The small man sat in the shadows, his face barely illuminated by the glowing lights of the console before him, fingers moving so quickly that few human eyes would have been able to follow the motion. He clicked at a keyboard, navigating through his computer system like it was is own mind. Suddenly the computer chimed and popped a box up on his screen.
“YOU HAVE MAIL.”
For a moment he pauses, unsure if he should open the message. It could be a government trap, an attempt to discover his existence and location so they could send assassins to kill him. Then again, it could be his mom. With a click of a button, he decided to find out.
“Winston Avery Rallingsworth, where in God’s Starlit Space are you!”
It was his mother.
“Your father and I are worried sick. You haven’t shown your face in months. Where are you.” Edna Rallingsworth dabbed at her eye with her handkerchief. “If you think you can escape your responsibilities by running off and hiding, you’ve got another thing coming! One day I’ll catch up with you and I’ll... well, I’ll... so help me Winston! I’m sick and tired of your...”
Not able to take it anymore he cut the message. He had heard everything she was about to say a thousand times before and couldn’t stand to hear it again. He thought of just ignoring her message altogether, but he decided against it as she was his mother and the transmission was free. A few more clicks and the machine was ready to video record his reply.
“Mom, cut it out. I’m a thirty year old man and if I want to go out and actually do something with my life, I have a right to do so. I’m not a kid... I’m doing important grownup stuff. And for the last time, it’s not Winston anymore, it’s Puck, ok!? Just leave me alone.”
With a few clicks he tagged a time-locked mailing address to the message, and sent it out. In one month, the module containing the next address would unlock itself and his mom could mail him again. He knew that she would probably just complain about how he left her and Dad to fend for themselves, but he couldn’t cut the cord completely. After all, he had lived in their basement most of his life, and they did feed him, but then again how could he be sure that the food they gave him wasn’t radioactive. “That could explain a few things.” Puck said to himself, running a hand through his thinning hair. “Almost bald at 30, how wonderful.”
Either way, his mother couldn’t comprehend the position he was in now. For years he had been working from his basement doing slicing jobs for people. People who wanted to steal someone else’s secret files, people who had a grudge and wanted to crash someone’s machine or change their nav computer’s settings to send them to Randox III, and people who wanted some “adult” entertainment without paying for it. But that was all meaningless and self-serving. Now he was doing something that could help to save the galaxy, and was being paid a small fortune. Hey, money’s everything you know.
Suddenly the internal alarm system activated. Someone was approaching the hidden base!
* * *
The man walked down a dirt path that had now mostly turned to mud. Jengar seemed to have more than it’s fair share of moisture, but he didn’t mind it. It reminded him of his home. Raising his head to look off into the distance he caught sight of his destination.
From the outside it appeared to be only a small metal building with a slightly recessed door on one side. However, what wasn’t immediately obvious was that the visible section was only an entrance and exit. The real base was a small, five story, underground structure with reenforced walls and floors. It wasn’t very large, but it suited their needs well.
The base had originally been built as a bomb shelter of sorts, evidenced by it’s mostly underground construction and that the top entrance/exit section was made of 3 foot thick durasteel with additional support columns crisscrossing the inside. It had it’s own power generator and life support systems, plus internal security systems from it’s previous occupants and full holonet access as per T-Rex’s design.
The Jengar base wasn’t new, but it was new to him. For almost a year prior to his arrival on Jengar, the base had been occupied by a group of rebels, or rather rebelistic pirates, the jury was still out on that. These people were no relation of the late Rebel Alliance, and mostly used their claims of exploitation and injustice to excuse their relieving passing traders of their merchandise, all in the name of the cause.
In any event, he didn’t think that they were the sort of people one should be dealing with, but then it wasn’t his call. It was T-Rex’s decision to buy the Jengar base, or what Captain Graham liked to call the “Clubhouse” from the rebels, and no one dared to argue with him. T-Rex was their leader of sorts, even though he was absent 90% of the time doing... whatever.
Still, it could be worse. At least Puck wasn’t in charge.
Finally reaching the outer door of the base, the man stopped and waited for the heavy doors to slide open and let him in. However, the door stayed shut tight and the man began to worry. He thought that something might be wrong with the power grid, or else the small group of five people manning the base could be occupied with something else and not have the time to let him in. Why wasn’t the door opening?
Suddenly a panel slid open above the door and a small, grey, view screen slid out, causing the man to jump with surprise. He almost jumped again when two more durasteel panels slid open on each side of the door and greeted him with two twin blaster mounts, both aimed right at him. Shaking his head, the man looked up at the screen to see a little, balding man in a food stained white shirt and glasses. The little man began to speak.
“Hmm. It sure looks like Daniel, but why is he here and where is the T-Rex?” Puck thought out loud, in a very successful attempt at annoying Daniel.
“Winston...” Daniel got out before Puck interrupted him.
“What do you want?”asked the little man suspiciously.
“Winston, allow me entrance.” Daniel folded his arms at his chest and gave Puck his best glare. It was bad enough when he only had to put up with the man for an hour at a time for their little business meetings, but after being forced to live with the man for 3 months he wanted to strangle him. He was rude, smelled bad, was filthy and cared about nothing and no one but himself. As soon as they had picked up T-Rex’s signal he had all but begged to come along so that he wouldn’t have to deal with that... that... pig!
“Where’s T-Rex?” Puck squinted as though trying to see through whatever deception his paranoid brain had come up with.
“He is on his way. He had some business in town. I wanted to go with him, but he said I needed to bring you this.” With that Daniel held up a data disk, gripped between two fingers.
“What is it?”
“It is information gathered from T-Rex’s ship and the Raider. He want’s to analyze it for information on the A.D. fleet. Happy?” Daniel secreted the disk away again, undetectably hiding it on his person.
