Captain Rekab bounded up the stairs two at a time and slid to a halt outside the semi-circular elevator. Its single, imposing door was flanked by two red-clad Imperial Guards who showed no indication of acknowledging his presence, yet the young captain knew that they could make him disappear in a nanosecond should the Emperor command it.
He paused to adjust his tunic and dabbed at the cold sweat on his brow with his cuff. This was his first private audience with Emperor Palpatine, and Lien Rekab was not relishing this moment. Riding the elevator was even worse. Even though it was going up he felt like he was descending into a pit. After what seemed like an eternity the door opened and Rekab stepped out into the Emperor’s reception room. The air fairly tingled with dread and the young captain swallowed nervously as he approached Palpatine’s throne. The great, obsidian chair slowly spun around and he found himself eye to yellow eye with the self proclaimed ruler of the Empire.
"Report," hissed the old man and Rekab’s hand shook as he lifted the datapad to read from it.
"This is the latest intel. report Sire…. it appears the communiqué we intercepted was accurate, there are indeed increased hostilities between the Wookiees and the Trandoshans."
The Emperor’s eyes lit up at this news, however his voice still dripped with venom.
"Pathetic lifeforms, yet this could prove an amusing distraction from the tiresome search for the Rebel Alliance. What was the catalyst for this new conflict?"
"It appears a Wookiee clan based on Rori has been abducting and mind-wiping Trandoshans with the intention of using them for assassination tools, and although this aggressive act was not officially sanctioned by the supreme council on Kashyyk, many Elders turned a blind eye to this revenge for years of slavery and oppression."
"The Trandoshans served us well, but at a cost, and their loyalty is questionable," ruminated the Emperor, "perhaps it is time for their bloodlust to be sated… and as for the Wookiees, I doubt we shall need them for our new construction already underway at the Kuat Yards."
Sensing he should carry on, Captain Rekab made a pathetic attempt to clear his throat and continued to read.
"Intel suggests a few small skirmishes between the opposing forces could commence soon. They are gathering their forces as I speak."
"Excellent! Excellent!" laughed Palpatine, clasping his hands together and displaying a grisly graveyard of decaying teeth, "Captain Rekab, see what you can do to expedite their mutual demise. Report to Lord Vader with this information."
"As you wish my Lord!" stammered Rekab, backing away with his head bowed.
Never had he been happier to ride in an Imperial elevator, but as he descended further from the Emperor’s room, and closer to the level housing Lord Vader’s quarters, he felt his stomach beginning to knot once more.
This was turning into a most unsettling day.
Tomsk tapped idly at the data-disk on his desk. He had checked and double checked the treasury report and run a thorough background check on the Zabrak supplying him with street lamps. A chromium box sat next to his reading lamp, another freebie from a fellow mayor trying to curry favour with him. He could check it later. All seemed to be in order. It was always in order.
A droplet of saliva dripped from the side of his mouth and splashed onto the desk top. He glanced over at the T-21 hanging on the wall. 'Perhaps just a quick hunt... something to relieve the monotony' he thought to himself. As he began to stand, his comlink suddenly blared into life, the tone of the channel indicator meant it was an emergency transmission and he plugged it into his datapad to read the message.
"Due to continued incidents involving the wookiees of the Clan of the Wroshyr and ..... ...all members are ordered to report to Mos Eisley, Tatooine. The use of force is hereby authorized ... ...gather in the cantina... ...cause excessive damage to a business associate. K’Thorn"
So, the Wroshyr has tipped its hand! Tomsk turned off the comlink and strode into the backroom to retrieve his armour. As he made the final preparations for lockdown of the town he heard a scrape from outside and grabbed the rifle from its wall mounts. Tomsk stepped out into the afternoon haze and saw nothing, though the stench of Wookiee hung in the air.
'They wouldn't dare...' thought Tomsk.
A barely audible click from behind made him snap his head around, in time to see a green light blink off on the surface of the chromium box. Tomsk took one step forward, and then it exploded. The stinging sensation of tiny metal shards piercing his face was rapidly replaced by a brief moment of panic as he was engulfed in a dioxin cloud. He rummaged for the rebreather he had looted from the Geonosian lab, and was still rumaging as he collapsed to the ground and darkness enveloped him.
Kathryn had stayed up late trying to find the right balance between Rancor Bile and Endor Spider poison to make a truly effective toxin but with little success. After a few hours of sleep, she awoke to begin her experiments again. Retribution was quite peaceful in the morning but this did not mean she could be off her guard. To'zar's transmisson over the comlink had unsettled her and she desparately wished to be joining the fun in Mos Eisley.
'I could try out my new disease mixture' she thought as she carefully measured out a teaspoon of Rancor Bile 'Oh, well, such is the life of a combat medic'.
As the poisons began to boil, her sharp ears detected what sounded like a mini explosion. With lightning reflexes, she grabbed her laser rifle as well as some nearby poison ampules for good measure. Then she inched her way outside. The only sounds to greet her now were the chirping of some birds in the brush and the squeek of a durni. Kathryn could also smell the approach of a rainstorm. 'Well, that's a good thing. Ke'jan's plants can get watered'. She smiled, glancing over at the garden. 'Won't K'thorn be pleased'. Shaking her head at the image of the towering Trandoshan growling about her friend's plants made her smile even more and she was just about to chalk up the sound to very little sleep and overworked nerves when her keen nose picked up a smell that was not part of the approaching storm. 'That's the stench of dioxin. I should know since I've been trying to make a batch myself as a Wookie Life Day present to the Wroshyr Clan' Kathryn mused, following her nose to Tomsk's office 'A pretty good mixture too if my nose doesn't deceive me. I detect squill blood and...is that rancor plasma or baz nitch toxin? hmmm..' Outside the mayor's office, she noted his speeder and decided that he must be concocting some poisons for the war. After all, he was a combat medic too. She decided to see if he was at home and then ask him for the recipe. It would make a nice addition to her own collection of poisons. The door slid aside easily at her approach but she found the office empty. There were a few metal fragments on the floor, which she examined closely. Being careful not to touch them, Kathryn noticed that each piece was coated in dioxin. Glancing quickly over her shoulder, she quickly extracted a pair of latex medical gloves and a sealed container to pick up a few pieces for closer examination.
