Mr. Manki. I suggest you take advantage of this moment. DUFT: I don't know his name. He came in and inquired about some parts for his ship, but then he turned on me. He threatened to take me to Jabba the Hutt to collect a bounty, so I gave him the parts to let me be. Please don't arrest me! I have broken no laws! TYLEC: And where did he go after he let you live? DUFT: I don't know. He told me if I mentioned he was here, he would come back and kill me! TYLEC: And what parts did you give him? DUFT: Corellian. I can't remember the model. 1200 series I think. TYLEC: And you are sure that your memory fails you as to his direction? DUFT: Yes, sir. I am sorry. TYLEC: Very well. Officer, you may arrest this man for aiding a known bounty hunter. DUFT: WHAT?! WAIT! YOU CAN'T DO THAT! TYLEC: I am a Lieutenant in the Imperial Navy. I assure you, I can. DUFT: WAIT! WAIT! I may know his direction!

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TYLEC: Interesting. Continue. Duft knows now that he is done. He has backed himself into a corner and he has broken into tears. He has already betrayed his friend once, and now that mistake means he will have to do so again. TYLEC: I will not ask again. DUFT: The marshes...ooohhh...the marshes. He said he was going to collect a bounty in the marshes. That's all I know, I swear. I can't be arrested! This is all I have! Tylec pauses for a moment and stares at the broken shop owner. A moment later, his gaze shifts to the trooper. TYLEC: Release him, officer. I believe our friend here has surrendered all he knows. [Turning to address two different troopers] Go and return with the transport immediately. We have little time to get to the marshes. Advise the other team of our findings and have them meet us there[Turning back to Duft] You should hope that we contain this criminal before we leave this planet, Mr. Manki. If not, I will be forced to return. Duft doesn't even pick up his head from the counter. He has broken into sobs and cannot bear to imagine these events may lead him to an Imperial prison. Events that he did not wish for, nor encourage. The remaining Imperials leave the shop and start to march toward the marshes. Tylec passes a worried Jusstra without so much as a nod and continues on. Jusstra quickly moves into Duft's shop as the troop transport sled arrives and accepts it passengers. The team disappears toward the marshes of Hijou as quickly at it had arrived. ****************************** From atop the Scepter II, Linbrae's head pokes over the side. Xiin is standing nearby the ship's boarding ramp. LINBRAE: Go ahead and try it! Xiin nods, and climbs the ramp. Taking a seat at the controls, he flips a few switches. Almost instantly, the engines come to life. As he makes a few checks, Xiin seems pleased with the readings. After a moment, he shuts down the engines and makes his way back outside. LINBRAE: That's some high quality power coming out of those engines, son! Sure you can manage? The usual blank stare from Xiin. LINBRAE: Good gaffi, you Mando's have no sense of humor. Xiin's ship was coming together nicely. In just a few hours, they had repaired all the operating systems and got the forward cannon working with the Nubian Coil. The rocket rack and turret guns would have to wait until later, but the bounty hunter was most pleased. The two friends spend a few moments to load the parts into the main hold. Linbrae stops to make note of the canisters in the front of the ship. LINBRAE: Say, what's with the canisters in the forward hold? XIIN: No idea. Junk I suppose. The Imperials never offloaded them, so I'm assuming they are worthless.

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LINBRAE: Mind if I take one? Just to toy with? XIIN: By all means. Linbrae collects his can and the pair make their way down the boarding ramp. XIIN: I must be on my way. However, I will return soon. LINBRAE: You're welcome? Its ok, I must move on myself as I need to head into town. I hope we... Linbrae stops in mid-sentence and pulls out a small monitor from his pocket. LINBRAE: Something has tripped a sensor near my ship. I need to check it out. XIIN: I'll join you. LINBRAE: No. It's probably nothing. Don't worry about me. You need to get moving. That bounty needs to be turned in and this ship needs some more work. XIIN: Very well. I will be in contact. I'll be to sure make good use of your gifts. Linbrae just shakes his head and laughs. With a handshake, the two part ways. ****************************** The two Imperial teams have converged on the area just outside of Linbrae's camp. Though they are not in view of the camp itself, the Crew Commander uses hand signals to report that a ship's signature has been recorded. The Stormtroopers fan out and trudge through the brush. The troops then appear in the surrounding area of Linbrae's camp. Linbrae does not seem to be present. CC: Lieutenant, our scanners are not picking up any lifeforms. This camp seems to be abandoned. Perhaps they were alerted to our presence? TYLEC: Not likely. The fire coals are still smoldering. I would believe whoever was here has been away for some time. CC: Shall we search the area, sir? TYLEC: Negative, Commander, have your troops set up a perimeter. CC: Yes, sir. LINBRAE: May I help you gentlemen? No sooner has the Crew Commander given the order to the Stormtroopers, Linbrae appears from inside his freighter. It seems as if he had just risen from a rest. TYLEC: Commander, arrest this man! The Commander has two of his troops contain Linbrae and bind his hands behind his back, and march him to sit on the same log Linbrae had contained Xiin on just hours earlier. Linbrae offers no resistance.

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TYLEC: Identify yourself, smuggler. LINBRAE: I am not a smuggler...and my name is of little importance. TYLEC: Perhaps you'd prefer to spend some time in the brig of an Imperial Star Destroyer? LINBRAE: Why not? It's prob'ly better than living in a swamp... TYLEC: Your humor fails me, old man. I can make your life a living hell. LINBRAE: What do you want from me? I haven't broken any laws and I've been retired for several years. TYLEC: We are in need of some information. LINBRAE: So you decided to harass a retired old-timer? I'm sure you can find your information elsewhere. TYLEC: You are testing the limits of my patience. Commander, search this vessel. CC: Yes, sir. The Commander and three troops board the Tithus. Tylec stands over Linbrae and continues to badger him. LINBRAE: Your goons will find nothing of importance. Why don't you go and pick on someone your own size, "Lieutenant". Linbrae leans backward to stretch out his spine. Pops and cracks of old joints echo lightly against the surrounding trees. TYLEC: I admire your confidence, old man. But I have it on good authority that your claims are nothing but lies. I suppose you are unaware of the price on your head? LINBRAE: Of course I'm aware...why else would I be living in a swamp? TYLEC: Have you been visited by any bounty hunters recently? LINBRAE: You mean before you boompas arrived? No. TYLEC: Your demeanor is wearing thin. I shall ask again one last time...have you...? CC: Lieutenant Tylec, sir! The Commander emerges from the boarding ramp of the Tithus. TYLEC: What is it, Commander? CC: We found this onboard. It has Imperial inventory markings. The Commander is holding the canister that Linbrae took from Xiin.

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TYLEC: Very good, Commander. Ensure that there are no others aboard. [Turns to Linbrae] Shall I bother asking how you got this piece of Imperial equipment? LINBRAE: I found it in the woods. TYLEC: Of course you did. Officers, take this man back to the shuttle. Perhaps Lord Vader can convince our friend to cooperate? LINBRAE: You don't scare me, you bully. The "Dark Lord" can kiss my boots. TYLEC: You'll regret those words, old man. Theft of Imperial goods will be the least of your worries. [To the troopers] Take this canister back to the shuttle as evidence. TROOPERS: Yes, sir, Lieutenant. Linbrae just stares coldly at Tylec as two Stormtroopers grab the old smuggler and start to march him to the troop transports. Tylec watches intently until they are out of sight. The Crew Commander returns and distracts Tylec from his thoughts. The Commander is carrying a portable monitor and reading it intently, but he has a concerned look on his face. TYLEC: What is it, Commander? Have you have found something else? CC: I'm not sure, sir. I'm getting a strange power reading, but I'm having trouble locating it. TYLEC: What does it suggest? CC: Sir, I'm not able to confirm. The signal seems to be muffled. TYLEC: Bring the other troops out here. I'm finding this most curious. This thief may have hidden more goods in the area. Within seconds, each of the remaining troops are combing the area, trying to pinpoint the location of this odd power source. A Stormtrooper walking by the firepit notices something odd. It seems that there is a small red light coming from the side of the log that Linbrae had been sitting on. TROOPER: Commander, I think I've found something. CC: What is it, trooper? The Commander makes his way toward the firepit. Two other troops have already made their way there. Tylec, having been on the other side of the freighter, starts to come around as well. TROOPER: I noticed this small light here, sir. CC: Ah, yes...good eye, trooper. What is that? TROOPER: I'm not sure. The trooper reaches down to turn over the log. Underneath, the log had been hollowed. Inside is now active Thermal Detonator. CC: MOVE!!

