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VIEWS: 10 PAGES: 17

  • pg 1
									                  Deadline    by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


                               STAR WARS
                                Deadline
                                       By Ryan Archer



         There wasn‟t much to pack: his years as a field correspondent had taught Traz
how to travel light. It wasn‟t to the point where all he needed was a comb and a sonic
toothbrush, but it was pretty close. His multi-climate clothes were all compressible
fabrics, his data pad was the latest design, equipped with a micro neuro link allowing a
constant feed of useful information from local com data to a small radar system with a
radius of about 250 meters, why, it even monitored his basic vital functions. For any
other information like access to the subspace holonet, he could easily refer to his data
pad. It fit neatly into his pocket.
         With such efficient technology, it had gotten to the point where all he needed fit
into a simple military grade travel pack with room to spare. Load up, and move out. He‟d
done it a hundred times before, though not always in such casual circumstances. His work
sometimes required that he make a few people a little less than pleased with him, (well,
more than that.) Traz, in some fifteen years as a reporter for the Corellian Times, had had
eight bounties on his head. Most were small enough not to be collected, but one in
particular was large enough to get his superiors involved, (well, his Uncle Finn, to be
more precise.) Finn Shallo, Uncle Finn, had recently become head editor at the news
network and was less than pleased with Traz‟s flare for getting into trouble. Come to
think of it, Traz could never remember a time when Uncle Finn hadn‟t been disappointed
in him. From thirteen on, Traz had been nothing but a burden on the older man.
         Traz‟s parents died when he was just starting to enter the Academy of Agriculture
in Dearic city on Talus. He never really wanted to be a farmer but his father‟s family had
been for generations. Who was he to break with tradition? To tell the truth, his father‟s
family didn‟t think much of Traz or his father marrying an esker. “Esker” was a
derogatory term that Traz had grown up hating: it meant outsider or more specifically
non-Corellian type. Labeling both his late mother and his disappointed uncle. That his
father had married a “you know what” had, in the eyes of his family, disgraced the Clan.
As a result, Traz‟s parents were banished from the Clan‟s homelands on Tralus and cut
off from all family ties. This left the old newsman as Traz‟s only remaining family.
         Originally from the harsh planet Tatooine, Uncle Finn was wed to hard work, and
that “marriage” left young Traz alone for a great deal of his remaining childhood.
Desperate for his uncle‟s attention and approval, Traz took a job at the Corellian Times
News Network when his uncle made sports editor. Through the years, Traz learned he
had a certain knack for writing and came to author more than three hundred published
articles for the Network, winning three Holonet Integrity awards and a highly prized Utar
& Gilbez Fahreinheight prize, an investigative reporting award that garnered 2.5 million
credits for the Corellian Times; of which Traz saw zero credits. But the honor belonged
to him, and it justified what his critics called “an unorthodox and unruly writing style.”
         After all was said and done no award or commendation had succeeded in
impressing or even satisfying Uncle Finn, but this time was different. This time Traz was


                                                                                         1
                   Deadline    by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


sure to bring home the almost unachievable Montellian Prize, named after a brutal event
in the Devorian system where millions of innocents had been massacred. It was the most
prestigious of all Holonet writing awards, given not to just the best writer, but to the one
writer whose work pushed for the betterment of beings galaxywide.
         If anything could gain his uncle‟s approval, it would definitely be the Montellian
Prize. Traz knew that for sure. So often had he heard his Uncle Finn remark when
reviewing an incoming article, “Sensationalism, that‟s all you kids know today. Real
journalists change the galaxy with their work, not add to the gossip mill.”
         Well, Uncle Finn, the galaxy is definitely going to flip over this piece.
         The door announcer chimed as Traz positioned the last of his clothing into the
pack sitting open on the room‟s only table. It was a black suit jacket, one he was
normally accustom to wearing when traveling, only today he chose to stick with the
brown field duster better suited for this journey, at least until he was aboard the relatively
dirt-free transport bound for Corellia. Besides, he had gotten comfortable wearing the
worn jacket, lightweight undershirt and paramilitary camouflage pants. He was proud of
this particular attire not only because he purchased it from a local vendor for next to
nothing, but also it had allowed him to blend almost seamlessly with the local Tatooine
riff raff that he‟d been dealing with. Though not as fancy as he was used to wearing on
more civilized worlds, this attire just felt right to him, providing better protection and
greater ease of movement than the tight suit now in his pack.
         Traz picked up the military backpack, fastening it tightly and slinging it over his
shoulder. He moved to the doorway in the partition that separated the apartment‟s main
chamber from the front access hall.
         “Come in!”
         The entry panel slid open, revealing a short, husky Mon Calamari.
         “You called for a lift, boss?”
         “Yeah, one sec, just finishing up here.”
         The Mon Cal grunted an acknowledgement. Obviously, he was uncomfortable
under the hot Tatooine evening suns. Traz turned to survey the living space one last time,
making sure he had all he needed, then again for nostalgia‟s sake. It was a very nice
place, better than most that he‟d stayed in; probably was the best accommodations on this
planet. The small, generic-style prefabricated house was owned by a Twi‟lek, whom Traz
had yet to meet. The price would have been outrageous if one was set, but due to some of
Traz‟s earlier journalistic exploits, he was granted free stay as long as he was on
Tatooine. Evidently the Twi‟lek owner was an assistant to some local crime lord whose
cousin had profited a great deal over an article Traz wrote while on Naboo. Traz helped
the Royal Security Forces expose and bring to an end a gun-running organization that
was in direct competition with the crime lord‟s cousin. In any case, not having to pay for
a place to stay freed up some of Traz‟s funds, allowing him to procure some very
valuable information, which in the end secured him his story.
         And with that, Traz turned to the open access panel and headed into the bright
Tatooine sunlight. Parked but a few meters away was a slightly used XP-38 land speeder.
The newest in its series, it had over the past couple of months become a common vehicle
to see across the galaxy. Faster than the old X-34 but much cheaper than most other
vehicles its size, it was the poor man‟s choice by far, and there was no better place to find