'Surely Tomsk won't mind if I check out his handiwork' she thought as she finished putting the fragments into her vacumn sealed box 'He evidently didn't care that much about it to leave this place with these fragments lying around'
With her new treasure safely stowed in her travel pack, Kathryn jogged back to her lab to begin the diagnosis. New poisons always thrilled her and she was particularly excited about this one because of the unique combination of toxins involved.
What she didn't know was that someone was watching her.
Ensabah sat on the floor, looking as if he were making a choice of life or death. In front of him stood a bulky machine, into which he loaded very few of his personal resources and a few spares meds. Here in the shop of his company, Sunny & Ensy Inc, he pondered whether or not to keep the vendor.
"Mos Eisley," he thought with some disgust, "as much as I hate that wasteland of a planet, the wookiees must hate it even more. The sand in their fur, the sun in their eyes. If it means shedding their blood, I'll return there."
Ensabah stood up, punched a few codes into the bulky vendor which had caused him quite a bit of stress in its short lifespan, and watched as the machine collapsed upon itself, just to be swept away by a MSE-9 cleaning droid.
BLEEP BLEEP The datapad in the backroom had a message.
"Playback new messages," he commanded.
"Transmission received: this morning. Sender: Yelena" "Ensy, its me. I'm heading out to Bestine in the morning. Others are gathering tonight, but I am unable to attend. Join me, will ya? I would like you here with me on the flight. If you're gonna be near Coronet tonight perhaps we could meet up and do something..."
A wide smile shot across Ensabah's face. "Looks like I'm headed to Coronet tonight."
Ensabah switched off the lights, and locked the door. Before him stood City Hall. He just had to go in and drop off a report before he could leave.
As Ensabah approached the town hall he noticed Mayor Tomsk's swoop idling outside his office. 'The old man is in.' thought Ensabah and he made a short diversion to pay his respects. The office door slid open, but Tomsk was nowhere to be seen. An acrid smell made Ensabah wince and he noticed tiny shards of metal scattered like confetti about the reception room.
'Strange, he's normally so anal about keeping a clean ship...' pondered Ensabah, 'guess this new Wookiee issue has got him rattled.'
He left the office and made his way over to the hall, suddenly urged on by the thought of what awaited him in Coronet.
Walking alongside Kathryn's poisons lab, Ensabah caught a shine off the horizon. He could tell it was a tracker droid, used mostly by bounty hunters, but also used for long range surviellance. This confirmed his feeling that something was happening.
"Tomsk, you there?" Ensabah quickly asked into his comlink. "Tomsk, you hear me?" No reply. He made a quick change on his comlink.
"K'thorn, this is Ensabah." Still no reply. "Chief K'thorn, where are you?"
This time a beep, followed by a recorded message. With his speeder still here, Tomsk must have left with someone else. In a hurry at that.
"Comlink channel is unavailable at this time. Please try again later."
This meant K'thorn may have been busy with a slave, or on a shuttle midway in its hyperspace trip. Ensabah entered City Hall, keeping his cool. Walking through the central offices, he noticed everything was neat and tidy, like always. Nothing seemed wrong here. He dropped off the report from his satchel and placed it on Tomsk's desk. It was quiet in here. Just a low buzzing noise from the data terminals. Walking back onto the front steps of the hall, a chill ran down his spine. He felt a drop in his snout. Another and another on his shoulders and head. Gazing up into the endless sky of Corellia, he felt very calm. A deep sigh left his lungs. A storm was coming. He could see violent strikes of thunder in the distance. A smile crossed his face again.
"With the storm comes a war! With war comes the vengence of the scorekeeper! The storm will end when it has washed away your blood from the streets!" Ensabah's mighty voice filled the grasslands and echoed off the raindrops falling at an ever increasing rate. Any emotion he may have shown suddenly disappeared from his face. He dropped to his knee in a quick motion and pulled a rifle off his back. Up, aim, trigger. With that a loud blast tore through the rain, half as loud as the bellow from just a moment ago. Not even a second later, an explosion on the horizon put the smile back on Ensabah's face. The droid was gone, giving the Woshyr one last look at the home they had invaded. Ensabah swung the rifle around to his back again, turned away from the hall, and disappeared into the darkness of the night that the storm brought upon the land. This storm wasn't expected to pass by sunrise, but that just fed Ensabah's soul.
With rain comes chaos. War is hell. He liked that.
As Kathryn busied herself with her brews and potions, the fragments she had found in Tomsk's office continued to be analysed. The diagnostic drone she had set to work on the pieces burped and gurgled as it went about its task conducting full spectral studies, composition tests and alloy definitions on the metal shards. Tiny robotic pincers rotated the shards as a rainbow of lasers scoured their surfaces. After a few minutes the analysis was complete. A readout appeared on Kathryn's datapad and 'pinged' to alert its owner. She pulled off her gloves and held the datapad close to read the results. As she scanned the information one word actually made her gasp out loud. 'This can't be right...' she ruminated as she reset the drone to begin another scan. On the datapad, under the heading 'Planet of Origin', a word glowed green. Kamino.