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The small gathering of troops barely had time to turn around before the detonator ignites. In a brilliant flash, the Crew Commander and the three Stormtrooper are sent flying. The blast killing each of them before they even hit the ground. Lieutenant Tylec, still a distance away, is thrown violently to the ground. The five remaining troopers are forced to the ground in a similar fashion. Each of the survivors are left barely conscious. ****************************** Linbrae and his escort are about to exit the woods on to a makeshift trail when the explosion is heard. The guards turn to face the direction of the noise, and Linbrae takes this opportunity to spin hard and kick out the knee of the nearest trooper. The soldier drops to the ground, and the old man runs into the woods. The other trooper, hearing his counterpart fall in pain, drops the canister and turns with rifle raised and fires two shots that miss Linbrae as he ducks out of sight. The trooper follows closely behind. Each time Linbrae's movements are noticed, the trooper fires one or two shots in that direction. Finally, one blast seems to catch Linbrae and he falls. The trooper approaches carefully. The Stormtrooper finds Linbrae's lifeless body lying near a pile of fallen branches. The trooper presses a foot down on the smuggler's back to try and coax a reaction. Satisfied, the soldier grabs Linbrae by his bound hands and pull him up. The shot from Xiin's sub-rifle catches the Stormtrooper just above his right shoulder blade and the white uniform drops dead on top of Linbrae's body. Xiin makes his way from his cover and heads right to Linbrae. Xiin reaches the scene in a hurry and grabs the fallen soldier and tosses him off of Linbrae. XIIN: Stay with me, old man! Xiin rolls Linbrae on to his back and tries to find a pulse. Not able to find one, the bounty hunter withdraws and slumps over, his head lowered. Xiin reaches his arms around the old man to try and release the binds on his hands when Linbrae's eyes slowly open. LINBRAE: AHHH!! Xiin jumps to his feet and actually draws his weapon. He was clearly not prepared for this surprise. LINBRAE: Take that damn helmet off when you're around me! XIIN: Don't do that! I nearly shot you, old man! LINBRAE: Get these stupid binds off of me. XIIN: I was about to before you decided to come back to life. LINBRAE: I wasn't dead! But you could've shot this guy before he picked me up so I didn't have to be dropped on the ground AND have him land on me! XIIN: You're welcome. Linbrae paused for a moment, then a smile runs across his face. A laugh follows.

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LINBRAE: There's that sense of humor I was looking for. Help me up, we need to get back to my ship. XIIN: I think they may have blown it up. I heard a detonator go off. LINBRAE: Naw...I set that. I'm glad they found it. But we are going to need to get out of here right away. Killing Imperials is going to get us noticed in a hurry. And I'm not leaving my ship behind. XIIN: Sure you can fight? LINBRAE: Don't ask stupid questions, boy. Let's move! ****************************** Aboard the White Wolf, Captain Sotis paces the bridge. He had expected a report from Tylec long ago and his patience is at an end. CAPT: Crewman, raise Lieutenant Tylec immediately. CREWMAN: Yes, Captain. This is completely unlike Tylec. He has always been reliable and follow procedures by the book. While Sotis is confident that the Lieutenant has not encountered any problems, it is still an uneasy feeling to have to stand by without any new information. CREWMAN: Captain Sotis, the Lieutenant does not respond. CAPT: What about the shuttle? CREWMAN: Sir, the shuttle pilot reports that his last communication with the team was several hours ago. Apparently, the team was to investigate a lead that the smuggler was camped near one of the towns. No further information is available, Captain. CAPT: I see. Continue to try and reach the Lieutenant. Advise the shuttle pilot to report any contact immediately. Also, I want two TIE's launched to patrol their last known position. CREWMAN: Aye, Captain. Captain Sotis continues his pacing. Tylec will not be happy when he comes back aboard. ****************************** Tylec is having trouble getting to his feet. A Stormtrooper comes over to aide the Lieutenant. TROOPER: Are you OK, sir? TYLEC: Yes, soldier, thank you. TROOPER: Shall I check on the others, sir? TYLEC: Yes. And round up the survivors. We need to get back to the shutt...

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The head of the Stormtrooper kicks violently to the side as a laser bolt pierces his helmet. The others scan the woods desperately in an attempt to locate the position of the attackers, but it's of little use. Xiin picks off each of the troopers with blinding accuracy. Laser bolts fill the area. After a brief battle, the only Imperial alive is Tylec. Xiin and Linbrae appear from the forest and approach him with weapons drawn. LINBRAE: Well, well. Greetings, Lieutenant. I suppose it's my turn to be the bully? TYLEC: Go ahead, kill me. Killing an Imperial officer is punishable by... XIIN: Shut up. What are you looking for? TYLEC: You're a bounty hunter, aren't you? You'll never work for the Empire again! In fact, you'll be hunted just like every other scum in the galaxy! Xiin takes a glancing blow at Tylec's head with his rifle, then shoves the barrel of the gun into his nose. XIIN: What are you looking for? TYLEC: Stolen Imperial equipment. Your friend here had a canister belonging to the Empire! XIIN: and why is this canister so important? TYLEC: I don't know. Xiin shoves the barrel more forcefully into Tylec's nose. TYLEC: OK, OK...all I know is that there were several canisters to be delivered to the Death Star. They were stolen from a Star Destroyer. LINBRAE: For Imperials, you all have a hard time keeping your equipment accounted for. XIIN: You sure that's it? TYLEC: Yes. Now release me! Xiin slowly starts to pull the trigger on his rifle. LINBRAE: Don’t kill him! He's not worth it. Let's just get out of here. Xiin slowly removes the gun from Tylec's face and then kicks him over. XIIN: Get out of here. The growl of TIE fighters is heard in the distance. LINBRAE: We have to go! XIIN: Agreed. Linbrae quickly boards his ship and fires up the engines. Xiin watches Tylec stumble into the woods before joining Linbrae aboard the Tithus.

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LINBRAE: Hang on kid. This may be a rough ride. XIIN: Just take me to my ship. LINBRAE: We don't have time for that, just sit tight for a moment. The Tithus shakes off dust and branches as it rises from the forest floor. The raising of Linbrae's ship alerts the nearby TIE's and they turn to intercept.

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CHAPTER 5

CREWMAN: Captain Sotis! The TIE pilots have spotted a Corellian freighter lifting off from a wooded area 2 kilometers from the shuttle landing site. Do they have permission to engage? SOTIS: Negative. Have them tail the ship until they are beyond a civilized area. Have them report each movement. CREWMAN: Aye, sir. This was really starting to bother Sotis. Where was Tylec? Why is he allowing this freighter to take off? Something must have happened on the planet surface, but what? These events are leading the Captain to believe that Tylec's mission has failed. SOTIS: Crewman, raise the shuttle. CREWMAN: Aye, Captain. Something needs to be done. If this is the freighter they are looking for, he needs to know where Tylec is right away. CREWMAN: The shuttle pilot in online, Captain. SOTIS: Pilot, any communication from the Lieutenant? SHUTTLE PILOT: No, sir. We have been trying to raise the Lieutenant and Crew Commander for some time. SOTIS: Very well. If you do not hear from the team within the next 30 clicks, depart and return to base. SHUTTLE PILOT: Yes, Captain, understood. Captain Sotis walks to the bridge window. There's going to be hell to pay if Tylec is alive. ****************************** Tylec stumbles his way to the trail and starts walking as quickly as his legs will allow. His continually tries to raise the shuttle with his communicator but to no avail. It was obviously damaged when he was thrown from the blast of the detonator. Frustrated, the Lieutenant heaves the worthless piece of equipment into the forest. Turning a bend in the trail, Tylec notices the fallen Stormtrooper up ahead. He is clearly in pain as the trooper is crawling down the trail, dragging the canister with him. Tylec has no difficulty reaching the soldier quickly. TYLEC: Soldier! Where is your captive? TROOPER: He distracted and ambushed us, sir. TYLEC: And what of your counterpart?

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TROOPER: He followed the captive into the woods. I heard several shots. I believe he was able to take down the captive. TYLEC: Well, your thoughts are wrong. Your captive attacked us at the camp. Your counterparts are dead. You failed your team, as well as the Empire! You're worthless! Tylec kicks the trooper squarely in the helmet and the soldier rolls over in agony. The Lieutenant picks up the rifle and raised it to the trooper. He had every intention on shooting this waste of a Stormtrooper, but then decides against it. Tylec picks up the canister, and without saying another word, continues walking down the trail. The soldier is left to fend for himself by the side of the trail. ****************************** The Tithus is sweeping back and forth in an attempt to shake the following TIE fighters, but the Imperial pilots are not so easily fooled. LINBRAE: I'm not going to be able to lose these guys easily. Any ideas? XIIN: Not yet. Why aren't they firing at us? LINBRAE: I was asking myself the same question. They must want us alive...or at least the ship intact. XIIN: I'm not sure why. You must have something they want. LINBRAE: The canister! That Imperial made a big stink about that can I took from you. He must think I have more of them. XIIN: Where is it? LINBRAE: They took it. I never got the chance to give it a look over. XIIN: You need to get me back to my ship. I need to figure out what these are and why they are so important. LINBRAE: We're gonna have to lose these fighters first. Hang on! Linbrae banks the Tithus violently to the left. The TIE's react just quickly enough to keep up. The freighter then levels out and banks hard upward toward the clouds. The fighters manage to follow and the chase continues... ****************************** SHUTTLE PILOT: White Wolf, this is shuttle Alpha. No contact with the Lieutenant. Shall we return? WHITEWOLF: Affirmative, shuttle Alpha. Captain Sotis has cleared your return. SHUTTLE PILOT: Copy, White Wolf. Commencing ignition... As the Pilot reaches over to select the igniter switch, the co-pilot stands up and points out the forward glass. CO-PILOT: Sir, look!