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                  Deadline    by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


a poor man than Tatooine. Truly the armpit of the galaxy. No wonder Uncle Finn left this
place, Traz mused as he climbed into the passenger seat.
        The Mon Cal was already sitting comfortably in the driver‟s seat. It became
apparent once Traz had settled underneath the vehicle‟s canopy that the artificial
atmosphere had been cranked to the peak of hydration, completely opposite to the climate
outside, so much so that a dense layer of condensation streamed down the arch of the
transparent bubble overhead, dripping like rain drops as it traveled down to a pool on the
dashboard. So that’s how old fish head can stand living on this dust ball.
        Traz chuckled a little at the trouble the Mon Cal must have gone through to obtain
the parts necessary to maintain such a climate. From what Traz had learned about this
driver Guppy, which probably wasn‟t his real name but served well for easy reference, he
was a combatant of sorts often working as hired muscle for small jobs, but desirous of
striking out on his own. He‟d somehow found a niche for himself ferrying artisans and
crafters through the desert‟s harshities in relative safety. A surprisingly honest way of
making a living for a former criminal, but Traz was sure that hadn‟t been intentional.
        I wonder how business has been for him, Traz reflected as he watched another
drop slide down the interior of the dome. With the recent Imperial crackdown on the local
criminal elements, the level of safety for travelers had greatly increased, which surely
wasn‟t good for old Guppy‟s business. Guppy the Lesser was the complete title he‟d been
saddled with by the brawlers in the Mos Eisly cantina. Initially intended to start a fight,
which it most certainly did, the Fish now used it as a badge of honor mainly due to the
fact that he won the fight. Traz had heard one cantina patron claim it was because “Ol‟
Guppy‟s as big as a Hutt, only lesser.” Whatever that meant.
        “We‟ll be comin‟ up on AH in a few minutes,” the Mon Cal announced as he
scanned the navigation console.
        Anchorhead or AH in local Tatooine slang was a small but spirited outpost that
lay just far enough outside of the capital city Bestine to not be considered part of its
outskirts. Most visitors to Tatooine hardly even knew it was there. Though it had a shuttle
port, only locals used it. That, added with the lack of Imperial presence, made the small
junction entirely dependent on local farmers, traders and other residents for both
economic and defensive support. This made for a tight-knit group of people who were
very suspicious of any outsiders. Luckily for Traz, his work had brought him through AH
rather regularly making him a “familiar face.”

        “There‟s a familiar face!” Nitra Vendallan exclaimed upon seeing Traz. “Long
time no see, boy. Where‟ve you been the past few weeks?”
        “Oh, here and there, mainly tying up some loose ends,” Traz smirked as he
plopped down on a rather large couch set in the middle of the room. “How‟ve you been,
Nitra?”
        Nitra was a short, older woman with moppish gray hair bound back, allowing
only a few thick strands to fall loose, framing her surprisingly young-looking face.
        “Oh, you know, business as usual,” she answered, waving a hand over the nearly
empty establishment.
        “So I see.” Traz mussed. Nitra never had to worry about bringing in a profit as she
got her funds from other sources. It was well-known but unspoken that Nitra‟s
cantina/medical center was little more than a meeting place for those whose ideals went



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                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


beyond the confines of the Empire. Traz motioned for the waiter droid. “You know when
the shuttle‟s due?”
         “Should be in any minute, but you‟ll know when it gets here.” The woman
chuckled. “The whole place shakes whenever those blasted things land.”
         “Then maybe you should‟a built it further away from the shuttle port.” Traz
reached for one of the already prepared drinks sitting on the waiter droid‟s tray.
         “Hee hee, yeah, any further away and I‟d be out‟a town.”
         “Ha, yeah, probably.” Traz faked a laugh attempting not to spit out the liquid he‟d
tried to drink. It was some sort of local concoction, one that didn‟t meet with Traz‟s
discerning tastes. Nitra laughed.
         “You should know better than to take one of those droid drinks. Here. I‟ll get you
the good stuff.” Nitra motioned to a human girl to come over. “Terra, go down and get
me a bottle of the stuff in the small crate.” The girl nodded and disappeared to fulfill her
mistress‟s order. Nitra turned back to look Traz straight in the eyes. “Ok, so where you
goin‟ off to now?”
         “Home, back to Corellia,” Traz answered coyly.
         Nitra arched an eyebrow. “Really? So you got your story, I‟m guessing.”
         Traz couldn‟t help but smile. “One that will shake things up for Tatooine. Maybe
even the entire outer rim.”
         “What‟ve you found out?”
         “Ah, ah, you‟ll have to read it on the holonet like everyone else.”
         Nitra narrowed her eyes at that statement.
         “This is how you treat your friends, Traz?”
         Traz shifted uncomfortably. The two stared at each other. A moment passed.
         “Alright. Can you keep a secret?” Traz asked quietly.
         A slight smile returned to her face. “Secrets are my business. You know that.”
         “I have some info that connects the Prefect with some pretty nasty businessmen
here in the outer rim.”
         “So? We already knew that.”
         “Ah, but I‟m talking about some really nasty stuff that could ruin him politically
and shake up some of the support the Empire has worked hard to secure out here over the
past year.”
         “What exactly are you saying?” Nitra took a quick look over her shoulder making
sure their conversation was still exclusive.
         “I‟m saying once this hits, all those loyalists that have begun to accept Imperial
control might just change their minds.” Traz smirked at the very interested woman
hanging on his every word.
         “Really?”
         Traz laughed. “Get me that drink and maybe I‟ll tell you more.”
         A warm smile appeared on Nitra‟s face as she nodded her approval. “Now you‟re
starting to sound like a scoundrel.” She motioned beyond Traz for what he assumed was
the attendant girl with his drink. When Traz turned, he found instead a trim woman
sporting a long blade of unknown origin. She carried it gently in an elegant hand bound
in a black fit leather work glove. It matched her black Ubese-style shirt and her black and
white camouflage pants. Even more striking was her nearly ivory skin, burning almond
shaped eyes and reddish brown hair.