Tomsk blinked and slowly opened his eyes. The brightness of the room made him want to turn his head, but he discovered, to his horror, that he was immobilised. He could hear muffled voices, too distant to ascertain their discussion, and the air smelt the same as the cloud that had rendered him unconscious. He licked his dry lips and tried to scan his surroundings from his prone position.
A single door, no windows, ultra-bright strip lights overhead.
He tried moving his legs and felt metal restraints against his ankles, presumably the same kind of restraints that held his wrists and neck. Tomsk breathed deeply and invoked a regenerative pulse that coursed through his veins and tightened his sinews. At least he could put up a fight once he was released from his bonds…
The door slid open and a rodian entered. It regarded Tomsk with an air of disdain. "You are awake I see."
Tomsk eyed it with hatred. "I will snap your neck," he hissed.
"I think not lizard," replied the rodian and it exited the room, only to return moments later with two more creatures in tow, a zabrak and a wookiee. Tomsk snarled and tried to raise enough phlegm to spit at the wookiee, but his throat was too dry.
"Be still," said the zabrak in a soft voice dripping with malice, "or we shall flood this room once again with dioxin." The wookiee pressed a barely visible panel in the grey wall and half of the strip lights dimmed and parted. Then a flat screen lowered down from the ceiling, hovering to within two meters of Tomsk’s face.
"We bring relief from your boredom," muttered the zabrak, "something to watch." With that the trio left the room, the rodian chuckling as he went. Tomsk turned his attention to the screen as it blossomed into life. The picture was a bird’s eye view of some buildings. The arrangement was familiar to him. Retribution! He could see small figures walking around the structures, one looked like Xaviere, another like K’thorn. As the image pulled back he could see a couple of other figures laying prone on the closest hill-top. Wookiees. The wookiees slowly edged forward, and Tomsk watched helplessly as his beloved town was attacked…
"Kamino?" Kathryn murmured, trying to remember anything she could about this elusive planet. Images of silver oceans and long necked aliens played in the back of her mind as well as a dull sense of pain but nothing more. There could only be one reason why that name triggered all sorts of images and emotions. She had been there. But how? Dropping the datapad next to her unfinished experiments, she pulled a chair over to her computer terminal and accessed the galaxy map she had stolen from an unsuspecting spice smuggler. The holo had been a real find. Not only did it project the planets and stars of both the Inner Core and Outer Rim as an interactive, touch sensitive hologram but it also contained a sizable index of useful information on each world as well as a few not often found on the usual star charts, perfect for smuggling outposts. 'Ahhhh here we are' thought Kathryn as she touched a silver sphere and a clinical female voice began to speak. "Kamino. A planet of tumultuous oceans and endless storms. Few features mark its surface, save for massive stilt-mounted cities wherein reside the planet's natural inhabitants, the Kaminoans. From Tipoca City, the planet's Prime Minister rules and closely monitors the operations of Kamino's most prized export: clones. Though few are privy to such knowledge, the Kaminoans are reputed to be the best cloners in the galaxy...." The emotionless voice continued but Kathryn heard nothing more as her mind zeroed in on the one key word: clones!. That was it! That's how she knew about this place! Being a clone herself, Kathryn had begun life in a hidden Imperial cloning facility on Endor but that had been when she was 21. The scientists had told her that her memories of the past had been wiped before they awakened her at the base Clearly the mind wipe had not been thoroughly done if only a few years later a few key words unlocked a few of these lost memories. Nevertheless, there was only one thing to be done. 'I'm going to Kamino. If just a few minor references to the planet can jog a few images, imagine what a full blown immersion of the senses in the world itself could do. At any rate, there is some payback in order for what they did to me'. And with that thought in mind, she packed her most lethal poisons and deadly diseases alongside two laser rifles and a republic blaster. Just as she had strapped the pack on, the front door to her lab exploded in a shower of deadly metal shrapnel from a proton grenade and a towering fur covered giant charged in. Still coughing on the smoke from the grenade, Kathryn reached for the weapons in her backpack only to be stopped by her assailant with his bowcaster aimed at her head. "I wouldn't try that, little human. I might have to kill you," the wookiee growled, yanking her off the floor. "Not that I'm promising that I'll let you live. It all depends on how useful you are to me"'I'm never going to get this stench out of my clothing' Kathryn thought, wrinkling her nose as she let the wookiee drag her across the floor. The combined smell of sweat and unwashed fur was overwhelming but she managed to keep her wits about her as they approached the front door. After all, animals are known for their brute strength and not their intelligence. It would be child's play to lull this wallking furball into a false sense of security. Now all she needed was an opportunity..... The doors to her lab opened at their approach and for the first time she could hear the sounds of gunfire, cries of victory, and screams of pain. It seemed the wookiees were losing if her sharp ears did not deceive her because the screams appeared to be wookiee in origin while the warcries were accentuated by a distinct hissing sound. Her own captor was suddenly nervous and glanced anxiously around the deserted streets. Suddenly the sounds stopped and an eerie silence crept over the town. 'C'mon, guys, I know you're out there. Just give me a chance to turn the tables on this walking flea bag' Kathryn said to herself, straining to hear the slightest sound that would mean her friends were close by. As if in answer to her silent prayer, K'Thorn and Xaviere came strolling up the street covered in blood and laden down with wookiee pelts. The two warriors took in the situation a moment after the wookiee wrapped his furry arm around her neck and lifted the bowcaster to her head. K'Thorn smiled as he pulled out his own weapon for one more kill while Xaviere quickly followed his example. The two Trandoshans then calmly walked up to the house and gave the wookie a once over.
"Let the human go and you'll die quickly, wook," K'Thorn announced without emotion while he casually adjusted the setting on his rifle. "You can join your brothers who went before you."