Puck shook his head. “Why didn’t he just transmit the info from the Raider?”
“Stang it Winston, just let me in!”
“Answer the question.” Puck glared.
“Ok,” Daniel began, promising himself that he would throttle Puck just as soon as he made it inside, “Here is the scenario. As soon as we met up with T-Rex and loaded up the cargo from that Delvian trader, we encountered an A.D. ship. It was at the edge of our sensor range, but it was certain it could detect us. Apparently the enemy ship was in a hurry because it didn’t take the time to change course and attack us. It was at that point that Captain Graham ordered silent running so we couldn’t send the information without revealing our location. We had to wait until we knew we were clear, and by that point T-Rex wanted to hand deliver the disk. Now let me in!”
Puck scratched his head. “Hmm. Let’s say that I were to believe your story about the enemy ship, the silent running and all that. That still doesn’t explain why..”
Daniel’s patience was worn down to the bone. “Winston, if you do not open this door right now...”
“Ok, ok. Don’t blow your top. You’re admitted.” Puck clicked a button and the twin blasters retracted into the walls. Seconds later the view screen returned to it’s hiding place above the door, leaving only the faintest seam. A few more seconds and the door finally whooshed open.
“Finally.” Daniel said aloud as he entered the building.
The metal building was dark on the inside. Apparently Puck didn’t think that it was worth the energy to light Daniel’s way so that he could avoid tripping over the supply boxes that were always strewn about on their way into and out of the base. Not that it mattered to someone of Daniel’s talents. With merely a moment’s concentration, his eyes began to ripple and shift into those of a cat. Now there was plenty of light to see by.
Daniel smiled to himself, thinking about how many advantages came with being a shape shifter. For so long he had considered it a curse to be a semisolid protoplasmic being, but now he considered it a great blessing. He could remold his body into almost and form he could imagine, he didn’t require air or food, just the occasional water. All of that could scare people, but once they got to know him, most normal people liked him pretty well. Of course, then there was the inevitable question, “So what species are you?” and the mood was ruined.
His father (or at least that’s how Daniel thought of his creator) had warned him that other people may not understand who or what he really was and not to take offense at questions like that, but it still got to him. It wasn’t that people wanted to know about his species exactly, but that it just reminded him where he had come from. For who knows how long he had been just some mindless beast wondering around on a planet in the Unknown Regions, with no intelligent thoughts of his own, and then one day is father found him and took him away.
At first he spent all of his time in a small room that mimicked the thin hydrogen atmosphere, rocky granite landmasses and nutrient rich water of his homeworld. Day after day he was poked and prodded, injected with chemicals, shocked with electricity, and otherwise experimented on. He could vaguely remember the later parts of that treatment. He could remember for the first time, acknowledging pain at the tests, remembering the faces of the scientists and fearing them. Wanting to get out. But those first intelligent thoughts weren’t enough to save him.
Daniel hit a button and a lift door sprung open. Stepping inside, he keyed it to take him down to Level 4. For a moment he thought about his companions, T-Rex, Captain Graham, and Charlie (who understood him better than anyone). They were the first people he had trusted since his father died. Trust, he had learned, was something that could get you killed.
Although he didn’t know it during all the experiments that those scientists were running on his still unintelligent blob-like form, he was a ward of the Empire. Even during the height of Imperial power, Emperor Palpatine knew that there were too many others waiting in the wings for a sign of weakness for him to ever relax his hold on the galaxy. The only way he could rule was with an iron fist, and fear controlled the populace. The Death Star, The Executor, and Vader were all symbols of Imperial might and all were important in keeping systems in line, but that wasn’t enough. To extend his will throughout the galaxy, the Emperor needed more and more terrifying and powerful weapons. It was that dark will that drove every experiment performed on Daniel.
The group of Imperial scientists were one of many out there trying to bring the Emperor that awesome power he craved, in hopes that they would be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. However, their experiment was failing. What they wanted from Daniel and his entire race was a secret army for the Emperor. Shapeshifting warriors that could appear to be anyone, anywhere, but then strike out at Palpatine’s enemies when they least expected it. Not only that, but the ability to mold their bodies to fit their imagination would allow the shape shifters to be fierce and dangerous warriors, immune to most weapons as they could allow attacks to pass through them and then reform, immune to gasses as they didn’t need to breathe, and capable of forming their bodies into living weapons. But that wasn’t what was happening.
They had three months before the project was to be reviewed and they could show no success. Sure, Daniel could mimic basic shapes and colors, but he lacked the intelligence at the time to go any further. He was a failure and like all failures he was thrown away in search of a success. Only his father believed in him, and stole him from the science facility so that he could continue the work.
Daniel had vague recollections of being in his father’s home with his wife and their one young son. The little boy always enjoyed watching “Papa” as he called the man, running through the experiments. The father took such great time and care in explaining to the boy just what he was doing. But all was not well. The young boy had a rare disease, and would take spells when he was completely bedridden, and then bounce back to an apparently healthy youth. There was no cure for the disease, so his parents kept the child at home with them.
Then one day, the boy got sick, and didn’t get better. For a whole week, father and mother stood by his bedside, trying to care for him, but no matter how tightly they held on, the little boy slipped away. For the longest time after that, Daniel’s father did not so much as set foot in the lab, and the boy’s mother rarely left her room. That is until the day that Daniel came to them.
He wasn’t sure how it happened, but his first clear memories were of walking down the hallway to the parent’s bedroom and opening the door. They looked at him in stunned disbelief. Their son was home. It wasn’t until the next day when Daniel’s father ventured into his lab and noticed that the blob of protoplasm was missing that they realized that the little boy before them wasn’t their real son, but a form that Daniel had shifted into. But for his father, Dr. Benjamin Einesland, it didn’t matter. He even named the newly intelligent protoplasmic being after his own son, Daniel Einesland.