                                                                                           4
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         Traz quickly drew his own weapon, a small DL 44 pistol passed on to him by a
smuggler who‟d helped prep him for this mission.
         “This is how it‟s gonna' be?” Traz asked, his gun securely aimed at the new
entity. She had shifted her weapon forward, grasping it with both hands in front of her in
a defensive position, the long blade seeming to slice the image of her face in half. Neither
figure moved as they stared hard into each other‟s eyes. She was probably the most
beautiful creature Traz had ever seen, but he could tell by the taut arm muscles and the
focus in her eyes that she was deadly.
         Suddenly her eyes flicked to the floor, diverting Traz‟s gaze downward. The blade
shifted to the right and Traz jumped back, firing a precariously aimed laser bolt toward
the threat. Within almost a blink of an eye, the woman rotated the weapon in her hand,
deflecting the stray bolt. With the gleam of steel, the shot reflected harmlessly
groundward where it scorched a spot on the stony floor.
         “Watch it, will ya!” Nitra cried out. Traz shifted his gaze to the Cantina Mistress,
who kept her distance from the fray. A frown furrowed Nitra‟s brow as she waved her
arms frantically in the air. “Put that thing away, Traz!”
         “What‟s going on here?” Traz questioned, his pistol still aimed fervently at its
target.
         “Calm down, she‟s a friend of mine.”
         Traz looked again at the young woman across from him. She lowered her weapon
and it rested ready in her right hand.
         “Traz?”
         “What!” Traz couldn‟t quite focus on what was happening.
         “You gonna put your pistol away, or what?” The frown had faded to a neutral,
focused expression as the older woman approached him.
         Traz could feel his cheeks begin to burn as he holstered his blaster. He didn‟t
know exactly what was going on but he did get the strong feeling that he looked foolish
to everyone in the room.
         “Good boy.” A warm smile came across Nitra‟s slightly lined face. “Come on
back and join us for a drink, will ya?” She began to lead him back over to the large couch
where the younger woman was now sitting nonchalantly sipping a drink that the waitress
had brought over to her.
         “Yeah, sure thing.” Traz rolled his shoulders as they walked. He tried to make
himself as small as possible. At the cantina entrance, he saw a small crowd of beings that
had gathered from outside hoping to see a gunfight. Great! Just great. What a sour note
to leave this dirt clod on. He was furious with himself and refused to look at the young
woman as he took his seat.
         “Traz?” Nitra‟s soft voice rang in, disturbing his thoughts.
         “Huh?” He looked up to see her handing him a drink. “Oh, thanks.” He gulped it,
although most of it poured down the sides of his mouth. He handed the empty glass back
to Nitra and slumped back into his seat. She laughed a little as she took a seat next to
him.
         Nitra introduced the woman drenched in nightly garb that Traz had encountered
just a few moments ago. “Traz, this is A‟she. A‟she, Traz.”
         Traz refused to look at her. “Hey.”
         “A little jumpy, isn‟t he?”



                                                                                           5
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         The woman‟s cool steady voice seemed to pierce through him as he sat brooding
over his mistakes.
         Nitra burst into an obscene laughing fit. Traz and A‟she were dumbfounded at the
sudden outburst, which drew more attention from the onlookers whom Traz tried to
ignore.
         “What?” Traz felt his ears heating, his skin blushing to an all-time high. He tried
to contain his embarrassment but it didn‟t seem to take. “What‟s so funny?”
         Nitra could barely speak as she tried desperately to catch her breath. “It was just
the look on your face when you bolted for the door. Haha! It was priceless.”
         A‟she was now smiling in appreciation of Nitra‟s humor.
         “It‟s not funny.” Traz crossed his arms, trying to contain the boiling emotions
inside him.
         “Well, maybe you‟re right.” Nitra made a definite effort to suppress her chuckles.
         “No, it was pretty funny.” A‟she added, causing Nitra to burst out laughing again.
         “You‟re not helping.” Traz glared over at the young woman but was stunned at
the sight of her, so much that he had to look away suddenly. The very image of her
dazzled his eyes. The threat and embarrassment of the past faded suddenly, replaced by a
warmth that filled the core of him. She‟d seemed so hard and rigid, unfriendly and
unfamiliar, but now was transformed into something soft and soothing. He dared not look
at her again as Nitra finished steadying herself.
         “Traz, my boy, I‟d like to properly introduce an associate of mine, A‟she Rimoh,
or is it Seetra Tamber now?” Nitra looked over at the young woman with an amused
smirk.
         “Seetra, for now.” The unofficially named lady answered with a surprisingly
ensnaring voice that made Traz wince slightly.
         “Yes, of course.” Nitra‟s smile grew larger as she gestured toward Traz. “I‟d like
you to meet Traz Silver, renowned muckraker and all around sleazeball.” She chuckled,
much to Traz‟s dismay. He hadn‟t much minded Nitra‟s joking about his profession or
his failed attempt to pass himself off as a smuggler so as to blend in with the Tatooine riff
raff, but at this moment it seemed to hurt quite a bit.
         “Yeah, yeah, this coming from the woman who tries to pass engine lubricant off
as Corellian Brandy.” He indicated the still full “droid drink” sitting on the table where
he‟d left it. Traz realized suddenly what he‟d said and in front of A‟she. A hand came up
to cup his mouth, which he nearly knocked away when he discovered it was his own. He
peered over at Nitra, whose expression was neutral. Sith spit! Traz thought.
         “You‟re a lousy shot, Traz, but you hit it right on the head.” Nitra laughed and her
smile returned, much to Traz‟s relief. “Truth be told.” Nitra said to the younger woman,
“I serve the cheap stuff out front to scare away any noob tourists that wanders into town.”
She looked back to Traz. “Course it didn‟t scare off Traz.” She chuckled again. “Ah,
maybe I‟m just going soft.” She shot Traz a pleasant smile.
         “I don‟t mean to be rude, but don‟t we have some business to discuss?” A‟she
spoke with a cool voice that still emitted a pleasing vibration that tickled Traz‟s ears.
         “Of course.” Nitra‟s smile faded as she reached into a pocket and pulled out a
small data disk. “Traz, my friend, we need a favor.” He looked at Nitra, startled at the
severity in her eyes.