"I think you have failed to take in the situation here, lizard. I hold the upper hand. One false move and your precious human dies. I hope she is a valuable slave so you will think twice." "She's human and expendable. I can find more like her. Do what you will," K'Thorn replied, shrugging while at the same time catching Kathryn's eye. She blinked twice to communicate that she understood his plan.
"You're just bluffing. Everyone knows-" the wookiee began to say but was cut off by the sound of a charged bolt making contact with the small body he was holding. The surprised animal looked down and saw red blood spill all over Kathryn's hands as she tried to stop the bleeding coming from the wound in her chest.
"K'Thorn..." she whispered in surprise before collapsing on the ground. Her former captor just stared at her dead body and then at her murderer.
"I don't negotiate," K'Thorn replied with a cruel smile and shot the wookiee three times before he could react to this turn of events. While Xaviere began to skin the latest kill, the tall Trandoshan's attention quickly turned to the human woman who was now getting slowly to her feet.
"Thanks for aiming high, K'Thorn. You KNOW the chestplate bruises me more when you hit high than when you hit low," the angry combat medic infomed him, the sarcasm and irritation clear in her voice.
"I know. What makes you think I didn't aim that way on purpose?" was his quick reply followed by a sly flash of teeth. Kathryn shook her head while the beginnings of an amused smile pulled at her lips. She was just about to go back into her lab for a thorough shower and change of clothes when she spotted a datapad peeking out of the wookiee's bulky belt. Wondering if it had the location of their hideout or other sensitive information, the young woman carefully extracted it from the corpse and activated the viewscreen. Within moments, the datapad revealed the travel plans of the wookiee assault team including the security codes for the shuttle they had used to travel to Corellia. 'Just what I need: a ticket out of here' she thought, quickly pocketing the device. K'Thorn inquired after the contents but she merely showed him the travel plans on the pad while carefully leaving out the location of the shuttle. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
"I'm going to wash this red dye off before it stains my best traveling suit permanently. Securing a few ampules in my watch comes in handy with situations like this," she remarked, glancing at the wookiee corpse that was now stripped of its pelt. "He should have listened. The Dosha Cartel NEVER negotiates."
"They never listen. It's impossible getting through that thick skull of theirs."
"Of course, you're right, K'Thorn, but one can always hope..."
"Bah! Hope is for weaklings"
"We shall see, we shall see," Kathryn murmured, thinking of her own hopes of finding information on her mysterious past by traveling to Kamino. After taking a shower, changing clothes and applying a little bacta, she felt almost as good as new. It was long past time for her to continue her quest for answers on Kamino and the first step on that quest would be procuring the wookie shuttle for her own purposes. Sometimes fate had a way of making a precarious situation turn out just right.
Captain Rekab wiped the palms of his hands down the front of his grey dress pants. Why did he sweat so when he came to this place? The elevator came to a gentle stop and the door swung around to reveal a sterile room, the silver and slate of the furnishings swallowing all colour and any hope. In the middle of the room, seated at one end of a great table, General Veers gazed thoughtfully at a small data pad - his hard face tinged violet from the soft blue light of the readout.
"Report." he issued, without looking up at the nervous Captain.
Rekab stepped forward and placed his own data pad on the table. "You requested an update sir."
"And?" snapped Veers, his face still angled down, "am I to read your report from here?"
"Sorry sir!" stammered Rekab and he hurriedly scooped up the pad before trotting down to the far end and standing to attention next to the General. Veers gently took the pad from Rekab’s outstretched hand and lethargically brought it before his face.
"Interesting… this information is accurate?"
"To within the last hour sir."
General Veers placed the pad on the table next to his own and finally looked up into the face of the young Captain. He seemed to be sizing him up for a second, his piercing eyes burrowing into Rekab’s very soul. Lien Rekab felt a chill (of respect or fear?) clasp at the back of his neck, then the General spoke again.
"This is good intel. Captain. The opposing clans have no idea of our involvement?"
"No sir. Our snipers were undetected during the Wookiee attack on the Trandoshan town of Retribution. We made several significant kills, especially on the lizards, and pulled out without a hitch. Our spaceport operatives have also been able to deliver information to the Dosha Cartel regarding the Wookiees’ movements without their knowledge. They believe they are using regular informants."
Veers’ face appeared to soften slightly. "Excellent, the Emperor will be most pleased with the progress you are making. Perhaps you should now redouble your efforts, see if you can’t bring about the end of both of these parties. Then we can send a message to other clans who are getting ideas above their stations, remind them who is really in charge of the galaxy!"
"Yes sir, thank you sir!" blurted Captain Rekab, snapping his heels as he saluted the General.
A mere three seconds passed before Veers uttered "You still here Captain?"
Once again, Lien Rekab was happy to return to the sanctuary of the elevator.
It had been several hours since the viewing screen had been lowered to show Tomsk the events unfolding between the cartel and the Wroshyr. Tomsk took this to mean one of two things. Either their holo-cam droids were not working, or the Cartel were winning. He opted for the latter and consoled himself with the thought that his brothers were giving the wookiees the punishment they so richly deserved. The door slid open and his trio of tormentors entered, this time shadowed by two new figures, both shrouded in heavy cloaks. The rodian punched a sampler into his neck and extracted some tissue from between Tomsk's scales.
"Not taken enough?" Tomsk hissed. The rodian ignored him and handed the tube of meat to one of the cloaked figures. As it reached out to take the tube Tomsk caught a glimpse of green skin and claws.