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SHUTTLE PILOT: I see him. Hold on White Wolf, it seems that we have a visual on the Lieutenant. Tylec is practically falling over himself as he exits the trail into the clearing where the shuttle is parked. In one hand he is still dragging the canister and the other is waving the rifle at the shuttle. SHUTTLE PILOT: Go help him! The Co-pilot leaves his post in a hurry to exit the shuttle and greet Tylec. CO-PILOT: Are you OK, sir?! Where are the others? [The co-pilot takes the canister from Tylec to carry it aboard] TYLEC: They're dead, pilot. We need to depart and pursue the criminals immediately! CO-PILOT: Yes, sir! The pair board the shuttle and the instructions to lift off are relayed. The shuttle rises before the boarding ramp is even fully locked up and speeds off to join the pursuit of the Tithus. ****************************** Among the clouds far above the planet surface, the Tithus continues to weave about to try avoiding the TIE fighters. The TIE's show great determination in keeping with the freighter, but have yet to fire upon them. XIIN: You want me to fly? LINBRAE: Keep your shirt on, I'm going to loose them right now. Linbrae steers the ship into a large cloud. As soon as he enters, he points the nose of the vessel downward and kills the power to the entire ship. The TIE's, not able to track the power signature of the freighter, continue to fly in the last recorded direction. As the Tithus drops from the sky, the fighters head harmlessly in the opposite direction. Linbrae waits until the last possible second and fires the ship back up, gaining control of the freighter just a few hundred feet from the tree tops. XIIN: Not bad for an old man. LINBRAE: Tell me about it later. Where's your ship? ****************************** Tylec is in obvious pain, but cannot peel his eyes away from the forward glass of the shuttle. SHUTTLE PILOT: We have a ping on the scope, sir! It looks like a Corellian freighter. TYLEC: Move to intercept, pilot. We must contain that vessel! SHUTTLE PILOT: It seems it is not far from our previous location. TYLEC: They must be trying to pick up the rest of the stolen goods. Move quickly, pilot! SHUTTLE PILOT: Yes, sir!

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The shuttle banks sharply to adjust its course and speeds off to meet up with the Tithus. ****************************** Not very far into the woods, the Tithus hovers just feet above the Scepter II and the boarding ramp opens. Xiin hops out on to the roof of his ship and then jumps down to use the boarding ramp. Linbrae notices the glint of the Imperial shuttle shining off in the distance. Linbrae decides to hover here until Xiin's ship fires up. But the shuttle is quickly getting closer and no life is coming from the Scepter. LINBRAE [to self]: C'mon, kid. You gotta move! The shuttle is now just seconds away... ****************************** SHUTTLE PILOT: I have a visual, Lieutenant. Dead ahead. TYLEC: Open fire when in range. SHUTTLE PILOT: Yes, sir. ****************************** Linbrae is almost out of time. His hand on the throttle and ready to go, but he is trying desperately to hold out as a distraction until Xiin can lift off. LINBRAE [to self]: C'mon, kid...c'mon! Linbrae watches in horror as Xiin bursts out running from the boarding ramp of the Scepter and stumbles. He quickly gets to his feet and runs again, but he seems to have injured his leg in the process. Moving as quickly as he can, Xiin heads toward the open field. LINBRAE [to self]: What are you doing, kid?! The shuttle has fired two laser bolts at long range, missing both freighters by several meters, and now Linbrae realizes his time is up. Turning tail, the Tithus blasts away from the scene. LINBRAE [to self]: I hope I can get them to follow me kid....good luck. Linbrae leans over to get a better view out of the cockpit. Xiin is hobbled, but running hard through the center of the clearing... ****************************** SHUTTLE PILOT: Sir! The freighter is leaving the scene, but a lifeform is running through the field a hundred meters from that location. Tylec finds this odd. But quickly makes a decision.

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TYLEC: Track the freighter, but come in low so we can get a look at this "lifeform". SHUTTLE PILOT: Yes, sir. The shuttle comes in fast, but slows quickly and fluidly. Tylec stares intently out of the windshield, trying to get a focus on the running humanoid. All at once, Tylec realizes that it is the bounty hunter that attacked him and killed his team. TYLEC: Open fire on that lifeform, pilot! That's the bounty hunter that ambushed our team! SHUTTLE PILOT: Aye, sir! Two quick blasts from the forward canons ignite the ground near Xiin. The bounty hunter is sent flying through the air and lands awkwardly on his side. He raises an arm to try and get up, but collapses and is no longer moving. TYLEC: Land the shuttle, pilot. We're going to pick him up and bring him in as a criminal. SHUTTLE PILOT: Yes, sir. The shuttle lands near Xiin's idle body. The two pilots emerge and grab Xiin by the shoulders to drag him aboard. There is no resistance. Once the prisoner is contained, the shuttle lifts off and heads back to the White Wolf.

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CHAPTER 6 Linbrae has got the TIE's back on his tail. But this time, the fighters weapons are not idle. Dodging laser fire while avoiding smashing into the trees and mountains is something he thought he no longer had to worry about. The old smuggler realizes that flying such a large target among the skies was not going to benefit him, and he decides to head to ground level and try to out maneuver the TIE's there. He noses the ship down, and the fighters follow close behind. Linbrae pulls back just a few dozen meters from the ground. His ship is showered with debris from the ground as laser blasts from the TIE's rip apart the forest floor. Tree tops blur by as the Tithus charges ahead. The mountain ranges off in the distance are his only hope. Two laser bolts find the backside of the freighter, rocking Linbrae in his chair. His shields will not hold up much longer. Linbrae steers his ship into the mountain range and weaves back and forth between the rock formations with great skill. The TIE's somehow hold firm behind him. He spots a cliff on his right and follows it. Up ahead the cliff ends and Linbrae turns his ship hard to the right as he comes upon the edge. The TIE's, just seconds behind, follow as if attached by a string. Both TIE fighters slam into the cliff face as they make the turn where the Tithus had just disappeared. Fireballs and an explosion of rocks and boulders are all that are left of the pursuants. Just below the fireworks, the Tithus sits motionless. Linbrae had known this cliff face gave the illusion that it ended at the spot and he had used it to his full advantage. Having made the hard turn, Linbrae hit the brakes and sunk his ship downward to add to the deception. The TIE pilots didn't have a chance. Showing a little relief, Linbrae cycles his ship around and heads back toward Xiin's ship. He needs to get those canisters off of Xiin's ship before the Empire does, or his new friend will not live to see him again... ****************************** SHUTTLE PILOT: Attention White Wolf, Shuttle Alpha inbound for primary docking bay. Please advise. WW CREWMAN: Traffic is clear, Shuttle Alpha. Maintain current course. Proceed to primary bay. SHUTTLE PILOT: Affirmative. Proceed to primary bay for landing. The Imperial shuttle flows through space as it approaches the giant Star Destroyer. The vessel steers toward the underside of the White Wolf and enters the primary docking bay. The shuttle pilot brings the craft in with ease and lands with barely a shake. The boarding ramp opens with a hydraulic hiss and Tylec emerges, still limping noticeably. An Imperial Deck Officer greets the Lieutenant as he exits. DECK OFFICER: Lieutenant Tylec, sir. The Captain has ordered that you report to the bridge immediately. TYLEC: Right. Have your men take the prisoner from the shuttle and place him in a cell. I want him under maximum security and detail, understood? DECK OFFICER: Yes, Lieutenant.

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Two Stormtroopers enter the shuttle to retrieve Xiin from the prison closet. He seems to still be unconscious and has to be dragged to the transport that will take them to the cell bay. Tylec is a mess and his uniform is filthy. He was hoping that Sotis would allow him to at least tidy up before calling for his report, but no such luck here. The Lieutenant makes his way down a long hallway of the Imperial battleship and reaches a troop transport to take him the rest of the way to the bridge elevators. ****************************** Captain Sotis stands on the bridge, awaiting the arrival of Tylec. He's obviously angered. Tylec better have a good explanation for the lack of reports. CREWMAN: Captain Sotis, shuttle Alpha has landed. They have obtained a prisoner. A bounty hunter. He is being transferred to the cell bay as we speak. SOTIS: Where is the Lieutenant? CREWMAN: Lieutenant Tylec is on his way to the bridge. Apparently, this bounty hunter was in possession of stolen Imperial goods. Sotis closes his eyes to try and collect himself. SOTIS: Very well. CREWMAN: CAPTAIN! We just received a transmission from Fleet Command. The Emperor is asking that you contact him immediately. That gut dropping, flush feeling comes over Sotis again. SOTIS: Thank you, Crewman, I shall use my quarters. Have Lieutenant Tylec assume the bridge on his arrival. I will meet with him as soon as I return. CREWMAN: Aye, Captain. The Captain rushes off to contact the Emperor. In all his frustration and distraction with Tylec and the ground crew, he had completely forgot to update the Emperor. No matter, he figures, as he didn't have anything to report anyway. He reaches his quarters and binds the door. Sotis practically runs to his desk on the other end of the room and punches up the channel to reach the Emperor. Within moments, the miniature hologram of the Imperial master appears on his desk. SOTIS: Good day, my lord, how may I be of service? EMPEROR: I am most displeased that I have to contact you, Captain. I expected a report long ago of your dealing on Ord Radama. SOTIS: My countless apologizes, your highness. My crew have recently apprehended a bounty hunter from the planet surface. Apparently he was in possession of Imperial equipment. EMPEROR: What kind of "equipment".