                                                                                           6
                   Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         “A favor?” He looked over at the young woman who was also staring at him,
gauging his reaction. The soft brown of her eyes seemed to pierce through him; the world
around him seemed to fade away. Set deep into her irises, the darkness of her pupils
seemed to expand, pulling him in. His body numbed into an ethereal mist, still present but
separated from his control and almost worlds away. He felt a gentle caress wash over
him--unfamiliar but very welcoming--as his thoughts began to wander. Disorienting at
first, his mind had difficulty focusing as images of his past trickled past, unrecognizable
as if part of a whirlwind of experiences and knowledge. One image came into focus like a
holographic novel that played out in front of him. It was followed by another, and then a
third, first of his childhood with his parents, then one of the day he‟d come to live with
his uncle, and another of him cradling a small dying Voorpak he had tried to nurse while
on Naboo. Finally an image of his last goodbye to a girl he helped send to prison for her
part in an attempted sabotage of an Imperial supply shuttle. The images struck at him,
searing his senses and leaving behind the sting of scaring, especially the last one.
         “Traz?” Nitra‟s voice broke in, shattering that world away.
         “Yeah?” He spoke, his voice nearly hoarse from lack of moisture in his mouth.
“What‟d you need me to do?” he asked, looking over to Nitra, trying to hide how shaken
he‟d become. He had found himself staring at A‟she, who seemed very uncomfortable
under his gaze.
         “Just like that,” Nitra smirked. “No, „Nitra, I want no part in it,‟ or, „Nitra, I ain‟t
getting in trouble for no one no how‟?”
         “Listen.” Traz narrowed his eyes at the older woman. “We both know that no
matter how much I fight it, you‟ll wear me down and I‟ll end up doing whatever it is you
want.” Traz cocked his head at her. “Plus, you‟ve done a lot for me since I‟ve been here,
so I guess I owe you one.”
         Nitra seemed genuinely surprise to hear that acclamation.
         “Traz. . .” She stopped suddenly. “Thanks.”
         “Ah, enough with the mushy stuff, my shuttle‟s due any minute and I don‟t plan
on missing it, so you better talk fast.”
         “Right.” Nitra held up the data disk and looked over at A‟she, who nodded. “We
need you to deliver this to a friend of ours on Corellia.” She placed the disc in Traz‟s
hand. “Go to the Doaba Gurfield cantina. He‟ll find you, you deliver it, and that‟s it.”
Nitra stood from her seat and motioned for the waiter droid.
         “What‟s on it?” Traz asked reflexively before he could stop himself.
         “Why do you want to know?” A‟she asked sharply, the warmth from before gone
without a trace.
         “Just a journalist‟s curiosity I guess,” Traz responded, still looking up at Nitra.
         “You shouldn‟t worry about that, Traz. In fact, it‟s probably better if you don‟t
know.” Nitra placed the unfinished drink on the droid‟s tray. “It‟s a simple delivery, you
shouldn‟t raise any alarms, and even a random search-won‟t show anything because the
inscription has disguised it as an Ithorian joke book.” Traz looked down at the disc in his
hand.
         “Hmm, any good ones I should hear?”
         Nitra smirked at his statement. “I don‟t know. Can you read Ithories?”
         “No, haven‟t learned that one yet. I‟m still trying to get the Network to pay for me
to learn Drall.” He shot the older woman a grin. She laughed.