Then the trouble started. Eelen Einesland couldn’t accept Daniel as her real son and would often scream at Daniel’s father that “it” or “that thing” wasn’t their real child. She hated him for loving Daniel and wanting to raise him as his real son. Then one day the screaming stopped. His mother left them and never returned, leaving father and son alone. He remembered how much it hurt his father, but that his devotion toward Daniel never wavered.
Dr. Benjamin Einesland and his son Daniel (posing as the original human son) went to work on a new project, an attempt to use what they knew about Daniel’s protoplasmic physiology to develop a treatment that could allow amputees to quickly regrow lost limbs. Joining in with a young Iconian scientist named Kanan Fuis, they made great strides toward the development of the new treatment. Both Daniel and his father trusted Fuis with their scientific discoveries, but as soon as they were ready to present their work, Fuis murdered Daniel’s father and tried to kill Daniel too, stealing their work and vanishing away.
Daniel shook his head as he exited the lift. Even close friends would have a hard time understanding him. That’s why he was close to so few, and even then never revealed his full name. Still, his synthetic heart beat strongly within him with a desire for companionship and a need to trust others.
“Hey, Danny Boy.” Puck called out.
Daniel realized as he looked at Puck that then there were some people he would never like nor trust as far as he could throw them. “What is it Winston?”
“Check this out,” Puck waved him over.
Daniel didn’t particularly like dealing with the filthy little man, and knew that he had probably just come up with some new joke about shapeshifters or something like that, but what could he do. If he ignored the man, he would just keep nagging at Daniel until he looked at whatever it was Puck wanted to show him, and if he argued, the result would be the same. The best way to deal with these things was just to go ahead and let Puck have his fun. “All right Winston, let me see it.”
Puck tapped a few keys on the console before him causing a 0.3 meter tall image of a naked woman to appear on a holopad at his desk. She looked human, except for the fact that her anatomy was almost physically impossible for any human female to possess. “She’s Alluura. Isn’t she perfect?” Puck asked.
“Oh, great,” groaned Daniel, shaking his head. “You called me over here to look at this? Another part of your holoporn collection?”
“Oh, she’s more than that,” Puck smiled pressing a button at the front of the holopad. With that, the hologram began to move and sway. Then, she began to speak.
“Oh, Daniel,” she moaned. “I’ve been waiting for you. Come over here and..”
“What the frill are you thinking!” Daniel grabbed Puck by his food stained shirt and hauled him out of his chair.
“Whoa, easy big guy,” said Puck, flailing with his arms in an attempt to hit the holopad’s off switch. “Hey, come on, it was just an idea.”
“What idea?” Daniel growled.
“Well, you know...” Trailing off, Daniel scanned the room to see if anyone was watching. The only other person in the room was a tech who had just walked in, and having seen the scuffle, turned around and walked back out. “You know... We borrow a little cash from the Rex man and, uh, start a little business.”
Letting Puck go, Daniel all but yelled, “Start a little business? You mean start up a holobrothel! I cannot believe you!”
“Well, it was just an idea,” the little man whined, attempting to straighten a shirt that was now twisted horribly out of shape. “I mean its not like I would try to make you do it.”
“Winston,” announced Daniel, setting the sensor data disk down on Puck’s desk. “This is the disk that I was told to bring you. Look at it and run through the preliminary data sorting for later tactical review. If I catch you doing anything other than your work at your station before the sorting is complete, I will see to it that you never get a chance to enjoy one of your perverted little fantasies again.”
With that, Daniel marched back to his science station to work off some of his sudden anger. “If only Rex had let me go with him.”
* * *
It was afternoon and the Dionoga Grill was almost empty. The place was a moderately successful nightspot, but only the hardcore patrons made visits during the day. T-Rex had to step over one of those patrons on his way in, as the Gran in question had decided to take a little nap in the stairwell. Normally, Rex avoided places like this, but he had business to conduct and the low key bar/restaurant was as good a place as any.
Stepping into the bar, T-Rex stopped to scan the room. It was a simple rectangular structure on the third story of a general commerce building in downtown Jengar. The wall on the restaurant side was occupied almost entirely with windows, through which the warm afternoon sun shone down on the classic wooden tables and floors of the Grill. The other side of the Dionoga Grill, the bar side, was a mild contrast with mirrors instead of windows and a dark almost black wood instead of the warm shades of the dining section. While the Grill had seen its share of underhanded activities, it wasn’t the kind of shady dive that the rough spacer types frequented. “All the better for business,” Rex thought.
The brief look around the room had not revealed the business contact that Rex was supposed to meet. “Sserr must be running late,” Rex decided, “Well, I might as well have a seat while I...” Rex’s thoughts trailed off as he noticed one of the beings hugging the bar. For a minute he blinked, wondering how the half sigman, half-human technician had ended up on Jengar, but then it hit him. “Balfin.”
As T-Rex approached the bar, the on duty bartender called out to him. “Hello, and welcome to the Dionoga Grill, featuring the coolest lomin ale and best steamed nerf in the downtown area. Can I help you with a food or drink order?”
Rex eyed the Twi’lek bartender. He was noticeably overweight and was failing to hide his girth behind a white button up shirt that seemed ready to burst. He had one lekku wrapped around his neck and was wriggling it in what seemed like a contented manner. “Yes, I’ll have the hot croonberry tea.”
“Very good sir,” the Twi’lek simply stood and stared at the T-Rex for a minute before Rex realized what he wanted. Reaching down to his belt Rex pulled out a few credits and set them down on the bar. The Twi’lek scooped up the credits and smiled, “Thank you sir. Just a moment.”