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SOTIS: We have not analyzed the items as of yet, my lord. We will be interrogating the prisoner to help us locate any other items. There is a short pause in the conversation. EMPEROR: Captain Sotis, I sense that you are not revealing the truth of your intentions on Ord Radama. SOTIS: I have no reason to deceive you, your highness. EMPEROR: I should hope so, Captain. Another pause. Sotis can feel his heart racing. He is sure the Emperor will realize him at any moment. EMPEROR: With your dealings on Ord Radama completed, Captain, you are to dispatch to Rutan in the Elrood Sector. There you will assist the fleet in locating the Rebels rumored to be in that area of the galaxy. If you find that Rutan is clear, you will continue on to Andat, Hoth, and Ison to further your search. SOTIS: Yes, my lord. It will be done. EMPEROR: On your way, I expect you will interrogate your prisoner and alert me of your findings. Is that right, Captain? SOTIS: Most certainly, your highness. The Emperor's image fades without another word. Sotis sits in his chair heavily and puts his head in his hands and takes a deep breath. It seems he may pull this off after all. After a moment, he stands and heads back to the bridge. He still wants to strangle Tylec for leaving him in the dark for so long. ****************************** Tylec is standing on the bridge staring out the forward glass, seemingly relieved that he is back aboard the White Wolf and not fighting for his life on the planet below. He can't help but shake the feeling of disappointment, as he allowed his entire landing team get annihilated. He didn't even capture the smuggler he wanted, instead he gets this bounty hunter that may or may not have anything to do with the missing canisters. After a moment he realizes that the bounty hunter's ship is still on the planet. He'll need to ask Sotis if he can go back down to search that ship. Maybe it's possible that he is the one who took the canisters? Captain Sotis' presence on the bridge is announced and the crewman stand at attention. Sotis is walking briskly toward Tylec at the front of the bridge. A quick wave of his hand, and Sotis has the crewman back to work. SOTIS: I expect a very good explanation for your lack of reporting, Lieutenant. TYLEC: I apologize, Captain. Everything was in order until we found a smuggler's ship in the marshes outside of town. We took in a smuggler as a prisoner briefly, but were ambushed there and this bounty hunter killed all my men. SOTIS: And he let you live? I find this curious. TYLEC: I don't know why, sir. The smuggler told him not to.

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SOTIS: What happened to the smuggler? TYLEC: He left the scene. I saw two TIE fighter in pursuit. SOTIS: Yes. And neither have reported back. We can't track them either. They were most likely destroyed. So you see, Lieutenant, this smuggler was obviously of top priority. Sotis walks away from Tylec to gaze out the window. He is obviously fired up about this mess and he is so frustrated that you can actually see his train of thought change. SOTIS: Who is this bounty hunter? Have we interrogated him yet? TYLEC: We don't know his identity yet, sir. But it will not be long before we do. SOTIS: What else should I know, Lieutenant? TYLEC: Captain, the bounty hunter's ship is still on the planet surface. I would like permission to go back to search his ship, sir. SOTIS: Why didn't you search it while you were there? TYLEC: We were unaware of this ship until after the team was wiped out, sir. I was in a hurry to take what I had and leave. SOTIS: And the smuggler? TYLEC: Escaped. But we managed to retrieve a canister from his ship. It's what we were looking for, but only one. SOTIS: You are aware that there are at least eleven others out there, don't you, Lieutenant? TYLEC: Yes, sir. SOTIS: This lack of results is very disappointing, Tylec. And I cannot grant permission for you to return to the surface. We've been dispatched to Rutan. TYLEC: But, sir...that's on the other side of the galaxy?! SOTIS: This other ship will have to wait. We have it's owner on board, so it's not going anywhere. We'll return afterward. In the meantime, let's visit the prisoner. We need to obtain any information possible about the equipment and this smuggler. The Emperor demands it. TYLEC: Yes, sir. I apologize again for the poor results, Captain. It will not happen again. SOTIS: I hope so, for your sake, Lieutenant. [to a crewman] Set a course for Rutan, crewman. Engage lightspeed when ready. CREWMAN: Aye, Captain. Setting course for Rutan. As the White Wolf exits orbit over Ord Radama and enters hyperspace, the two Imperial officers make there way to the cell bay to interrogate Xiin. Tylec has every intention of killing him when he is done...

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****************************** Linbrae is having a difficult time locating a suitable landing area nearby the Scepter II. There are several open fields close by, but he needs to insure that his ship remain mostly hidden. He is certain that the Imperials will be back to confiscate Xiin's ship and the sight of his own ship will surely mean nothing but bad things. The smuggler finds a spot about 500 meters from the Scepter, not exactly a short walk in the woods having to carry all those canisters. Linbrae sets down and gears himself for the several trips he'll have to make. He can't help but feel sorrow that his new friend may be dead. While walking toward Xiin's ship, Linbrae begins to contemplate how he can rescue his friend, with the hope he's still alive. Strolling up to an Imperial Star Destroyer is clearly suicide, but what if he can find a way to be "invited" aboard? Not exactly the best plan, but better than flying up and knocking on the door. Linbrae finally noticed the Scepter hidden neatly between the trees and makes a mental note to keep his guard up. There's no telling when the Imperials may make their return. ****************************** Sotis and Tylec stand outside the jail cell where Xiin has been dropped. Xiin is chained and bound to the wall of the cell. Four Stormtrooper guards stand at ready. It seems that the bounty hunter is still lacking consciousness. SOTIS: Guard, wake up the prisoner. GUARD: Yes, sir. The guard steps to the control consol nearby and selects a switch. A burst of blue gas is injected into the air of Xiin's cell. Within seconds, Xiin starts to come around. He moves slowly at first, but then raises his head and looks around the cell, pulling on the chains. He starts to thrash about violently for a few seconds, but finds this action useless. He sees Tylec looking into the room through the electro-bar window and tries to say something, but his words are nothing but a muffled, garbled mess. TYLEC: Good morning, criminal. I warned you not to assault an Imperial officer. Maybe now you will show some respect. [to the guard] Guard, open the door. You others are to be on high alert with weapons at ready. You are to shoot the prisoner if he makes any attempt to escape. GUARDS [in near unison]: Yes, sir. The door slides open, and Tylec enters. Sotis opts to stand outside and listen. Two guards enter the room with rifles at ready, the other two stand outside the door in the same stance. TYLEC: [to Xiin] What were you doing aiding that smuggler on Ord Radama? Xiin produces nothing but a garbled response. TYLEC: Perhaps I should ask a different way? Tylec produces a small wand and touches it to Xiin's side. A flash of electricity makes the bounty hunter jump and let loose a muffled yell. Tylec smiles.

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TYLEC: I ask again, you scum. Why were you aiding that smuggler? Another intelligible response. Tylec is not amused. TYLEC: So I see you rather play games. Guard, remove his helmet. Maybe he'll be more responsive when he's not hiding behind a mask. One of the troopers comes over and cautiously removes Xiin's helmet. All at once, Tylec's expression changes from one of satisfaction to one of surprise... ****************************** Linbrae creeps near the boarding ramp to the Scepter. All is quiet. He strolls up the ramp with his weapon drawn, checking his front and back side. Nothing seems to be moving. As a precaution, Linbrae raises the ramp and heads to the forward hold. He is relieved to see that the canisters are still there. In the corner, Xiin's rocket pack lay on its side. Again, Linbrae is visibly saddened to see this. He walks over to pick it up, and rolls it around in his arms to get a good view of all the little details Xiin had put into his equipment. LINBRAE [whispering to self]: I'm sorry, kid. I never should have made that promise to your father. XIIN: What did you just say?!

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CHAPTER 7

Tylec is just standing there with a look of shock. Chained before him is the pirate that Xiin had captured back on the Brazen, his mouth gagged with a tightly wound rag. The guard that removed the helmet pulls the gag from his mouth. PIRATE: Help me! That bounty hunter is crazy! I did nothing wrong! He tortured me! TYLEC: Shut up! Who are you? PIRATE: [nearly in tears] I was working aboard the Venekill...under Captain Killic. He stranded me on Korriban during a battle. TYLEC: Killic is a known pirate and smuggler... PIRATE: Please! You have to help me! He put a creature in my skin! TYLEC: Who, Killic? PIRATE: NO! That crazy bounty hunter! He put a Tracer-Mite in my skin! You have to get it out! Tylec's face scrunched a bit as he tries to comprehend what this smelly pirate was talking about. After a moment, the realization that it was a hoax comes to him. TYLEC: This bounty hunter fooled you, pirate. A classic ruse. There's no such thing as a Tracer-Mite. PIRATE: What?! TYLEC: Cut out this nonsense! Where is the bounty hunter?! PIRATE: I don't know! He told me to put this uniform on and then gagged me before putting the helmet on. He told me to run as fast as I could across a field. He wouldn't tell me why! He said that he would detonate the Tracer-Mite if I didn't do what he asked! My leg is injured! I need you to help me! TYLEC: Guard, have someone tend to his injuries. But keep him locked up. This pirate will be tried as a criminal. PIRATE: Wait! You can't do that! I didn't do anything wrong! I was tortured...! The pirates cries fade as Tylec storms out of the cell. This turn of events is most disturbing. As he exits, he comes face to face with Sotis. SOTIS: Well, Tylec, I see you've failed again. TYLEC: This is a mistake, Captain! We need to go back! SOTIS: Negative, Lieutenant. We are under orders. I expected much more out of you. Obviously, my confidence in you was greatly misplaced.