                                                                                               7
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


        Suddenly the ground began to quake beneath them as the muffled whirr of an
engine filled the stony chamber.
        “That‟s my ride!” Traz leapt from his seat and grabbed his pack.
        “Wait!” Nitra snatched his arm, stopping him on his way to the door. “Good luck,
Traz.”
        “Hey, luck‟s my middle name.” He smiled and headed out.
        The shuttle port lay just beyond an old bridge crossing a small ravine. It had
grown dark now but he could still see clear across town. Not many people around, nearly
deserted even, for AH. The armed sentries that normally stood about were nowhere to be
seen and all but a few merchants were left scurrying to pack up their carts. The only other
being he could see was a lone Zabrak standing near the shuttle port‟s ticket droid. He was
dressed in a warn dirt-colored cloak not uncommon to most nomads or local farmers.
Traz looped his other arm through the strap on his pack, securing it to his back as he
crossed the stony bridge. Take the shuttle to Espa then on to Corellia. Simple enough.
Maybe a day or two at the most, and he‟d be home again after three months in the field.
        Suddenly, a high-pitched sound cut the hot Tatooine evening air. Traz covered his
ears as something impacted the ground behind him in a defining blast of dirt and smoke.
His ears rang as he struggled to maintain his balance. Dust flew all around, threatening to
choke him as he gasped. He tried to make his way toward the shuttle, ducking behind a
small wall but was knocked backwards by a second blast. He landed head over hind on
the hard ground. His vision blurred as he fell, unable to discern what was going on
around him.
        He felt the firm presence of a hand grasping his arm and pulling him to his feet.
Unable to speak and unwilling to fight, he allowed the steadying force to pull him along
past puffs of sand from nearby plumes. He was spun around suddenly to come face on
with the familiar but unexpected visage of A‟she Rimoh. He still couldn‟t hear beyond
the muffled thuds of all the explosion, but he could tell she was frantically yelling at him.
He nodded, pretending to have understood. Without a moment‟s notice, she rushed off,
dragging him in tow. He could barely make out a small transport set somewhere among
the chaos. A‟she flung him into the passenger‟s seat and quickly manned the controls.
        The ringing subsided, replaced by a throbbing pain in his head. He looked over at
the woman who‟d rescued him. She was occupied at the controls of what seemed to be an
AB-1 two-person landspeeder, much faster than the PX-38 that the Mon Cal drove and
far more maneuverable.
        “We‟ll head to Eisly. I got some friends there who can get you out of the system
and if we‟re lucky take you all the way to Coronet.” She pressed the controls and brought
up a small planetary map display with a small cursor marking their current location and a
glowing beacon showing where Mos Eisly was. Traz saw a smaller unlit beacon set
between their cursor and Mos Eisly‟s.
        “What about this small town right here. Doesn‟t it have a shuttle port?” He
indicated the spot on the display. A‟she didn‟t even look.
        “It should only take a little longer to go straight to Eisly from here.”
        Traz eyed the distance monitor. “But if we catch the shuttle, it‟ll cut the trip in
half.”
        “Listen, the more we can avoid any unknown contacts on our way off planet the
better.” Traz thought about her words for a second.



                                                                                            8
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         “But I have a deadline to meet.” Traz sighed and looked back up at A‟she.
“Seems the Imperials know about your disk.” He said coldly.
         “Unfortunately.” Her voice had grown harsh. “Why? Are you thinking of quitting
on us?” She looked hard at him.
         “That would be the smart thing for me to do,” He joked.
         “Sure seems that way, doesn‟t it?” The bitterness in her voice spiked. “But think
of it this way: They catch you with the disc, you go to prison. They catch you without the
disc they torture you until you tell them everything you know and then you go to prison.”
         Traz gulped at that.
         “Your choice.”
         “Not much of a choice,” he stated.
         “Or.” A‟she turned her gaze back toward the rapidly approaching horizon
stretched out in front of them. “Choice number three. You let me get you to Eisly, then
my friends get you to Corellia, you pass on the disk and live to play the chance game
some other day.”
         “Yeah, that one sounds better,” he said nervously.
         “Good, now hold on to something, will ya?” Suddenly, the ground disappeared
from beneath the craft as they soared through the air free for a moment from the planet‟s
gravity. Then they began to fall, slowly at first. As the wind whipped around Traz, he
looked back to see the cliff that they‟d launched from, then down to see the valley below
them. The force of the air pinned him back in his seat as the nose of the craft angled
downward. A‟she, still clutching tight to the controls, measured the distance with her
eyes.
         Traz could feel a lump growing in his throat as he gripped the sides of his seat.
Oh, man, she’s crazy, he thought as the valley floor grew larger and larger in front of
him. Suddenly, and what seemed to be at the last moment, A‟she pulled back hard on the
controls, easing the craft‟s front shakily up. He could hear the thruster‟s strain as the
vehicle‟s bottom scraped on the ground before pulsing forward along a cut in the
landscape. Traz swallowed hard.
         “What was that?” Traz screamed.
         “Just a little fun,” A‟she laughed, as they sped past a grouping of shadow-
drenched rocks. “Relax. I‟ve driven through here dozens of times. I know it like the back
of my glove.”
         Just then something hit and cracked the craft‟s front windshield. It took a moment
for Traz to register what it was, and by then it was too late. The small vehicle exploded
into sparks and smoke. It came to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately, Traz did not do the same,
continuing to be propelled forward out of the cab and eventually falling to the ground in a
crumpled heap of confusion and bruises. He could just make out the cracks of gun fire
beyond the burning inferno that had been their only means of transportation. They were
under attack. Traz reached around frantically for his pistol. After retrieving it from his
coat, he pulled himself out of the ball he‟d fallen into, and pointed his weapon all around,
hoping to find a visible target.
         It had grown even darker now, and in the ravine what little light that was present
cast massive shadows all around, perfect for enemy concealment. He rolled to his feet
and ran to one of the stone walls across from the blazing wreck. He pressed against the
sand bank and scanned the surrounding area. He couldn‟t make out a thing, but the firing