Dismissing the bartender for a moment, Rex focused in on his quarry. There, only a meter in front of him sat Gohac Naverian, wearing a brown jumpsuit and nursing a cup of caff. The sig-man looked to have gone downhill since Rex had last talked with him. Shaking his head, T-Rex sat down beside the little pinkish red technician. “So, how’s life treating you Gohac?”
Gohac jumped as the sound of his name. “Wha? Oh, is shu. Hi.”
“Hello,” Rex responded as Gohac quickly gulped down the remainder of his cup and unsteadily attempted to pour himself another one. “Are you alright?”
“Oh, me? Em finn. Howwer you?”Gohac slurred, antenna weaving about randomly.
“So, where’s Balfin right now?” Rex asked, although he already knew the answer. As insane as it sounded, Thad Balfin had only been on Jengar about a week when he decided that he liked the place and began running for mayor. It seemed as though anywhere you looked these days there was that idiot’s smiling face on some campaign poster.
“Baalfun!” Gohac slammed his fist down on the table, spilling a generous potion of caff. “Tha’ no good sliimmy coven rat! He leff me on my on here, say heds got to go be mayer! Saids I can take care of my self! Me, hall I want is to go home.”
Gohac quickly downed another cup of caff and began reaching for the pot again for a refill. “Haven’t you had enough?” Rex asked, placing a hand on the caff pot so that Gohac couldn’t get to it.
“I’ll know when I’ve will be had enough,” Gohac slurred out, slapping at Rex’s gloved hand until he let go.
“Gohac...” Rex began but was suddenly interrupted.
“Sir, your croonberry tea,” the Twi’lek smiled as he sat the drink down on the bar.
“Thank you.” Rex nodded to the bartender, and then turned back to Gohac. “I understand that Balfin can be hard to deal with sometimes, or rather all the time. But I don’t see why you don’t just catch the next transport out of here and go back to Varnus.”
“Hmph! No, I suupo ya’ don’t,” the little half sigman shook his head. “You see, Baalfun’s got my ship. I wordd on it as much as em. I toll him to lemme have it an I’d go, but he said it was is. Frillin’ son of a bantha!”
“I see,” Rex nodded, realizing that his business contact had just slithered in. He needed to end the conversation quickly, but he didn’t want to just walk away from the poor sig-man. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Later on, when your a little more... focused... I’ll see if I can help you out. Deal?”
“Deal,” repeated Gohac in reply, patting Rex on the shoulder. “Ya’ know. The galagziggy would be a much better place if hair were more people like you. You’re really are a decent guy. Zalt of th’ earth.”
“Thanks,” replied the T-Rex, slipping away from his inebriated friend and signaling the bartender.
“Sir, my I help you?” The bartender smiled. Obviously someone had told him that smiles earn tips, because that’s all the man seemed to do.
“Yes,” Rex slid some credits over to Twi’lek, and bent down to write a note on a napkin with a complementary Dionoga Grill pen. “See to it that when my friend here is finished he is brought to this address.”
“Of course, sir,” The Twi’lek nodded and pocketed the note and credits. Apparently it wasn’t such an unusual request for him to be so cool about it. Rex figured that once Gohac had a chance to dry out, they might be able to come to a mutually satisfactory business deal. Either way, the poor creature should have a safe place to stay for the night.
Leaving that problem to be dealt with later, T-Rex strode over to one of the little round restaurant tables to greet his business contact. “Sserr. So nice to see you again,” Rex greeted the snakeman.
“Same here,” Sserr hissed. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Of course.” T-Rex sat down across from Sserr, careful not to spill his tea as he planned his next words. “So friend, do you have that little item that I wanted?”
“Yes,” Sserr glanced around at the few early patrons of the Grill, then leaned in closer to the T-Rex. “It wasn’t easy to come by, but here it is.”
With that, Sserr placed a small, polished Rizzwood box on the table and pushed it toward the T-Rex. Holding it gently, Rex eased open the box and gazed at what was inside. A small silver orb met his gaze, brilliantly reflecting the light from the Grill’s window wall. Rex touched it lightly, amazed by its perfection.
“After all these years...” Rex trailed off, remembering the last time he had come across one of these. “A null sphere. Exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
“I hope that you are pleased,” said the snakeman, testing the air with his tongue.
“Quite,” T-Rex nodded once then closed the box and looked at his business partner. When he had first met the snakeman, Sserr had been somewhat of an enemy. Then to make things worse, Rex had taken Sserr Shipping away from the proud serpent, causing a well of distrust to spring up between them. However, as time had passed Rex had gotten to know Sserr for who he really was, even going so far as attending his son’s last shedding. It became quite clear after a while that the snakeman was not evil, but merely misguided. He had started into his life of crime at a young age out of desperation, and had never been able to break loose from it.
T-Rex’s first order of business from that moment of realization had been to rework Sserr Shipping as a real, aboveboard shipping company. After more work than Rex had ever intended to put into it, Sserr Shipping was now 95% legit, and the other 5% wasn’t all that harmful. Now came the moment of truth. “Sserr, I have a surprise for you.”
“What surprise?” hissed Sserr, full of curiosity.
Leisurely sipping his croonberry tea, Rex smiled at the snakeman. “During the time that I have been in command of your company, have you ever wished that I would just go away and leave you to run it in peace?”
Sserr hung his head. “The truth is... yes. I have worked so hard to reach the point I am at now, and I have long wanted to resume my life without interference.”
T-Rex laughed at Sserr’s honesty. “Well my friend, your wish is granted.”
“What?” Judging by the rapid blinking and generally surprised look on Sserr’s serpentine face, the news had come as a total surprise. “Are you serious?”