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TYLEC: Captain! I was under duress when I made the capture of this man! Surely, you must understand! SOTIS: I am most disappointed in your lack of follow through, Lieutenant. Stay out of my sight. Sotis turns and marches away, leaving Tylec standing dejected. The Captain is not only furious at his Lieutenant, but also is fearing speaking to Fleet Command about this fiasco. The Emperor is not going to be very forgiving of this type of failure. How is he going to explain this mess?... ****************************** Xiin and Linbrae sit at the holo-table aboard the Scepter drinking what looks like Jawa juice. One of the canisters is on the table and Linbrae is looking at it intently. Xiin seems to be in awe. XIIN: Why didn't you tell me? LINBRAE: About what? XIIN: You know what. About you knowing my father. LINBRAE: Would it have made a difference? XIIN: Yes. How do you know him? LINBRAE: We weren't friends much before the war. We knew of each other in passing, but never talked much. He was a respectable man before I even knew him. It wasn't until after we left the Jedi Order that we became friends... XIIN: Wait?...WE? LINBRAE: Yes, WE. You can't be a friend by yourself. XIIN: No! I mean, you were both in the Jedi Order? LINBRAE: Uh, yes? That's were we met. XIIN: He never told me that! LINBRAE: Really? I would think he would have. He didn't seem like he was regretful of his time there. XIIN: He never spoke of it. Why wouldn't he tell me something like that? LINBRAE: We both feared for our lives after the Jedi Purge. The Empire was hunting down anyone even remotely related to the Jedi's. Maybe he felt it was better that you didn't know, for your own safety. XIIN: I don't know what to say. Why did he leave? LINBRAE: Your mother. I left for an identical reason. We both fell in love. It's against the Jedi Code to take a wife. We were forced to choose between the Jedi way and having a normal life. XIIN: Why?

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LINBRAE: Back then, potential Jedi's were taken from their families near birth. The downside to that practice was that occasionally Jedi's would be become starved for the affection of another. That's basically what happened to your father and I. We both choose to have a family versus being alone. XIIN: Why aren't you with your family? LINBRAE: That's kind of a touchy subject with me, kid. I'll just say that the Clone Wars did not bode well for me and my family. She was lost during that time and I nearly self-destructed...your father helped me through that time. I owe him my life. XIIN: When was the last time you saw my father? LINBRAE: Your father and I were in regular contact for many years. After the war, we set about on some projects together. I was invited to meet you after your birth. After that, your mother felt it was best to keep an old smuggler out of your life, and I understood why. Your father took up bounty hunting after some pirates killed a close friend of ours and I became an informant for him. For many years, we were a team. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. Your mother requested that I view his funeral from a distance so as not to attract attention. XIIN: This is all so surreal. How do I fit into all this? LINBRAE: When you first started out, your father asked that I keep an eye on you...guide you a bit. I don't think he ever took into consideration that you may try to hunt me one day. [laughs] Xiin buries his head into his hands. It was so much to take in all at once. LINBRAE: Look, kid, it's good that you know all this now, but it doesn't mean much. Your dad was a great man and you are following closely behind him. You have his talents, and I want to help you use them. Now, I'm not much of a teacher, but I'm sure I can work with you a bit so you can learn to harness the Force to help you in your dealings. XIIN: I'm no Jedi, old man. I'm a hunter. LINBRAE: Of course. But having been born of a Force sensitive father, you have some inherent skills. The Force is a powerful ally. XIIN: Well, maybe we can save that for another time. Right now, we need to figure out what these canisters are and make some use out of them before the Imperials come back for them. LINBRAE: Agreed. Let's hook it up to something and see what we can get out of it. ****************************** Sotis is standing in his quarters, staring out the window watching the stars streak by as they cruise through hyperspace. He has been contemplating how he can resolve this mess. This is all his fault, and he's well aware of that fact. Had he just allowed his fighters to pursue and destroy that freighter as it left the Brazen, this would not be an issue. Now the Captain has to make some decisions. Sotis peels away from the window and sits at his desk. He reaches over to operate the communication switch.

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SOTIS: Bridge, notify Lieutenant Tylec that I request his presence in my quarters immediately. And cease lightspeed. BRIDGE: Aye, Captain. This is something that Sotis doesn't want to do, but he has little choice if he is to correct the problem. He has already expended 13 men and two fighters...all he has to show for that price is a single canister and whimpering pirate. Tylec appears in the doorway. SOTIS: Come in, Lieutenant. Sit. TYLEC: Yes, sir. Tylec walks over and sits in front of Sotis. The Lieutenant has since cleaned himself up and actually looks like an officer again. Despite his failures on Ord Radama, Sotis is willing to give him a second chance based on his past record. SOTIS: We've come out of hyperspace. I'm sending you back to Ord Radama. TYLEC: Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. SOTIS: Don't thank me, Tylec. I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself. I expect nothing but results this time around. Failure here will mean your job, Lieutenant, if not your life. Do we have an understanding? TYLEC: Clearly, Captain. SOTIS: I obviously can not send a fighter escort with you, so you will take a shuttle with a Commander and 20 soldiers. You WILL send a report to me every hour, regardless of the situation. I will NOT be kept in the dark regarding this mission, Lieutenant. Every precaution needs to be taken. We are not dealing with amateurs here. Either collect those canisters, or confirm their destruction. Same goes for this smuggler and bounty hunter. TYLEC: I agreed completely, Captain. I will not fail you, sir. SOTIS: You are dismissed. Tylec stands to salute the Captain before rushing off to tend to his new mission. Sotis communicates to the bridge to continue on at hyperspace as soon as the shuttle departs. Sitting back in his chair, the Captain can't help but feel apprehensive here. Pessimism is not something he is used to. The shuttle is loaded quickly and Tylec is the last to board. The instructions are relayed to the pilot of their destination and he notes it in the ships computer. The shuttle glides out of the primary bay of the White Wolf and heads out. The Star Destroyer re-enters hyperspace within moments of the shuttle's departure. The shuttle in turn enters hyperspace going in the opposite direction so as to return to Ord Radama. ****************************** Xiin stands over the shoulder of Linbrae as he finishes wiring the canister into the newly installed topside three barrel gun turret of the Scepter.

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LINBRAE: I'm not sure this thing is going to work, my guess is that it a power cell of some kind. I just don't want to hook it up to something critical and have it blow the ship to pieces. XIIN: [sarcastically] Good idea. LINBRAE: Alright, youngling, that's enough. Go up front and fire a couple rounds. Let's see if it changes anything. XIIN: OK. Linbrae strolls down the boarding ramp while Xiin heads to the cockpit. Linbrae's body language suggest that he doesn't think this will do anything important. Once he has a decent vantage point, he turns to face the ship. There is a rock formation about 3-4 kilometers off in the distance and he points them out to Xiin. LINBRAE: Go ahead, try it! Aim for that pile of rock out that way! Xiin nods and shrugs. He selects the new arming switch and uses the turret joystick to aim at the rocks and pulls the trigger. A huge burst of blue laser energy erupts from one barrel of the turret and strikes the rocks a second later. The rocks burst in a large explosion of dirt and pebbles, and create such damage that the top part of the peak crumbles down. Where there was once a respectable small mountain has been reduced to a mound of dirt with a single laser bolt. The force of the energy leaving the barrel actually moved the Scepter back on it's landing skids a good quarter of a meter. Linbrae and Xiin both react with shock and awe, their mouths hanging open. LINBRAE: [whispering to self] Good god of Bothan... Xiin slumps into the back of his chair with his jaw still open. A laugh builds up inside him and the laughter nearly consumes him. Linbrae replaces the ladder up against the ship that had fallen over during the test and climbs up topside to inspect the gun turret. Before he even reaches the turret, he is already shaking his head. LINBRAE: Hey, Kid! Get up here! Xiin jumps from his chair and hustles to get on top of the vessel. XIIN: What is it? LINBRAE: Take a look at this... Linbrae points to the barrel that fired the bolt. It is still white hot and is sizzling. Smoke drifts from the barrel opening and, although only slightly, you can see that warping has occurred. LINBRAE: That thing gave it so much juice that it fried the barrel. This isn't something we'll be able to use without having a ray-shielded cannon. XIIN: What the hell are those things? LINBRAE: Accelerator Batteries. They supercharge the laser energy that surrounds the bolts. These are no toys, kid, this is serious stuff.