                                                                                          9
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


had stopped, which was probably not a good sign. He crawled up the natural barrier and
looked over the top. Staring back at him were two goggle-like eyes glimmering in the
starlight. Traz froze, hoping by some miracle that the two eyes hadn‟t seen him. He
wasn‟t that lucky. A loud grunting-like scream rang out. Traz slid back down the
embankment as a dark figure leapt overhead and landed in front of him. The screaming
was joined by at least three others across the ravine. Traz pulled his blaster up to aim at
the figure but it was knocked away by a primitive metal stick that came up under his chin,
pinning him down.
         The blazing crash site set behind it sharpened the figure‟s shape. Whatever it was
had small nubs growing out of the top of its head and wore loose and tattered robes.
Tusken! Traz could feel his heartbeat quicken. Tusken Raiders (or Sandpeople as they
were commonly referred to) were a scavenging species native to the desert world, strange
and very dangerous. Emphasis on the dangerous. Traz had to think fast. He kicked the
figure in the groin, causing it to slacken on the stick, which in turn gave Traz an opening.
He took it and as quickly as he could rolled forward, then up to his feet and into a run.
Suddenly, another scream was heard as a dark figure crossed in front of him. Traz came
to a dusty halt. He readied himself for an attack, hoping to stave off whatever it was with
his bare fists, but nothing came.
         A symphony of screams filled the air all around but not like the battle cries from
before. These were a mixture of fear and pain, not that of courage or rage. Then they fell
silent and all was still except for the gentle crackling of the discarded vehicle. Traz
looked back to where he‟d left the Tusken and saw the dark silhouette of a hooded figure
standing over a crumpled heap. He couldn‟t make out whether it was friend or foe. He
hesitated slightly, considering his options. But in the end, curiosity got the better of him.
He slowly approached the figure.
         “You dropped this.” The silhouette held up a hand with something in it. Traz
recognized it to be his pistol.
         “Oh, thanks.” He said as the hooded one came forward into the flickering light of
the fire. It was A‟she Rimoh. “You?”
         She scowled as she looked at the wreckage. “They blew it up. I‟ll have to buy a
new one.” She was taking the situation rather lightly, Traz thought. She handed him his
blaster and he put it away. “Next time try to get a shot off before they disarm you.”
         “Will do.” He smirked but she wasn‟t joking.
         “Come on. We have a long way to go before we reach Eisly.” She turned and
started on her way down the ravine.
         “Wait!” A‟she turned to look back at Traz as he continued. “We‟re just a little
ways from that town with the shuttle port. We‟ll get there a lot faster.”
         A‟she‟s eyes narrowed at him.
         “No. We need to stay away from any unknown civilized areas. We don‟t need
anyone tipping them off to where we are.” She turned back to continue on. “You know
this‟d be a lot faster without you.”
         “Then why don‟t you deliver this thing and I‟ll go my separate way, and maybe
meet my deadline?” Traz spit back. A‟she in one fluid motion spun on her heal, grabbing
Traz by both arms and lifting him up off his feet.
         “You‟d desert us now?” her eyes blazed.




                                                                                          10
                   Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         “It‟s not like I had a choice in the matter, is it?” Traz could feel his arms begin to
twinge under her grip.
         “You betray us and you‟ll never leave this planet alive.” An unchecked anger
welled up inside her.
         “Is that how the Rebel Alliance deals with their friends these days? Eliminating
people? I thought you guys were above that.” He strained to keep from allowing the pain
to affect his speech. A‟she tossed him to the ground. He landed. Hard.
         “We do what is necessary to win like any other military faction in the galaxy. It‟s
the nature of things.” She pulled back her hood allowing the long strands of her hair to
flow free.
         Traz shot back. “Then you‟re no better than the Empire.”
         “Maybe so, but . . .” She paused for a moment, staring hard at Traz. “A lot of
people believe in what we‟re fighting for. That‟s got to count for something.”
         Traz nodded. “Alright.” Traz pulled himself back to his feet and dusted himself
off. “I‟m headed to that town to catch the shuttle, I‟ll deliver your disk for you, but if you
still want to kill me, you should probably do it now.” He held out his hands in a
defenseless gesture.
         “No, I won‟t kill you.” A‟she‟s eyes stayed firm on him, but her anger had
subsided. “We‟ll go to the town and catch the shuttle, but we have to keep a low profile.”
         “That I can do.” Traz grinned.
         “Come on then. We need to hurry.” A‟she took off into a sprint. Traz had trouble
catching up with her.
         Once in town they headed straight for the shuttle port, which of course was
empty.
         “Well there‟s the shuttle port,” Traz said, slightly out of breath after the long trek
through the desert. A cool breeze gave him some relief but not enough to ignore the pain
in his side and arm where he‟d landed from the crash.
         “And there‟s a friendly bunch over there,” A‟she indicated nonchalantly, with a
head nod towards a small alley formed by a grouping of houses and a trio of tall lizard-
like creatures leaning against one of the building‟s walls.
         “Welcoming party?” Traz asked, trying not to be noticed by the group.
         “Guess so,” A‟she said coolly, still making her way toward the shuttle port. They
reached it and managed to purchase two tickets to Mos Eilsy from the terminal, then
headed to the ticket collection droid to get an ETA on the shuttle.
         “Hello, my name is Q-3P0 human relations. The next shuttle is due to arrive any
moment now. Please be patient,” The silver droid chimed.
         “Thanks,” Traz said wryly, having gotten no new information from the droid.
         “What‟d you think?” A‟she asked looking back over her shoulder at the group
still standing in the alley.
         “Trandoshans,” Traz identified them.
         “Lizard folk,” A‟she spit out with distain.
         “At least we know they‟re not Imps.” Traz looked back over at the group and saw
that they‟d begun to move in a wide arch toward the shuttle port. This made him a little
uneasy.
         “Slavers, you think?” A‟she asked as she reached into her cloak to ready her
weapon just in case.