“Of course,” Rex suddenly became stern. “Would you rather I maintain my control of this little enterprise?”
“Well, I, uh, I wouldn’t want to burden you, uh, so I would be glad to take over.”
“Great,” Rex stood up, finishing his tea. “She’s all yours. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Sserr stood up and put out his hand. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. You just take care of that hatchling of yours, ok?” Rex said, gripping the snakeman’s scaly hand.
“Done,” Sserr broke the grip and began to slither off. “Take care friend.”
“Take care,” Rex gave a brief wave goodbye. Gripping his new toy tightly in one hand, the T-Rex walked out of the Dionoga Grill, thinking to himself that he had had all of the touchy feelly conversations he wanted in one day.
* * *
“T-Rex, sir,” Daniel stood up from behind his science station and nodded acknowledgment to the T-Rex. “I was not aware you had returned from your meeting.”
“Didn’t Winston tell you?” inquired Rex, noting Puck’s snickering from he seat across the room. Looking over, Rex saw Puck scanning the holonet for lewd holograms with one hand while putting away norgwak butter sandwiches with the other. Pretty normal for Puck. “Never mind.”
T-Rex strode over to where Daniel sat behind a half circle of computer displays and scientific analysis equipment. In general science, Rex bet that he could hold his own with the shapeshifter, but in genetics and protoplasmic technology Daniel was one of the best in the galaxy. “Daniel, how are my little projects coming along?”
Daniel hit a few keys before turning to answer. “As expected, sir. In two days we will see what science has wrought.”
A smile came to the Traveler’s pale face. The little “projects” were actually a pair of clones. Things were heating up in the New Imperium, and Rex had a feeling that he would soon see action, and probably die. That’s why he planned to have two fully grown clones of himself waiting in stasis to replace his body should he die. “Have the stasis chambers been installed yet?”
Daniel nodded. “One is already in place and ready for use, the other will be installed today.” Pausing for a second, Daniel furrowed his brow. “I really wish that they had arrived on time. I do not like pushing it that close.”
“Neither do I, but some things are beyond my control.” Rex almost laughed at the thought of two mindless copies of himself lying around, having to be fed and cleaned up after because the stasis chambers were late. It was a good thing that the other Travelers couldn’t see him. They would be laughing their heads off at the mere idea of cloning a host body to avoid having to take a new one. Most Travelers had gone through several hosts by Rex’s stage of development, but the T-Rex had been blessed/cursed with having avoided getting killed for 5,000 years. After so long in one body with just the original two minds merged, the thought of having to adjust to a new appearance and accommodate a new mind terrified him. So, taking a page from the late Emperor Palpatine’s book, the cloning process had begun. Rex just hoped that it never got out.
“Winston ran through the sensor data,” said Daniel, shaking his head. “Nothing spectacular. I really do not think the information will tell us any more than we already know about the Altarin’Dakor’s position.”
Rex nodded his head. “Still, any single piece of this puzzle might not help us, but when combined with everyone else’s little pieces... Transmit the data to the New Imperium’s Tactical Intelligence Division and let’s see if they can make anything of it.”
“Right,” Daniel nodded.
Rex jumped a little as his commlink beeped. “Rex here, what’s up?”
“Sir,” Captain Graham’s voice sounded a little strained, “We’ve just picked up an anomalous reading in the planet’s atmosphere.”
“What kind of reading?” asked Rex.
“Well, one second there was nothing, and then a burst of heat in Jengar’s outer atmosphere accompanied by an electromagnetic pulse, then nothing again. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Gritting his teeth, Rex replied, “Cloaked ship. Stang it! Daniel, get the shuttle here on autopilot. If I give you the signal, you know what to do. Perth, set all of the Raider’s guns on heavy ionization and keep a close eye on the atmosphere. If you see the “anomaly” again and haven’t received an all clear from me, open fire in its general direction.”
“Yes, sir,” Daniel instantly spun in his chair to summon the shuttle.
“You got it,” Captain Graham said, signing off.
Daniel shifted in his seat and asked, “Sir, what about take off clearances?”
“Forget the friggin’ clearances. Get that shuttle here now!” T-Rex stalked off toward the lift. “I have a guess at who’s come for me, and if I’m right I know where he’ll be.”
* * *
T-Rex walked out of the spaceport, heading for one very special ship. It sat on an outdoor landing pad near the end of the landing area, so as to attract fewer visitors. The ship was a dull silver in color and had a semi organic hull that looked very much like pure metal. Roughly egg shaped, though with a number of metallic ridges that made it look more like a sea shell, the ship sat on its three extended landing gear. This was the type of ship that many Travelers who didn’t leave the homeworld often enough to have more conventional ships would use, still alien but not too advanced or organic in appearance. The ship’s exit ramp was extended and a lone figure stood at its base, brown robed back turned to the T-Rex, dark skinned shaved head clearly visible to his fellow Traveler. Rex didn’t even need the strange premonition through the Force to tell him that another Traveler was nearby. He knew this one personally.
“Moa Gault,” T-Rex confronted the man. “What do you want with me?”
The dark skinned man turned around, revealing a middle-aged face with a sharp blocked goatee. The look on his face was one of resignation. “Icis. After all this time, I would have hoped for a warmer welcome.”
“Warmer?” T-Rex asked incredulously. “Why should that be? What do I have to do with you?”
Moa Gault raised his eyebrows in surprise, and answered, “You are my son. That’s what you have to do with me.”
“No,” Rex shook his head. “You were my father, but I ceased counting you as such years ago.”
“What did I do?” Gault held out his hands in a wide gesture.
“What did you do? I’ll tell you what you did. You sentenced me to a life of torment in the Altarin’Dakor galaxy!” Fuming at the thought, Rex clenched his fists and grit his teeth.