"Traitorous Sithspawn!" he spat as the figure left the room. The wookiee laughed at Tomsk and stepped aside as the other figure walked closer. The unmistakable snout of a trandoshan peeked from the heavy cloth as it regarded Tomsk's prone form, then it quickly turned and left as the zabrak approached the table, cradling a stun baton menacingly.
"Make him scream," said the rodian.
Tomsk fixed the zabrak with a hard stare as his torturer went to work...
According to his internal clock two days had passed. The plasma screen had not descended for either day. Tomsk knew that his tormentors would have repaired any problem to their cameras in a nanosec, so the reason for the lack of pictures must be the dominence of the Cartel. He afforded himself a smile, then turned back to the matter at hand. His body was already a mass of bruises and dried blood, multiple signatures of the zabrak, so some fresh damage would not be noticed. He continued to twist his left hand, feeling the skin break, feeling bones pop out and sinews snap. After several hours of this self abuse he could now sense that the claw was malleable enough to slip through the restraining clamp. He tried it and it oozed through with ease.
A soft click.
Tomsk replaced his hand, just as the door slid open and his abductors entered. The shrouded figures were once again present with the original unholy trio, and now a sixth being entered, stooping low to get through the door frame. Tomsk had never seen a Kaminoan before, and in his present state he didn’t really care either. The cloaked figures held back as the willowy cloner and the rodian approached the table. The wookiee and the zabrak observed with an air of impatience, chomping at the bit, ready to resume Tomsk’s torture.
The rodian ushered forward the Kaminoan. "See Mee Krob? He’s not dead, just softened up a little."
"You must prevent any further deep tissue damage," replied the tall creature in a voice like melting bantha butter, "my experiments require unblemished specimens."
"I’ll try to hold ‘em back," grinned the rodian, glancing back at his colleagues, "but they get so enthusiastic."
One of the cloaked figures now spoke up. "Is he conscious?"
The rodian looked back at Tomsk. "Yeah - he’s listening to all of this…"
Tomsk eased open one swollen eyelid and watched the cloaked figure approach the table. It reached up and pulled back its hood, revealing a grizzled and deeply scarred Trandoshan face. He bent closer and hissed, "You know my face?"
Tomsk gave a slight nod and croaked, "Yes. Drassk’Or. Supreme General of the Slaver Wars… you served my father…"
"He still does." This voice came from the other figure. It stepped forward and removed its hood. Tomsk craned his head as far up as he could, and his gaze fell upon the stone hard face of Trendo Hssss. The old lizard spoke slowly, his voice dripping with venom. "It’s been a long time son."
A day had passed since Tomsk’s father had revealed his identity, and since that moment he had not returned. The wookiee and zabrak were more than happy though to continue his torture, using stun batons and plasma needles to inflict as much pain as possible but never to the point of unconsciousness. Now he was alone once again. Having wriggled his mangled left hand free he now tentatively probed his right. He felt for the points that he would have to dislocate in order to free his favoured claw. Next he probed the restraining strap crossing his brow and realized it would take more than a claw to cut through the plasti-weave material, likewise the straps over his thighs and shins. The silence in the room was overwhelming, but worked to his advantage, as he could hear the hiss of an external blast door that would herald the click of his prison door. When he heard the initial hiss he knew he had seven seconds to prepare for his tormentors. Tomsk drew his hand to his mouth and reached inside with two twisted digits. Taking a firm grasp of the longest of his rear fangs, Tomsk snapped it off at the root and palmed it quickly, swallowing the brief gush of blood that filled his throat. Suddenly he heard the tell tale hiss of the blast door and counted down in his head as he struggled to squeeze his claw back under the restraint. The point of his broken fang pierced the flesh of his palm as the door opened and his father entered. Trendo was followed by the General, who carried a tall, white chair, placing it next to Tomsk’s table. Then he returned to the doorway and stood in front of it, arms crossed, blocking the exit with his imposing frame. Trendo unclasped his cloak and folded it over the back of the chair before sitting down and staring at his battered son.
"Open your eyes."
Tomsk obliged and looked directly up at the barren ceiling. Trendo leaned forward. "I’m sure you have more than a few questions Tomsk," he hissed, "and now is the time for answers…."
"General Drassk is possibly the last true survivor of the Slaver Wars and, as you know, he is a highly regarded veteran of the last great Techno War with the wookiees." Trendo afforded a brief glance at his trusted companion and Drassk’Or returned the look with a respectful nod.
"He has stood by the Hsss family for many decades, and it was he who instigated my resurrection."
"It was for the good of the family…" rumbled the grizzled war horse in the corner.
Trendo continued. "Of course, cloning from such an old DNA matrix is considered highly irregular, not to mention illegal on all but the most progressive of planets, but after my initial anger I could understand his reasoning." Tomsk’s father stood and stretched, flexing his formidable frame and baring his razor sharp fangs.
"These Kaminoans may be the best cloners in the galaxy, but they can’t make furniture for sithspit," he grumbled, before perching himself once again on the edge of the chair. He leaned even closer, so close that Tomsk could feel his spittle flecking his face as he spoke. "What do I find upon my return? Trandosha is now run by bureaucrats, not hunters. The Trandoshan race has gone soft! Once mighty warriors who lived only for the kill are now merchants, wondering where their next shipment of Quarren Weave silk is coming from, or doctors healing all who beg for help, even the sub-species such as humans and bothans… even wookiees! They have become businessmen, worried less about Jagganath points than their bank accounts, I have even been shown dancers - dancers! May the Scorekeeper devour their souls!" Trendo became more and more agitated as he spoke and Tomsk prepared for the lashing out that would inevitably follow. "On top of this I have to read about the Hsss family name being dragged through the mud! We were a noble family, now we command no respect! My own son, my heir, is so weak that he is captured by wookiees and forced to betray his own kind. You were given a second chance, did you restore honour to our family? NO! You became a pathetic pen pusher, a politician, the lowest form of life, a laughing stock on Dosha!" Trendo stood and kicked back the chair, sending it crashing into the wall behind him. "Well no more! I cannot stand by and watch this happen… I do see one ray of hope however. This cartel that you are connected to, they are strong, some of them retain the old ways, the hunger. With a Hsss leading them and my guidance, the Dosha could once again become the feared warriors we were! That is why To’zar Roksun shall be removed, and you shall lead them in his place."