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XIIN: That amount of power is overkill. Why would the Empire need 12 of these things? LINBRAE: I don't know. If I had to guess, they were prob'ly going to be used on that Space Station that got wrecked. That thing was able to destroy the entire planet of Alderaan, so my guess is that they had a bunch of these tied together to enhance the beam. XIIN: We should find a way to use this. LINBRAE: OK, but definitely not this gun. I'll have to grab the spare barrel and fix it before you can use it. XIIN: What about the primary cannon? LINBRAE: That's a good idea, sure, but again, we need to get a ray-shield generator. We'll have to go into Hijou...my buddy will know where to get one. Xiin seems to get flustered a bit. XIIN: It wouldn't be Duft would it? LINBRAE: Yeah! You know him? XIIN: Kind of. I got the parts for this from him. But I can't go back there... LINBRAE: Why not? He appreciates return customers. XIIN: Not me. I sort of robbed these parts from him. LINBRAE: You did WHAT?! XIIN: The droid, too‌ Linbrae just glares at Xiin. This is the first time he's seen the smuggler get mad. XIIN: Look, I had to! This bucket was a wreck and I didn't have any credits to get off this rock! I didn't hurt him. I just pretended he had a bounty on his head. I never laid a hand on him! Linbrae just shakes his head. He is obviously irritated. LINBRAE: You don't realize how you can effect a man like Duft, or any of the other Radamians. They are very jumpy people...heart attacks waiting to happen. You're lucky you didn't kill him...if you didn't already. Xiin's demeanor changes. He was not a little boy to be scolded. XIIN: I did what I needed to do, old man. Don't lecture me. I may have been only doing this for a short time, but I know enough that my own skin comes first. Especially when I'm being chased by a destroyer full of Imperials. LINBRAE: Typical bounty hunter answer, kid. XIIN: Knock it off. He's the one that clued me in to where you were...not so much of a buddy is he?

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Linbrae is infuriated by this remark. He takes a step toward Xiin to get in close and raises a pointed finger at his face. LINBRAE: I don't give a blasted bullet how you treat your captives, boy...but that man was an innocent and you took advantage of him. That man saved my life a dozen times. Had you explained your situation, he most likely would have done the same for you! Xiin looks Linbrae right in the eye, refusing to cower to this old man's rantings. Maybe he was right, but... XIIN: What would you like me to do, huh? Apologize? I never have apologized for my actions, and I'm not going to start now. Linbrae stands up straight, as if Xiin said something interesting. LINBRAE: I see. The tough little bounty hunter thinks he can do what he wants, eh? I guess I'll just help you gather up your junk and you can be on your way. Linbrae turns and walks back to the ladder to climb down off the roof of the Scepter. XIIN: Where are you going? LINBRAE: I already told you, boy, I'm going into Hijou. But you can get your own parts...I need to check on my friend. Xiin can do nothing but stand there and watch the old smuggler walk away. He knows that what he did was wrong, but he refuses to admit it. He did what he had to do to survive. And now his stubbornness has gotten the best of him.

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CHAPTER 8

Tylec is pacing the cockpit of the Imperial shuttle. He can hear the soldier in the back talking amongst themselves, joking with each other and enjoying the ride. The Lieutenant doesn't have a problem with them doing so, not like Captain Sotis. Sotis demands 100% focus 100% of the time. While Tylec agrees with him for the most part, letting the troops have some sort of relaxed behavior is good for their psyche. It keeps them loose. But in this situation, he would rather they just be quiet. He could order them to do so, but that would be a ridiculous order and may cause some problems later. Tylec is just jealous that he can't relax along with the soldiers. There is far too much at stake here. Tylec muses to himself that he really needs a drink. PILOT: Lieutenant, we will be exiting lightspeed in approximately 20 clicks. What are your orders? TYLEC: We need to start from square one, pilot. You'll land the shuttle in the field where we picked up the captive. We'll have to take this a step at a time. PILOT: Yes, sir. The Lieutenant goes about his pacing. He doesn't remember ever feeling this anxious about a mission before this one. ****************************** Xiin is practically kicking himself as he makes his way over the town line entering into Hijou, grumbling to himself. He doesn't know why he's letting Linbrae get away with making him feel this way, and it's really irritating him. He's just an old smuggler, what does he know about being a hunter? Still, the fact that he was friends with Xiin's father is pushing him on. Duft's shop comes up on his left, and he peers inside. Sure enough, Linbrae is standing at the counter talking with the owner. Almost if something forced him to go in, Xiin enters. Duft shifts his eyes to Xiin and they widen with fear almost immediately. DUFT: That's him! That's him! That's the bounty hunter! GO AWAY! LINBRAE: Get out of here, kid! I told you not to bother him! Xiin ignores both of them and walks right up to the counter. Duft backs up as far as the wall behind him will allow. Xiin reaches the counter and let's out a long, reluctant huff. XIIN: I have something for you. Xiin sets a silver case on the counter. DUFT: What is that?! A bomb?! LINBRAE: No...it isn't. Xiin opens the case and dumps part of the contents on the countertop. DUFT: Are those...what I think they are?!

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XIIN: Just take them. I don't want to hear anything else. DUFT: But there has to be over ten thousand credits in there?! XIIN: Twenty thousand to be exact. For the parts and droid. Plus a little extra for the...the misunderstanding. DUFT: I..I don't know what to say! Thank you so much! This is fabulous! LINBRAE: [to Xiin] You sure have a lousy way of giving an apology, kid. Linbrae meant for his comment to be stern, but the smile on his face was too hard to hide. He was as proud as a father. XIIN: Don't get all mushy on me, old man. I thought about what you said and maybe you were right. I paid for the trouble I caused and it's done. I don't want to hear anything more about it...got it?! LINBRAE: Stubborn as a razor-toothed boar. I guess I'll take what I can get. [to Duft] This got you feeling better? DUFT: Absolutely! Thank you so much! This money is definitely a blessing! If I can help you at all, please let me know. XIIN: Actually, there is... LINBRAE: What he means is that, we could use a little help. We're looking for a ray-shield generator for his 1210. Duft thinks for a moment, and his eyebrow raise as he thinks of something... DUFT: I don't have anything specific to a 1210. But I have something that may work. Follow me... Duft presses a button under the counter to close the door to the shop and scoops up his new riches back into the case. He sets the case under the counter and motions to lead Xiin and Linbrae to the same back room he brought Xiin to on his first visit. The group enters the droid room and Duft makes his way over to yet another hidden doorway. Duft selects a hidden button that exposes a keypad, to which he quickly enters a code. DUFT: Stand back a bit‌ The hidden door hisses as it opens from the bottom up, swinging toward the ceiling. DUFT: I reserve the items in this room for‌"special" clients. As they pass through the door, the first thing that is noticeable is how polished and organized this room has been kept. Several racks of well stocked items line the space. Duft leads the group down the second aisle and stops about midway down. A small, but hefty machine sits on the rack at Xiin's eye level. Duft reaches up and struggles a bit to slide the piece forward to allow a better look. LINBRAE: What is it? DUFT: It's a ray-shielder...but better...

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XIIN: How? A smile creases on Duft. DUFT: It's an Imperial model. From an "experimental" TIE fighter. LINBRAE: What makes it so special? DUFT: Two reasons. First of all, it's the only one known to exist. LINBRAE: ..and two? DUFT: And two...it has a built-in accelerator. The only one I've ever seen like this. It can advance the power of any laser cannon by 300%. I hooked it up to a roto-cannon and the results were unbelievable. LINBRAE: How did you get it? DUFT: One of my regulars. He had no idea what it was. I don't blame him, I didn't either when he first brought it in. He said something about finding a crashed TIE on Helska in the Empire sector. He said the TIE was nothing like he'd ever seen before...part fighter, part bomber. It had an extended cannon from one of the wing struts and odd looking wing panels. He stripped everything he could get his hands on and nearly got caught in the process. I didn't ask too much beyond that. LINBRAE: Xiin, look... XIIN: I don't believe it... Linbrae points at the back end of the machine. Laid across the side of the generator is a canister...the same kind that Xiin has aboard his freighter. LINBRAE: [to Xiin] We may have bitten off more than we can chew. I don't think those Imperials that tried to bring us in realize what this is...once they figure it out, they're going to come back with a vengeance. Xiin's facial expression doesn't even change. He's thinking of something in the other direction. XIIN: Agreed. But I have an idea... ****************************** SHUTTLE PILOT: Lieutenant. We have exited lightspeed. We will enter Ord Radama's atmosphere within moments. TYLEC: Thank you, Pilot, you have your orders. [turning to the Crew Commander] Ready your men, Commander. CC: Aye, sir. Tylec is even more anxious now. He has ever intention of running these two criminals into the ground. He's hoping he can find some trace of them and where they went. A thought occurs to the Lieutenant... TYLEC: Pilot, correct your landing zone. You will land near the city limits of Hijou.

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PILOT: Copy, sir. Tylec has a feeling that the shop owner knows much more than he is leading him to believe... ****************************** Xiin and Linbrae are heading back to the ships. Xiin has the ray-shield/accelerator unit strapped to his back and Linbrae carries a sack of supplies. They are not far from the forest edge where the ships are stationed. LINBRAE: You sure this is good idea, kid? Flying into the Empire sector is not my idea of a good time. XIIN: If we can get our hands on that TIE fighter, the Rebels would pay huge money for the information and parts. LINBRAE: Yeah, if it really exists... XIIN: This unit on my back is proof enough. Besides, even if the Imperials have cleaned up the crash site, at least it's better than sitting around here. LINBRAE: For you maybe, but I'm not going to be joining you. XIIN: Why not? LINBRAE: I'm far to old for this racket. I told you a dozen times that I'm retired. XIIN: Suit yourself, old man. We could be swimming in credits for this kind of info. LINBRAE: Possibly, but I have no use for that now. Linbrae stops and Xiin halts after an extra step. They both sense something. Seconds later, an Imperial shuttle passes overhead and it's headed to Hijou. Linbrae tosses Xiin a look of great concern. LINBRAE: I have a bad feeling about this. I have to go back. XIIN: What for? They aren’t heading toward the ships. Just get out of here. The Empire isn’t going to quit looking for you now. LINBRAE: They are heading back to Hijou. Duft told me they questioned him rather extensively and they are probably going to harass the guy some more. XIIN: Then I’m coming with you. LINBRAE: No, you go do your thing. I can handle thi… XIIN: Don’t torture me with that nonsense, old man. If Duft is that important to you, then we both need to help him. Linbrae actually sighs and cracks a smile. LINBRAE: Looks like I created a monster.