“That was an assignment...” Gault began.
“That was a sentence!” Rex interrupted. “How was I expected to carry on the work of watching and recording when the galaxy was unified by the AD fleets? You partially blocked my connection to the Force so that I would be weaker than many of the Jedicon, and gave me virtually no technological advantages! It was a trap to begin with!”
“Son, that wasn’t my decision, it was the council’s,” Gault shook his head and grimaced. “When you let your little temper tantrum kill millions of sentient beings, the council wanted to bring you home on the spot and revoke your traveling privileges forever. The only way I could stop them was to offer you an assignment as daunting as the Altarin galaxy. That way at least in a few millennia you could be restored to your former position instead of spending the rest of eternity behind a desk.”
“Oh, was that all that it was. You were genuinely concerned for my well being and acted to preserve my freedom. Am I supposed to believe that?” Fixing his father in a furious glare, Rex continued. “You did what you did because you couldn’t stand the thought of your only son turning out to be a disgrace to the family. ‘Oh, did you hear about Moa Gault? That death child of his went berserk and had to be imprisoned.’”
“Your only concern is your political development, and we both know what a political liability I am. So, tell me father... did you make the high council after you sent me packing?” Folding his arms over his chest, but not for an instant releasing his hard glare, the T-Rex waited for a reply.
“I can’t believe you would accuse me of putting my career before my family,” Moa Gault kept his voice controlled and even, with only a hint of his true anger peeking out. “I did what I did because I didn’t want to see you end up trapped on Kajarn for the rest of your life like a regular prisoner. I even went so far as to come and tell you myself to help ease the burden of your new assignment. And what did you do with your second chance? You ran away and started interfering again!”
“I did what I had to!”
“You did what you wanted to!” Gault stepped closer, almost yelling at his son, almost pleading with him. “Icis, I had your job once, and I know how hard it can be to just stand by and watch evil reign victorious. However, I also know that the strength of our position in the galactic community is based on the fact that we don’t get involved. If the galaxies ever began to view us as a military threat, our quiet observations would no longer be allowed and we could find ourselves caught in a full-scale war! We have to be neutral to do our jobs!”
“Is that your excuse!” Icis all but screamed. “I was just doing my job, ma’am. Sorry that I let your family die. Sorry that the Minions of Greequan were allowed to overrun your system and eat your people, but I was just doing my job! What gives you or anyone else the right to just sit in an ivory tower, watching as defenseless innocents suffer?!”
“What gives you the right to interfere with the course of nature in other sentient’s galaxies?” Shaking his hands in frustration, Moa Gault repeated the old lines once again. “By actively interfering with the development of other races we make ourselves out to be greater and therefore more deserving than them. Then it is only a matter of time before minor interference becomes major intervention, changing a less developed people’s way of life to suit ourselves. Then we are no more than Malduke!”
T-Rex jumped at that name, but he was no longer a frightened child listening to legends of monsters. “But how can you stand by and watch one race interrupt the culture of another? The Curcik were attempting to kill and conquer the Glacians. The Altarin’Dakor subjugated or destroyed every race in their own galaxy, and now they have come to this one thirsty for more.”
Putting a hand on his son’s shoulder, Moa Gault began to speak, “Icis...”
“Don’t touch me!” T-Rex pulled back, breaking his father’s grip.
“All things must pass, my son,” Gault continued to quote the old philosophies that had been taught to the Travelers for generations. “The Altarin threat will also pass away. Whether they win or lose here, in another fifty to a hundred thousand years, who will remember their name? If they do not straighten themselves they will not be allowed to join the galactic community, and if they attack a member galaxy they will be in for the fight of a lifetime. Either way the threat will end.”
“After how long, father?” Tears began to well up in Rex’s eyes. “How many innocent people will die during that time?”
“It cannot be helped,” Gault explained.
“No?” Laughing aloud, the T-Rex cried out, “Can’t it be helped? Can’t we do something?”
Moa Gault looked at his son and shook his head. It was obvious to the T-Rex that he would get no help from his father or any of the other Travelers. It didn’t matter though, as Rex had never counted on that help.
“Father, if you will not help, and our people will not help...” Pausing for a second to square his shoulders and wipe a stray tear from his eye, Rex smiled proudly. “Then I will help. I will do everything in my power to stop the AD, and you and your whole frillin’ council can go sit on a Hutt for all that I care.”
There was a moment of silence between the two men, Rex locking Moa Gault in his most defiant stare, as if challenging his father to stop him. It was obvious that an impasse had been reached, and that neither man was about to give a centimeter. Finally, Gault let out a long sigh, and said, “Icis, I didn’t come here to fight with you, I came here to warn you. The council has become tired of your actions and they have sent Ione Paua to retrieve you to stand trial.”
Rex stepped back in surprise at the sound of his sister’s name. “They sent the Huntress? How cold could they be...”
“They felt that she would be best able to restrain you and bring you home,” Gault crossed his arms and then continued. “You know Icis, Ione has made quite a name for herself while you have been out ruining yours. She’s considered by many to be the greatest tracker that ever lived. Your only chance to elude her is to go somewhere far away and keep a low profile. Stop this constant interfering of yours, and settle down in some quiet farming community. Take a wife, and raise a family. Then after a hundred years or so, come back to the council and ask forgiveness and reassignment. I might be able to help you then.”
“No, I’m not running anymore. I’ll stand my ground and fight.”
Shaking his head in amazement, Gault laughed aloud. “You’ll stand your ground alright. In a nice cage, next to all the other prisoners awaiting trial.”
“Dad!” Rex shouted out. “I’m not a helpless child anymore. It might surprise you to know this but I have defenses of my own set up. How do you think I new you were here waiting for me? I picked you up on sensors an hour ago when your cloaked ship hit the atmosphere.”