Tomsk snapped his head to the left, chaffing against the strap, to stare at his father. "But, I cannot kill the Don," he croaked, "K’thorn, Crotalus, the others would never allow this to happen. They would never accept my leadership…"
"You will not be doing the killing, and any who oppose you will be silence, you can be assured of that…"
"But how can I be expected to take over?"
Trendo smiled wickedly. "It will not be you, exactly, who takes command…" With that he he motioned to the General who stepped to one side as a new, huge figure entered the room. Tomsk gasped. He was looking at himself.
This new Tomsk was taller, more muscular than Tomsk remembered himself to be, and wore a freshly skinned wookiee pelt loosely about his shoulders. Tomsk recognized the markings of his torturer. Trendo stepped towards the new Trandoshan and placed a claw on his shoulder. He then turned back to Tomsk. "Meet the new Tomsk Hsss, soon to be leader of the Dosha Cartel, a perfectly blended clone of you, General Drassk and myself, ruthless beyond measure and stronger than any Trandoshan you have ever known, our cloner friends have seen to that…" Tomsk stared in disbelief as he watched himself fling the pelt to the ground and lick the blood from his claws.
The new clone gave Tomsk a disgusted look. "Time for this one to die now…" he hissed.
"Darn navigation system!"Kathryn yelled, hitting the finicky old console for the upteenth time. "I should have known that a wookiee wouldn't know a good spacecraft if it landed on their head." The 'transport', if you could call it that, had seen better days. She had found its location quite easily thanks to the datapad she took from the Wroshyr assault team member. Its former owners had tried to hide the ancient vessel beneath a few tree branches but the hasty attempt at cover only served in making it stand out. After a quick systems check and an examination of the many dents and scars running along the sides, she decided that it would have to do. The shuttle itself was the size of a small Corellian house with only two compartments: a bridge and a storage bay. It was clearly meant for quick trips between planets since there was no attempt to hide the guts of the ship behind sleek paneling or add more luxuries such as bunks or tables. Kathryn jdecided to name her new vessel Fortune Hunter while praying it would make it all the way to Kamino. Otherwise, it would end up being a very short trip.
After breaking orbit and engaging the hyperdrive, she began to have second thoughts. Once at lightspeed, the entire vessel started to shake and Kathryn could swear she heard the bolts of the ship starting to come apart from the added pressure. What made things worse was the occasional groan as Fortune Hunter hit the occasional piece of space debris.
'Remind me not to borrow any vessels from wookiees again' she thought, shifting in her hard pilot's seat to squint at the radar. The readings had frozen again so she gave it a good hit with her fist before deciding that she was close enough to come out of hyperspace. Taking a deep breath and sending one last prayer to the Scorekeeper, Kathryn gently eased the old vessel down to a lower speed. Despite her careful efforts, Fortune Hunter moaned, groaned and protested like an old nag until she came to a complete stop above a world covered in silver water.
"Kamino" She breathed out loud, the images of before returning more vividly.
"This is where I'll find my answers." And with these happy thoughts to guide her, Kathryn started making her descent to the welcoming planet below. It didn't take long to find the newly up and running capital city and after receiving permission to land, she settled the tired old starship down in a quiet, secluded docking area. After a quick onceover, Kathryn secured the vessel and quickly made her way through the pouring rain to the beckoning silver tower beyond. 'At least I don't have to worry about theft' she chuckled, thinking no one would want such a piece of space junk. With any luck, no one had noted her arrival since her vessel was far from impressive. However, luck was not on her side at this time. Someone HAD seen her arrival and hurried to report this new development to Trendo Hsss and General Drassk.
His father’s words still rang in his ears as Tomsk lay on the interrogation table. A message on Trendo’s comlink had disturbed the moment and for some reason Trendo had not allowed the new clone to touch him, instead the two of them had left, followed by General Drassk’Or. The light had been turned off and now Tomsk strained to listen for any sign of outside activity. A few moments ago he had heard the sound of several pairs of feet running past his cell door, but now all was silent. He worked the fang around in his palm and pulled his claw through the restraining strap. Slowly he then began to saw at the strap on his right wrist, using the serrated edge of his broken tooth. He felt the strap weaken and realized he could pull his other claw free, when suddenly the hiss of the blast door made him snap to attention. He almost dropped the tooth, such was his focus on the task at hand. He replaced his left claw on top of the strap, hoping whoever came in would not notice through the dried blood that it was free. The door slid open and the lights glared as the rodian and zabrak entered. The zabrak seemed immensely agitated and paced by the door, slapping his stun baton in his palm, as the rodian approached the table. The rodian drew a snub-nosed pistol from his pocket and leveled it at Tomsk’s head.
"Your dad sent me in to do his dirty work, calls himself a warrior…"
"Last words…" whispered Tomsk.
"What?" replied the rodian stepping closer.
"Last words…" repeated Tomsk in an even more hushed tone.
"What in the name of gundark’s gizzards are you sayin’?" yelled the rodian bending down and swiveling his antenna in Tomsk’s face.