                                                                                             11
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


       “Wait. Slavers?” Suddenly a panic filled Traz as he stared hard at the Scalely
mob.
        “Yeah, it‟s a booming industry despite all the stormies running around.” A‟she
arched an eyebrow realizing that Traz had become alarmed at something.
        “We need to get out of here.” Traz grabbed her arm and began to pull her down
the steps of the shuttle port‟s platform.
        “What? Why?” A‟she questioned as she dug her heels into the dirt, bringing
Traz‟s retreat to a stop.
        “Now!” Traz tugged again. “Come on!” He hollered back at her. Suddenly one of
the Trandoshans appeared directly in front of Traz.
        “I-sss nice night, don‟t you think?” The tall muscular lizardman hissed.
        “Yeah, sun‟s down and finally a cool breeze coming through town,” Traz
smirked, trying to act casual. He noticed that the other two had taken up position behind,
flanking the two humans.
        “Yesss, that‟sss not all that‟sss come through town.” The Trandoshan leader
leaned in, his big yellow eyes flashing in front of Traz‟s.
        “Hey listen, friend, we‟re just heading to the cantina to grab a quick drink while
we wait for the shuttle. We‟ll be out‟a your scales in no time.” Traz tried to push past
him, dragging A‟she along. The Trandoshand knocked free Traz‟s grip on the woman and
picked him up by his collar.
        “Fraid it‟sss not that sssimple.” His breath was hot and stunk like something had
died in his throat and had been sitting there for weeks. Traz nearly gagged.
        “Sure it is.” Traz groaned, feeling the pain in his right arm sharpen. Suddenly
Traz heard the clink of metal followed by a squish. The Lizard‟s eyes widened, then his
claws released Traz‟s collar, dumping him to the ground.
        “Run!” A‟she‟s voice rang out as Traz looked up at a deep gushing wound cut
into the Trandoshan‟s belly. “Come on!” He felt someone grab his arm, nearly wrenching
it from its socket and pulling him to his feet. He turned and ran off into the darkness with
the sound of laser fire at his heels. Of course, with not much light and the lack of street
lamps in that small town, he didn‟t see where he was going and fell head first into a ditch.
That didn‟t help the pain in his head any. “Traz?” A‟she‟s voice came from somewhere in
the darkness.
        “Down here now!” Traz said. He heard the chittering of stones as she slid down
next to him. He could barely make out her face in the bluish light of the stars that filled
the sky above.
        “What was that all about? You know those guys?” Her voice was very calm
without even a sign of exhaustion; unlike Traz, who was breathing so hard he had to
concentrate on taking in deeper breaths in fear that he might pass out.
        “No, but I know their boss.” He said, leaning in closer to her.
        “What! Who‟s that? Borvo?” A‟she asked.
        “Hee hee, no, I‟m actually on his good side. I‟m talking about the Imp Prefect on
Tatooine.” He could feel the warmth of her breath against his cheek.
        “What?” Her voice fell to a whisper.
        “Yeah, seems he‟s got wind of some info passed on to me.” Traz followed her
example and lowered his own voice.
        “There‟s no way he‟s involved with those guys.”



                                                                                         12
                   Deadline    by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


        He could hear a slight shake in her voice either from being surprised or due to
their close proximity.
        “I‟m afraid that he‟s very involved, millions of credits worth involved.” Traz
didn‟t know why they had to discuss this subject at this exact moment, but he felt safer
with her than he had with anyone so he continued to oblige.
        “But he‟s an Imperial Officer.” There was an almost human quality to her voice
now, not the controlled tone that she always maintained.
        “Yep, perfect position to be in. He gets cuts from all ends: supply, delivery and
security.” Traz allowed himself to chuckle slightly as if in the middle of a casual
conversation. That probably wasn‟t the best thing he could have done.
        “Isss good to sssee you again.” A raspy voice whispered through the darkness.
Traz looked up to see the silhouette of the not-quiet-dead Trandoshan leader. He pulled
his blaster free and pointed it directly into the lizard‟s open mouth.
        “Chew on this, lizard breath.” He pulled the trigger, as a quick surge of laser lit
the area for an instant. The slavers‟ leader lay dead on the ground and Traz pulled himself
out of the ditch. He turned back to give A'she a hand up, but she wasn‟t there. “Hey!” he
called out to her.
        “Quiet.” Her voice came from behind. He looked in that direction but could not
see her either due to the darkness or some other means of concealment. Suddenly, Traz
heard the sound of footsteps and spun to see the other two Trandoshans trying to sneak up
on him. He fumbled for his blaster, but with a flash of steel A‟she‟s sword slid through
both thugs, dropping them to the ground alongside their leader.
        “Hee hee, nice trick.” Traz complimented, looking at the now fully revealed
A‟she standing over the pile of corpses. She must be a well-trained spy or something to
pull that off.
        “Yeah, well, our shuttle‟s here. Come on. We shouldn‟t stick around to wait for
their buddies to find them.” A‟she sprinted for the shuttle port and Traz rushed to follow.

        They made it safely and with little event to Mos Eisly. A‟she made contact with
some friends, a Twi‟lek and a Bothan, who had a transport prepped and ready for
departure. Traz was feeling the ache and pain from their night adventure, but he knew
this would be a day he‟d remember fondly for the rest of his life. He shouldered his pack
as he started through the Star Port‟s main Arched entrance. A‟she was standing just
inside waiting to see him off.
        “Well . . . still have the disk?” She said coolly, almost as if they were just passing
each other on their ways to their respective homes.
        “Yeah,” Traz answered, coming to a stop next to her.
        “Good. You lose it and I‟ll kill you myself. You know that, right?” There was no
anger in her eyes; no humor either.
        “Yeah, I kind'a got that feeling after you took out those Tusken. Where‟d you
learn to fight like that anyway?” Traz cocked his head as he grinned at her.
        “I used to be Tear Kais before the order disbanded.” She arched an eyebrow in his
direction.
        “Ah.” He winced slightly, feeling the pain in his arm again.