With that, Gault’s eyes went cold. “Son, I have been on this world for almost a week waiting for you to show up.”
“What?” T-Rex took another step backwards. “Then that means...”
Before Rex could even get out the words, he could sense it. That feeling of closeness and knowing... that sense of sameness... there was another Traveler nearby. The T-Rex spun around, trying to pin down the exact location of the new arrival, but it seemed to be all around him. The only way that the feeling could be so general that he couldn’t detect its source was if the source was right on top of him. And she was.
Suddenly, rounding the silvery smoothed corner of his father’s ship, was the Huntress. She wore a grey uniform that she must have borrowed from some unknown military organization, showing no apparent weapons. However, that didn’t surprise Rex as his sister could be said to be a living weapon. It was the first time that he had seen her in the form of a small woman, and others might be fooled into believing her weak, but not the T-Rex. He knew exactly who he was dealing with.
“Icis,” she called out, flipping her long, braided dark brown hair over her shoulder. “I don’t want any trouble out of you. If you come with me quietly and without resistance it will look better before the council.”
“Oh, I intend to resist. If you think that I’ll just walk away with you to my fate, you’re only fooling yourself.” The T-Rex and the Huntress stood facing each other in open challenge. A frown crossed Paua’s deeply tanned face, stark contrast to Rex’s ghostly paleness.
The Huntress slowly formed her words to give them depth and strength. “So be it.”
“Children,” Moa Gault held up his hand, “I know that this must happen, but at least let me leave before you begin. I can’t bear to see the two of you fight.”
“Yes, Father.” Ione nodded her head at her father.
“Ha! Yeah right!” Rex smiled at them and instantly vanished.
Startled Moa Gault called out, “Icis, what are you doing?” but no one answered. Rex thought that it had probably surprised her that he didn’t stand his ground and fight. Then again he never said he wouldn’t run, only that he wouldn’t be going with her. He had hoped to face her on his turf, and was now making a desperate attempt to shift the odds into his favor.
Ione Paua grit her teeth in disgust. “You won’t get away that easy Icis. No one escapes the Huntress.” With that she put both hands in front of her and opened herself fully to the Force. She searched, not for her brother directly, but for any change in the condition of the surrounding area. Suddenly, there it was, a faint flicker that sounded like a battle klaxon in her ears. As if tearing a piece of fabric, the Huntress parted her hands, stripping T-Rex of his invisibility.
Shocked by the speed at which his sister had managed to expose him, T-Rex missed a step, but still was able to compensate with the Force. Still, the Force was the problem here. Rex knew that the Huntress was over twice as strong in the Force as he was and that meant the outcome to this encounter was pretty predictable. Still...
Rex jabbed at a switch on his belt, opening a comm channel to his base. “Daniel.”
“Puck here. What’s up?”
“Winston, where’s Daniel?” Rex was becoming concerned.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Puck said evasively.
“Don’t frill with me Winston!” Rex shouted, realizing that the Huntress was catching up at an unacceptable rate.
“Ok, Ok. Don’t have an aneurysm. Daniel’s in the lue. I think he’s watering himself.”
Rex grabbed a handful of light darts from his belt and flung them in a tight cluster at the Huntress. As if the speeding light weapons were below a challenge, Ione Paua lept upward, propelled by the Force, easily clearing the light darts without losing much ground. “Listen Winston, tell Daniel that things have gotten out of hand and that we have to switch to plan Sigma, got it?”
“I’m all over it.” Puck replied with mock enthusiasm.
Rex had more important issues at hand than arguing with Puck. “Rex out.” He clicked off the comm link and glanced back at the Huntress, sending another wave of light darts. He knew that it was only a delaying tactic, but he was desperate. This time the attack was spread out instead of being so focused, but Ione Paua seemed not to notice the darts at all as she ran through a gap in the dart’s pattern. Now she was right on Rex’s heels.
For a moment, he contemplated. The light dart attacks had been only intended to slow her down, but if he stood and fought her now, he would have to be willing to kill. Not that it would stop his sister for long, but at least for a while it would slow her down and give him a chance to escape. In a split second he made his choice.
Screeching to a halt, T-Rex spun around to face his pursuer and ignited his lightsaber. Ione Paua barely stopped in time, and Rex quickly took advantage of her momentary lapse to strike out with an overhead blow from his lightsaber. The Huntress was not to be stopped that easily though and lept out of the way to the T-Rex’s right side to continue her attack. Undaunted, Rex took a wide swing to the right, forcing her to jump backwards to avoid the bright yellow blade. Believing the Huntress to be momentarily off balance, Rex lunged in for the kill. Too late he realized that she had only been baiting him.
With superhuman speed she sidestepped his attack and before the T-Rex could recover, the Huntress grabbed his hands to insure that he wouldn’t strike her and landed a high left kick just to the side of his temple. Not even waiting to see how her brother would react to this, Paua dropped to one knee, spun around and landed a low sweep kick that sent him spinning backward. T-Rex let out a brief yell, but recovered at the speed of light, landing on one hand and flipping himself backward to his feet. “I’m not that easy Ione.”
The Huntress smiled at him. “Haven’t you figured out that I’ve only been toying with you, Icis?” she laughed. “Very well then. I’ll give you a real fight.” With that she rushed forward, ready for combat.
T-Rex made a wide sweep with his lightsaber, hoping to force her back, but his dangerously resourceful sister lept spinning into the air, arcing over Rex’s head and landing behind his back. With a groan of effort he inverted his grip and jabbed the energy blade behind him. Too late. Ione had already stepped to the side and delivered a powerful kick to Rex’s stomach that bent him over in pain. Seeing her opportunity, the Huntress struck again, this time kicking straight up at her brother’s exposed head. T-Rex was sent spinning backward to the ground.