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Xiin motions to the unit strapped to his back. XIIN: We gotta drop this thing quick and grab some equipment. LINBRAE: Agreed. Let’s move‌ The two friends start to run back to the Scepter.

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CHAPTER 9 The Imperial shuttle touches down on a landing pad about 500 meters from Duft’s shop. Just as the engines begin to run down, the loading ramp opens and a stream of Stormtroopers make their way down in an orderly fashion. Tylec makes his way out to address the troops. TYLEC: [motions to a row of troops] You five, come with me. The rest of you stand at ready. Do not let anyone pass through the area. Everyone within sight is to be questioned. A smattering of “yes, sirs” and nods confirm the orders. Tylec leads the detachment toward the city as they make a beeline to Duft’s shop.

****************************** Xiin and Linbrae have reached the Scepter and have offloaded their goods. Xiin begins to put on his rocket pack while Linbrae rummages for anything useful. LINBRAE: Blast…you don’t have anything useful on this bucket, do you? XIIN: Look, I’ve only had this ship for a short amount of time. What do you have on your boat? LINBRAE: Quite a bit actually. But it’s in a clearing quite a distance away. We have to get back to Duft before the Imperials do. XIIN: Yeah, but if we don’t have the utilities to put up a good fight, we’ll all be dead. LINBRAE: I’m afraid you’re right, kid. Grab your gear and let’s go. Xiin nods and adjusts his back straps. He’s not liking that he threw away his breastplate and helmet on that waste of skin. The bounty hunter slings up his sub-rifle and holsters his ankle pistol as they take off into the woods to the Tithus.

****************************** The brisk walking pace has Tylec breathing a bit heavy. Duft’s shop is up just ahead on their left. Clusters of townsfolk are either staring or scattering as the group approaches. Without saying a word, the group barges into the door of the store. Duft, who was tidying one of the front racks, spins around quickly to identify the sudden influx of customers…his color disappears when he notices nothing but the white uniforms of Imperial Stormtroopers. Tylec has a huge, appalling grin on his face. TYLEC: Soldiers, arrest this man. DUFT: Wha…WHAT?! TYLEC: Shut up! I don’t want to hear another sound from you. You’re nothing but a traitor to the Empire. DUFT: Wait a minute! Duft barely got the last word out before he is wrestled to the ground by two Stormtroopers and his hands bound behind his back. One of the troopers gets up and files in with the rest while the other stays with the prisoner holding a knee on Duft’s back. Duft can’t say a word as tears are welling up in his eyes.

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TYLEC: You will tell me everything I want to know, traitor, or a prison cell will be the least of your worries. DUFT: [fighting through tears] I told…you…everything. Puh…please…I can’t…breath. TYLEC: Get this scum to his feet. The trooper gets up an unceremoniously lifts Duft to his knees by lifting his bound hands. Duft is in obvious pain. TYLEC: That’s good, trooper…[back to Duft] Now, where are your smuggler friends. I want names, and I want locations…[Tylec bends down to put his face mere inches from Duft’s]…understood? DUFT: I…I…don’t… Tylec slaps Duft with an open hand hard enough to rock the shop keeper backward. Duft winces in more pain. TYLEC: Enough of the weakness, traitor. I have had enough of your bant… Tylec hears and feels a few strange rumbles. Just as he tries to pinpoint where that noise is coming from, Tylec’s communicator rings. Obviously annoyed, he picks up his wrist to speak. TYLEC: WHAT IS IT? The voice on the other end is rather distraught. SHUTTLE PILOT: SIR! SIR! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK, WE ARE UNDER…. The communication ceases as quickly as it had started. The rumbles continue, but more frequent. Tylec tries to raise the shuttle again, but he already knows there won’t be a response. Now the color has left his face. The rumbles have stopped. If the shuttle gets damaged, it will be days before he can get back to the White Wolf. Who could be attacking a ship with 15 soldiers standing by? He motions to one of the troopers. TYLEC: You stay with me…the rest of you double time back to the shuttle and give me a report. TROOPERS: Aye, sir. The four troops leave the shop with a ruckus. Tylec tries to collect himself for a moment before turning his attention back to Duft. The shop keeper is still on his knees with his head slumped down. His sobs are so violent that he is visibly shaking. TYLEC: My patience is at an end, traitor. You tell me what I want to know, or will not leave this shop alive…

****************************** The Tithus is hovering nearby a smoldering pile of Imperial shuttle. A couple Stormtroopers have managed to avoid the blasts of the initial offensive attack and are firing at the Tithus from the edge of the wooded area behind the landing pad. The Empire issued laser rifles are no match for the hull, as the bolts glance off in different directions. LINBRAE: [sarcastically] Come on, kid! You should have knocked them out by now.

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XIIN: [snapping back] Well if you could actually hold this bucket steady, I would be done. Linbrae lets out a short chuckle. Xiin fires several more short bursts from the Tithus’ rotating gun and sets the area around the covered troopers ablaze. After this little burst, the return fire ceases. All of the Imperials have been eliminated. LINBRAE: [still smiling] It’s about time! Xiin just looks at Linbrae and shakes his head. XIIN: So much for my idea of sneaking up on them. LINBRAE: BAH! We didn’t have time for that. Besides, we DID surprise them. XIIN: Yeah, well, I’m guessing they at least had enough time to call for help. The hull on that shuttle sustained quite a few hits before it blew. LINBRAE: Maybe. We don’t have time to argue. Let’s go see if Duft is OK. XIIN: Your drivin’. The Tithus swings around and starts toward the edge of the city hovering only a few meters off the ground.

****************************** Tylec is still standing over Duft as the four troopers return to the shop running at full speed. TROOPER: SIR, SIR! The shuttle has been destroyed by a smuggler’s freighter! It’s heading this way! Tylec looks like he’s in shock. He only takes a moment before giving out orders. TYLEC: Barricade that door. Don’t let anyone in. We are going to have to make a stand here soldiers. TROOPERS: Yes, sir! The Stormtroopers start knocking over shelves and tossing anything heavy into the front area of the shop. Within seconds the troops have the entire front of the store blocked. TYLEC: [back to Duft] It seems your friends have come back to try and shut you up. You realize they are going to try and kill us all, just to protect themselves. We need a place to hide. DUFT: [still fighting back tears] I…told…you…everything… TYLEC: Shut up! Where can we hide? DUFT: [lets out a long huff] In the back…go in the back… TYLEC: Right!…you soldier…grab the prisoner and take him in the back with me. Tylec practically runs behind the counter and heads to the dirty back room of the shop. The trooper has lifted Duft over his shoulder and carries him back as well. The trooper drops Duft on his side and heads back to the store front to help his group.

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TYLEC: This is all your fault, traitor. Had you just given me the proper information, we would not be in this little predicament. Now, your friends are going to kill us all! DUFT: [looking up for the first time] If I die, at least I know you are dying with me, you bully! Tylec is infuriated. He raises his arm to backhand Duft, but he is interrupted by laser fire coming from the store front. TYLEC: Where is another exit? DUFT: [getting to his feet] There isn’t one. This isn’t some military bunker. It seems that YOU are the one that has doomed us. TYLEC: You worthless pile of scum! I’m just going to have to make my own exit! Tylec scans the area quickly and finds the utility arm of a discarded droid. This arm has a rotating saw blade. Flipping a switch, the saw comes to life. TYLEC: I’ll see you in hell! Tylec runs over to the wall facing the side wall of the shop and starts running the blade into it. Duft, with Tylec distracted, starts walking slowly toward the back of the room. ******************************

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CHAPTER 10 Xiin and Linbrae are using the Tithus as cover in the middle of this wide city street and the are firing at the front of Duft’s shop. The Stormtroopers are making a good effort to repel them as the red laser fire is nearly constant. LINBRAE: Can you see how many are in there? Can you see Duft? XIIN: No. If I had my helmet, I could. LINBRAE: Blast! How are we getting in there? Xiin looks down at his supplies. He picks up a thermal detonator. XIIN: With these. LINBRAE: Those will blow the shop to bits. I’m not hurting my friend. XIIN: Those troopers may have done that already. We need to get in there. Linbrae sighs. Unfortunately, the kid is right. Xiin works his was underneath the Tithus to reach the landing skid nearest the store front. Linbrae fires cover blasts at the store, but it does little to deter the Stormtroopers from showering the area with return fire. Xiin, with detonator in hand, takes a few deep breaths and rolls out from behind the skid and heaves the bomb at the front of the shop. The Stormtroopers, seeing this, cease firing for a split second before the grenade explodes. Xiin rolls back to the skid for cover and waits for the smoke to clear. Linbrae scans the smoke intently, looking for a sign of movement. Seconds tick by. It seems like eternity. Nothing is moving. Linbrae looks at Xiin an nods. The old smuggler slowly slides out from behind the cover of the Tithus. LINBRAE: I guess that did it? Xiin nods and reaches back to bring his sub-rifle forward. Just as he pokes his head from behind the landing skid, the laser fire from the store front continues, nearly striking the both of them. LINBRAE: [yelling] I GUESS NOT! Xiin shuffles himself back to Linbrae’s position. As the rest of the smoke clears, it’s visible that the store front only suffered relatively minor damage. No where near enough to make a charge to get inside. XIIN: [yelling] ANY MORE IDEAS? Linbrae looks around, then down at Xiin’s belt. LINBRAE: Yeah…I’m afraid I do. Xiin throws an odd glance at Linbrae. He’s not sure what the old man is looking at, but he doesn’t like the look he’s getting. LINBRAE: Give me that thing.