Tomsk smiled. "They were your last words, bug!" As he spat out the words , Tomsk flung his left arm up, driving the tooth into the rodian’s left eye. The rodian screamed and tried to pull back but Tomsk already had his gun hand and wrestled the pistol out, flipping it around and stuffing it into the rodian’s snout. The zabrak leapt forward as a crimson flame burst from the back of the rodian’s head, forcing the creature back into his path. The zabrak barely had time to activate the baton before Tomsk had drilled a hole through his throat. As the zabrak fell gurgling to the floor Tomsk lifted his right claw as far as he could and shot at the base of the strap. It disintegrated with minimal burns to his wrist, not that he would have felt them anyway. With both hands free he could now work on the strap across his head and soon it too was undone. Moments later his legs were free and Tomsk jumped down from the table, only to collapse to his knees. Summoning all he could from his beaten body he slowly stood and stooped to take the stun baton from the dead zabrak’s hand. He limped to the door and listened intently. Silence. Tomsk turned back and bit off the zabrak’s hand at the wrist, then pressed it against the operation panel. It slid open and Tomsk chewed off and swallowed the fleshy part of the palm before tossing the limb back into the room and staggering to the blast door. Readying the pistol he opened the door and found himself in a startlingly white corridor. Huge oval windows stretched down either side of it and he could see a maze of glass walled rooms to his left. To his right the windows looked out into a vista of storm lashed platforms and rampaging waves as high as city hall. The corridor was empty and he began to move down it, towards a second blast door at the end. As he advanced he was aware of willowy white figures moving in the rooms to his left, but as they seemed to ignore him he thought he would return the favour. He reached the blast door and opened it - and looked directly into the face of General Drassk.
"Going somewhere?" bellowed the General, swiping the pistol from his claw and backhanding him across the jaw in one lightning fast move. "I knew it," he hissed, "never send inferiors to do your killing…"
As he walked steadily forward, Tomsk shuffled backwards along the corridor, trying to get to his feet but realizing his final ounce of strength had deserted him. Then his new clone appeared at the General’s shoulder, almost pushing the older lizard out of the way.
"He’s mine! Let me finish this!" the new Tomsk roared, drawing an exotic skinning blade from his belt.
The General chuckled and stepped to one side. "Be my guest…"
Kathryn had never seen a place so clean and shiny before. Even the floors gleamed under her feet while the storm continued unabated outside the transparisteel oval windows. The only sound was the gentle swoosh of the Kaminoan robes and the soft murmur of their voices.
'I wonder what they would do if I decided to scream right now' she thought, an impish grin on her face. As she continued walking down the gleaming corridors toward their Hall of Public Records, her hunter's instinct suddenly became aware of footsteps that were shadowing her own. To make sure it was not just her own paranoia, the young woman briefly stopped to examine a store window displaying some local delicacies. Her keen ears immediately heard the footsteps cease from around the bend and continue forward when she resumed her stroll. 'Something is definitely up' ran through her mind as she started taking in the alien environment, while unconsciously noting nearby exits and shadowed corners where ambushes were more likely. It was part of Kathryn's prior conditioning as a clone and was most helpful in dangerous situations. Which is why she was ready when the initial attack came from around the corner of the deserted hallway. Her assailant aimed for her stomach with his vibroblade, hoping to incapacitate her with the first blow, but had not count on her quick reflexes and agile form. Instead of connecting, his weapon sliced at open air as she jumped back. After taking a moment to register surprise at the revelation that he was Trandoshan, Kathryn took advantage of his now awkward position with a quick kick to the stomach and a charge from her republic blaster to the head.
"That won't be growing back,"she remarked, smiling as she holstered the weapon. However, now she had a decision to make. Was this thug working alone or with a larger group? The footsteps that had been following her had disappeared and clearly pointed to the latter. If so, then she was clearly out numbered and should retreat until she could take up a much stronger position. Just as she was about to head back to the Fortune Hunter, an urgent beeping sound emitted from the dead Trandoshan's waist. A quick search revealed a comlink attached to his belt. Wondering at the identity of those who wished her dead, Kathryn opened the channel. "Borsssk! Report! Have you disposed of the human yet? General Drassk and Trendo are waiting for a report," someone demanded, asking for an update.
Figuring she had nothing to lose, the young human woman cleared her throat, thought of the gravelly voices of her fellow Dosha, and growled out a reply. "Human is dead. Orders?"
"Good. Report back to Docking Bay 15 with body. We'll need you to help in disposing of the corpse of her fellow cartel member as well. Sssransk out." As the commlink closed off, Kathryn stood a moment in complete shock. WHO IN THE WORLD COULD THEY HAVE?
'Let's see...To'zar was out hunting on Naboo with Visivius, K'Thorn and Xaviere were at Retribution, Ensabah was on Tattoine with Yelena...who has been missing for the last day or so...TOMSK! It has to be him.'
Suddenly, the idle speeder, the dioxin fragments, and the unusual silence from his comm unit began to make sense. If only she had figured this out sooner. Well, each moment she wasted here kicking herself in the butt could mean one less moment to rescue Tomsk so therefore it was time to act and she had just the right plan to rescue his scaley hide too.
'Boy, is he going to owe me' Kate thought as she smiled and raced to her parked shuttlecraft.
Finding Docking Bay 15 was a cinch thanks to a helpful docking attendant and temporary lull in the perpetual Kamino rainstorms. The area was more secluded than most spots thanks to its duel role as both a storage and parking facility. Dozens of old space junks littered the platform, wires and circuits exposed to the grey, cloudy sky for all to see. What interested her most was a brand new structure constructed right in the midst of all the antiques. It was two stories and appeared to be an office building but no one would notice it until they flew right over it thanks to the strategic placement of some of the old spaceships.