“Stang it!” Rex cursed, releasing his hold on his lightsaber. Ione Paua was too fast to use that weapon on and it was getting him in trouble. If he was going to win, he knew that he would have to think of his whole body as a weapon and not just the lightsaber. The icy stab of his danger sense warned the T-Rex just it time for him to dodge his sister’s latest attack, a power stomp that could easily break bones. “No more Ione. Now we finish it!”
Rex was back on his feet in a flash, hurling punches and kicks in quick succession, moving so fast that most humans would have only seen a cloudy blur, but at each point the Huntress was one step ahead of him, blocking his attacks with apparent ease. “What’s wrong Icis? Getting slow in your old age?” With that the Huntress began attacking in-between her blocks. As fast as the T-Rex could move he found himself barely able to dodge or block her attacks, and had to reduce his own to compensate. Here and there one of her attacks would get through, but Rex couldn’t land a single punch. Already the match looked decided.
Desperate for victory, Rex began to draw in more and more of the Force, filling himself to the point that he thought he would burst. Then, he did... in a manner of speaking. Allowing the Huntress to score several hits, T-Rex just stopped fighting. A mere second later the area was rocked by powerful waves of pure Force energy. They rippled out in a spherical form, digging into the ground, knocking away several birds that came into contact with them, and most importantly, knocking Ione Paua nearly ten feet backward onto the ground.
But now that Rex had begun a purely power based battle, he had doomed himself to failure. No sooner had Ione Paua returned to her feet, than she fired off a powerful energy blast at the already fatigued T-Rex. With no time to dodge, Rex put all of his energy into absorbing and dissipating the blast. The beam of energy hit him square in the chest, propelling him back through the air. Rex could feel the concussive force of the blast break several ribs and the heat burn through his armor to melt the skin off his chest. Writhing in agony, T-Rex reached out for the Force, shielding himself from the pain and beginning to let it’s healing energies flow into him. The T-Rex wasn’t about to concede defeat. Then, defeat engulfed him.
The Huntress stood over him, shaking her head. “Poor little brother. Is the pain too much?”
“I’ll show you pain!” He screamed, pushing himself to his feet.
The Huntress smiled. “No. You won’t.” She put out one hand, and the T-Rex crumpled to the ground, submerged in the dark waters of unconsciousness.
* * *
He wasn’t sure how long he had been lying there, just staring at the ceiling through a fog of sedatives, but that fog had lifted and the man was awake. Slowly he pushed himself into a sitting position, and tried to remember what had happened. For a moment he sat there thinking, but no answers came. His entire past had vanished away, replaced by an indistinguishable blur of a life once lived. His name was T-Rex. Then again it could be Icis. Sitting there, holding his head he couldn’t be certain.
Gently he shifted his weight onto his legs and stood up. For a brief second he felt dizzy and a little nauseous, but that quickly passed. Something didn’t feel right to the man, Icis or T-Rex or whoever, something was terribly wrong. He felt empty somehow like a part of his soul was missing, and he wondered where he was and how he had gotten there. Most of all he wondered what it was about this place that screamed to his mind of failure and loss.
T-Rex, if that’s who he was, stumbled over to the mirror and stared deeply into it, hoping to catch a glimpse of his former self, hoping to remember, desperate to understand. He noticed that he was wearing a simple white tunic and pants, and looking down saw simple white slip on shoes. The clothes were loose and free but somehow he thought that they should be skin tight. “Black,” he said aloud, “They should be black.” And then he stared in silence.
After a few minutes spent staring into his own eyes in the mirror he shook his head and looked away. He could now see the whole room. There, in the middle of the room was a large white bed, with white sheets and white pillows. It’s head was butted up against clean white walls, which stretched up to a white ceiling with a large ceiling light and ran down to a white, carpeted floor. Across the room was a closed metal door and a closet, and on his side a sink and mirror and a door leading to what looked like a bathroom. The final feature of the room was a large, white curtained window across from the bed. White, everything was white, everything... Icis knew that the color indicated something important, something he should know, but what?
On a sudden impulse he reached around behind him, grabbing at something that wasn’t there. What was it? What was supposed to be there? He repeated the motion, trying to remember, but all he could recall was a faint impression of a cylindrical object. What was it? He felt like he was being choked, a sudden pressure at his throat. “No! What...” Icis stuttered at he grasped at his throat. Cold, solid metal greeted him. “Nullification collar,” he murmured, before realizing with a start that the collar had been there the whole time. “The Force?” Rex asked aloud. Was that what was missing?
He rushed to the door as if on fire screaming at the top of his lungs that he wanted out, to be let go, but no one heard. He beat at the door with his fists until they began to bleed, but it would not open. He sank to his knees, but no one cared. Then realization of his true situation finally began to set in. He looked up at the light switch beside the door... the light switch that was set to off.
“The lights are off?” But he could still see. There was plenty of light in the room, but where was it coming from? He looked at the panel in the ceiling, but it was dim. That left only one thing. “The window.” True enough, the window shone brightly with a soft blue light. Blue... that also meant something, but Rex couldn’t remember what. He stood and began to walk to the window.
It’s funny how in life most people see only what they want to see. When the pain becomes too much, memories can be blocked out, perceptions changed, and the obvious become the obscure. At least it’s funny when it’s not happening to you. T-Rex or Icis, whoever he really was threw open the curtains. Blue... blue as far as the eye could see, everything outside of the window was a brilliant blue. It was then that he realized who he was. It was then that he remembered everything that had happened. It was then he remembered his mission. It was then that he knew where he was. He was home.
The End of
a Knightworks Production
TO BE CONTINUED IN “TRAVELER ON TRIAL”