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XIIN: What?! LINBRAE: The lightsaber! Give it to me. XIIN: WHY?! You’re crazy, old man. You can’t deflect fire like that! LINBRAE: I know! Just give it to me! Xiin is very reluctant, but does as he’s asked. XIIN: What are you going to do? LINBRAE: COVER ME! Without another word, or even a breath, Linbrae runs out from behind the cover of the Tithus and directly to the store front. As he clears the ship, he ignites the brilliant orange blade of the lightsaber. Xiin, after getting past the initial shock of watching the old man take off with reckless abandon, is firing cover as fast as his finger will let him. The Stormtroopers don’t notice Linbrae at first, but the laser fire quickly shifts to him before he has gotten to the store front. Linbrae deftly deflects a number of bolts before one catches him in his leg. Then another in his left shoulder. Then yet another in the left part of his chest. The lightsaber blade retracts as Linbrae falls hard and rolls the rest of the way to the store front. Xiin sees all this and a wave of shock and depression sweeps over his face. He stops firing and stares intently at his fallen friend. XIIN: [yelling so hard his veins in his neck stand out] LINBRAE!! NOOOO!! The old smuggler is moving slowly. The trooper fire cannot reach him here as they would have to come out from behind their blockade to do so. Linbrae painfully scoots himself into a sitting position with his back to the store. He re-ignites the lightsaber with his right hand and plunges the blade into the wall to his left next to him, making a small hole. He shuts off the blade one last time, drops it to the ground next to him and uses that same hand to produces a thermal detonator from his vest. It seems his left arm is not useful at all. He looks for and finds Xiin’s eyes. He raises his hand with the detonator and salutes the young bounty hunter before leaning over and stuffing the grenade into the newly created hole. XIIN: WAIT!! NOOO!! THAT’S GOING TO…. Another tremendous explosion fills the city street that has become a mini war zone. Xiin has to turn his back and crouch to avoid the shower of debris. The body of one of the Stormtroopers flies out from behind the barricade and falls dead in the street. As the smoke clears, the firing from the store has ceased. A huge gaping hole now clearly shows the inside of what was Duft’s shop. Several more troopers lie dead inside the store. Linbrae’s body is no where to be seen. Xiin comes from behind his cover to run to the store front, almost forgetting to keep his guard up against any resistance. He is looking all over the area where he lest saw Linbrae, but he cannot find any trace of him through the thick smoke and debris. Realizing his guard is down, he quickly raises his sub-rifle and scans the inside of the store, but there are no enemies. He drops his weapon again and suddenly the realization that his friend is gone sweeps over him. Xiin lowers his head, mourning the smuggler that was his last connection to his father. He remembers feeling the same wave of sadness when his father passed. The bounty hunter lifts his head with a new look on his face. Where there was mourning, now there is anger. He still has a mission to complete and now is not the time to succumb to this human weakness. With a renewed fire in his eye, he approaches and enters the store, rifle raised and ready. Nothing is moving in the store front, but he can hear some sort of machine running in the back room. He cautiously makes his way to the door of the back room.

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******************************

Tylec has nearly cut a hole large enough to squeeze through now. A few more moments and he’ll be free. The quiet that is coming from the front of the store is forcing him to work faster and more desperate. He’s sweating like a Gamorrean in heat and his normally sharp Imperial officers uniform is soaked, dirty and disheveled. He is nearly through when he catches movement in his peripheral vision. He drops the saw-arm and draws his pistol in a flash. Duft is trying to back himself to the back corner of the room. Tylec fires his pistol at Duft, intentionally missing him. TYLEC: Just where do you think you’re going, traitor?! Duft just lowers his head. He’s starting to come around to the idea that maybe this will be his last day walking this beautiful planet. Tylec opens his mouth to say something else, but a small noise grabs his attention. He focuses his aim at the doorway. TYLEC: Who’s there?! Show yourself or I will blast this traitor back to his maker! XIIN: [without showing himself, his back to the doorframe] Drop your weapon and surrender! TYLEC: You are in no position to give orders, you scum! Show yourself, that’s an order! I will not hesitate to kill your friend! XIIN: Feel free to do so. He’s not my friend. I’m only here for you… Tylec pauses confused for a moment. Then a sickly feeling comes in a wave. They really ARE going to kill them both. Duft still stands in the corner, but now is openly weeping again, mumbling something about how he can’t believe his friends would let him die. Oddly, and all at once, with a sniffle, Duft falls silent. Tylec starts to back his way toward the hole he put in the wall, but stops again. He hears a strange, but familiar clink-clank sound on the floor near where he is standing. Through the thick haze of dust, he can’t quite see what it could be. Keeping his weapon pointed at the doorway, he scans the floor…then he hears the beeping. He knows that sound, and the realization comes quickly when he sees the blinking red light. There is a live thermal detonator laying nearby. Tylec, in a whimpering huff, throws his weapon and breaks into a run for the hole in the wall. The officer has been reduced to a cowardly little boy. He dives into the opening in the wall, hands and head first but, almost comically, he becomes wedged at his waist. Tylec is yelling…screaming…pushing against the wall to get the rest of his body through the wall. He is wailing, trying with all his might to save himself… The concussion from the detonator helps Tylec the rest of the way through the wall, but not in the condition he had hoped for. The Imperial officer’s lifeless body flings through the air and lands in a sickly heap several meters away. The remains of the wall shower all around him. Inside, Xiin comes out from behind the store counter to see that the doorway he was standing at just moments ago took some heavy damage as well. Xiin walks into what is left of the room but doesn’t see anything except a massive mess of brick and metal. He shakes his head and makes his way to the back corner of the room. Xiin carefully and purposefully selects a specific droid arm in a pile near the wall, he pulls it forward and then down. The pile of junk moves to the left, but it’s not quite silent anymore. Peering into the droid room, Xiin makes eye contact with Duft and actually creases a tiny smile. Duft looks dejected, but at the

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same time, relieved. Xiin walks over to and behind Duft and couches down to start removing the hand binds. XIIN: Aren’t you glad I was watching that day? Duft looks up at the hidden doorway and remembers. He nods and smiles. Xiin finishes removing the binds and the two get to their feet. DUFT: How bad is it out there? XIIN: Let’s just say, you may have to relocate. Duft smile disappears into a look of indifference. The two walk out into the back room where the dust is slowly starting to dissipate. The place is a wreck. Droid parts and pieces of the building are scattered everywhere. As they make their way to what used to be the front of the store, Stormtrooper corpses join the garbage. Duft is looking around, picking up parts here and there but then dropping them as useless. Duft’s eye open wide with a thought and he turns to Xiin. DUFT: Where’s Lin? Xiin doesn’t say a word. He just drops his head. DUFT: He…he didn’t make it? Xiin doesn’t look up. He just shakes his head. DUFT: [quietly] Oh…oh no… Duft has to lean on his debris covered front counter to keep from falling over with grief. Xiin walks away to go to the storefront where he last saw the old smuggler. He stands quietly for a moment with his eyes closed. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. After a moment, Duft walks up behind him. DUFT: [still quietly] I’m…I’m sorry. This was all my fault. He was a great friend. I can’t believe this is happening… Xiin doesn’t move or acknowledge Duft. After a moment he opens his eyes, his head still hung low. As he starts to turn away, he notices something glinting starlight on the ground. He bends down and brushes away the dust. It’s the hilt of Linbrae’s lightsaber. Xiin picks it up and rolls it in his hand, admiring the little details that his father’s friend had added to his signature weapon while training as a Jedi. After a moment he gets to his feet. XIIN: [without turning to face Duft] I must go. His ship is yours. DUFT: [in a rather calm voice considering the hell that had just descended on him] I understand. You go. But please remember to stop by from time to time. Any friend of Lin is a friend of mine. Xiin doesn’t say another word and doesn’t turn around, but nods to confirm that Duft was heard. He walks away, toward his ship still in the woods on the outskirts of this once peaceful town of Hijou. People from the town have now begun to stream out from their hiding places to inspect the damage. As Xiin passes Duft, the shop keeper extends a hand to wish the bounty hunter well. Xiin doesn’t stop nor look at Duft as continues on his way… He doesn’t want Duft to see the tears streaming down his face. THE END

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Written By: David Ciesla Copyright 2007-08

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Vaed Xiin Vol I  

Saga of a Bounty Hunter