'If I was "questioning" a prisoner, THAT is where I would hide him'. After a quick recon of the building and figuring the odds were against her if she went in on her foot, Kate loaded two missiles in the limited weapons system that had come with the wookie cruiser and aimed for the first floor. With any luck, she'd blast a hole large enough to sneak through, grab Tomsk, and be on her way before they knew what hit them.
'Yeah, right. The way my luck has been going I'll either blow this ship up or kill Tomsk. Scorekeeper protect us all as we about to dance with Death'. The novice combat medic checked her instruments one last time, took a deep breath, and hit the fire button.
Fortune Hunter gave a slight groan as the missiles were released and shook slightly from the impending explosion. As quickly as was safely possible, Kathryn landed the ship and headed toward the now smoking facility armed with only her laser rifle and poison/disease bombs. The first unfortunate souls to wander out of the smoldering building were met with laser fire and were hastily dispatched. Stepping over the bodies, she quickly made her way inside, flashing her wrist lamp down the now dark hallways. Evidently she had aimed well and had ended up knocking out the building's power. Resistance was light and many jagganath points were earned as she passed the blaster riddled, mind poisoned corpses of her prey. Finally she reached a hallway with an elevator at the end. Rain started to come pouring in through the blown out windows and Kathryn struggled to see her path ahead as the wind whipped around her from the outside storm. Suddenly her light illuminated the familiar figure of Tomsk.
The older Trandoshan had definitely taken a beating, his left hand was completely mangled and there were wounds all over his body that testified that a professional had been at work.
'It's a good thing Trandoshans are so resilient' she thought as she hoisted the unconscious Tomsk onto her smaller but strong back. As she started to drag him out, she noticed the corpses of two other Trandoshans nearby. They were clearly dead since one had a piece of ceiling that had went through his right eye and out the back of his head while the other appeared to be decapitated by the razar sharp edge of a transparisteel windowframe.
They were halfway back to the ship when Tomsk started to revive. He first opened his eyes and then started to move his legs. The older warrior seemed incoherent and unable to focus as his inner eyes blinked several times at her without any sign of recognition. He did however let her guide him toward the exit and soon they were making excellent progress down the last hallway. All of a sudden a menacing shadow filled the hole she had made in the side of the building with the shuttle's weapons system. Reacting on pure instinct, she pushed herself and Tomsk to the floor as blaster fire sounded right above their heads.
'I KNEW this was too easy' was her first thought as she brought the laser rifle into position while aiming at the attacking creature but it was too fast. Dodging left and right as she filled the hallway with laser fire, her opponent managed to avoid the deadly blasts and knock her to the ground with one well-aimed kick.
"A human,"it growled in surprise and anger, "not to mention a weak female. The Dosha Cartel has TRULY lost its way. Will this humiliation never end?"
"Actually it's only just begun for you. You're about to be bested by this 'weak female'." And with that cryptic remark, Kathryn pulled out an ion grenade and activated the timer for 5 seconds. Grabbing the now unconscious Tomsk with one arm and recovering her weapon with the other, she jumped over the rubble at the entrance and dived for cover as the building behind her exploded in a shower of glass and transparisteel that quickly joined the Kamino evening rainshower. After checking herself and Tomsk for injuries, she discovered they had a few bad burns on their back but were no worse for wear. It was time to leave this wet planet and head back to her dry home on Tattoine. Her search for answers would have to wait for another time. Family came first and the Cartel WAS family. Therefore, a little side trip to Corellia was in order to drop off the still unconscious Tomsk at the nearest bacta tank.
Warmth and weightlessness. A fresh nitrox mix filling his lungs, cleansing them. A repetative pounding that grew louder... and louder... Tomsk flicked his eyes open and flailed in shock when he realised he was suspended in a chamber. He quickly calmed though when he recognised the pink haze of a bacta tank and felt the rush of new blood in his veins. The pounding grew louder and he spun around in the fluid. There, outside the curved wall of the tank, tapping one elongated claw on the surface, was Crotalus. He grinned when a flash of recognition illuminated Tomsk's face, and motioned to the medical droid. With a sharp yank Tomsk was pulled from the tank and ejected into a drying room where he found a simple robe to don. Moments later he sat before Crotalus who continued to grin. "You are one lucky son of a salamander!" he chuckled, handing Tomsk a cup of something warm and bitter as the medical droid continued to fuss over its patient.
"Kathryn?" Crotalus finished, "She had to fly, scorekeeper knows if that heap she brought you here in would make it anywhere else though. You're safe old friend, we're near Dragonhaven." "Tatooine? How..." Tomsk silenced himself. There would plenty of time for answers later. "I have to speak to her."
"She'll probably meet you on Corellia, that is where you want to go I take it?"
"I gotta get back to Retribution..."
"It's still there."
"You missed it. We drove them into the dirt!" Crotalus took a light blaster from his pocket and placed it in Tomsk's hand. "I assume you still know how to use one of these?"
Tomsk thought back to the brief fire-fight in his cell. "I have to speak to the council!"
"In good time Tomsk, To'zar and K'thorn are busy tracking down an escapee, that's probably where Kathrn went. I've got an aquaintance coming in from Rishi in half a day, he's making the Corellian Run tomorrow morning. I've persuaded him to take you home." Crotalus stood and walked to the door. "Get some rest, you can fill me in on the details another time."
"Thank you Crotalus," murmured Tomsk as the younger Trandoshan left.
"Excuse me sir." The synthesised voice was calm.
Tomsk turned to the droid. "What?"
2B1G trundled closer and handed Tomsk a small data-pad. "An unusual anomoly sir. It appears your DNA has been tampered with."
Tomsk snatched the pad from its metal claw and read the data.
He didn't like what it said.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
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