                                                                                           13
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         “Hey, you better get on now or we‟re leaving without you,” the Bothan pilot said,
coming around the corner of the Star Port‟s main lobby. Traz nodded in
acknowledgement.
         “Well, guess this is goodbye,” he said as he began to head toward the corner that
the Bothan had disappeared behind. A‟she grabbed his arm, stopping him.
         “You better get that disk through, Traz!” she said with a very serious look in her
eyes.
         “I know!” Traz answered, shaking his arm free.
         “Hey, Traz,” A‟she called again. “Good luck.”
         “Luck‟s my middle name,” Traz smirked as he watched her disappear around the
corner.
         All was routine in making the transfer to the Transport, which had been docked at
the Tatooine space station. They made a few hyperspace jumps first out of system then a
few more times to throw off any tracking droid or authorities that might have been
following them. After that, they hit a longer portion of hyperspace allowing the Bothan
pilot to come back to the makeshift passenger hold. Traz couldn‟t tell what transport
model the ship was, having never seen the outside of the ship and identifying crafts by
their interiors was voodoo to him. He‟d come to the conclusion that all civilian transports
had the same interior, only different outer hulls, so the companies could charge more for
fancier models.
         “We need to make a few more hyper jumps after awhile in order to make sure we
aren‟t being tracked, but should hit the Corellian system in no time. If you‟d like to get
some rest in the meantime, I‟ll wake you when we arrive.”
         “No, thanks. In too much pain to sleep,” Traz said, releasing the restraints in the
seat that he‟d chosen to sit in.
         “Alright. I‟ll be in the cockpit if you need me,” the Bothan nodded. He exited
through the hatchway. Traz didn‟t see much after that since he fell asleep as soon as he
was left alone. Unfortunately, his rest didn‟t last long as he was woken up by the Twi‟lek
copilot frantically shaking him. Alarms squealed throughout the ship.
         “Wake up!” The copilot screamed. Traz nodded, showing that he‟d fully
recovered from his unconscious state. The Twi‟lek hurried Traz out of his seat and
through the hatch. “We got pulled out‟a hyper space in the Naboo system, some sort'a
gravitational field interfering with the ship computer. We‟ve attracted some unfriendlies
and it doesn‟t look good.” The Twi‟lek came to a halt in front of what looked to be an
airlock.
         “Whoa, wait! What‟re you doing?” Traz pushed himself back.
         “I‟m ejecting you in a pod before they catch up with us.” The copilot grabbed
Traz‟s sleeve and pulled him into an open access way. He landed on a cushioned seat
inside a small chamber.
         “What!” Traz tried to lift himself up from the seat, but the Twi‟lek threw Traz‟s
pack at him pushed him back into his seat.
         “You need to get that disk delivered at all costs.” The copilot keyed a button,
causing the door to slam shut between him and Traz. Traz frantically pushed at buttons
trying to reopen it, but it was too late. The pod ejected, blasting Traz backwards, where
he knocked his head against a small storage rack. Everything went black.




                                                                                          14
                  Deadline    by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         He awoke again in a darkly lit room. He was sitting in a metal chair in front of a
desk where sat a Zabrak wearing a sleek Imperial uniform
         “What‟s going on? Where am I?” Traz said groggily.
         “Welcome, Mr. Silver.” The Zabrak‟s voice was calm and cool like A‟she‟s had
been.
         “Who are you?” Traz could feel his senses slowly returning as he looked out at
the massive darkness that surrounded him.
         “You can call me Special Agent Eabie,” the Zabrak responded. He was dressed in
what looked like an officer‟s uniform with a standard-issue soft cap and a black dress
coat. He stood and Traz could see a crimson stripe that ran down the side of his black
slacks.
         “Who are you with, the Navy?” Traz asked, trying to place the uniform.
         “No, actually I‟m not with the Imperial military. I‟m an ISB operative.” The
Zabrak made his way slowly around the desk toward Traz.
         “Oh, you mean one of the Emperor‟s private goons,” Traz spit back. The Zabrak
stopped his approach.
         “You say such hurtful things for someone who was caught in such a
compromising situation.” There was no smile on his face but still no anger burning in his
eyes--simply a neutral, emotionless expression.
         “What‟re you talking about? I‟m just trying to get home.” Traz faked a charming
grin.
         “Ah, of course, then maybe this disc is just a souvenir for your Uncle Finn?” The
special agent held up the disc that Nitra had given him. But Traz was more taken aback
by the fact that he‟d used his uncle‟s name.
         “You did your homework.” The cheap grin fell from Traz‟s lips.
         “Yes, it‟s my job to know everything. The Emperor requires that of all his
personal goons.” Still no expression from the Zabrak.
         “Then you know that I‟m a very well-known journalist, and if I went missing,
people would go looking for me.” Traz leaned forward using his arm to balance him, but
a pain shot through it, reminding him that he was less than prepared to fight his way out
of an Imperial compound.
         “You‟d like to think that. But the truth is if we make you disappear we would do
it in such a way that no one would have any reason to find you.” Still no emotion from
the Zabrak.
         “What do you mean?” Traz narrowed his eyes at the officer.
         “I mean that a man who crashes his transport into a luxury liner killing thousands
of innocents would not be missed or mourned.” This hit Traz hard, causing his mind to go
blank for a moment.
         “Ah, so it‟s cooperate or you kill me and ruin my life.” Things were not looking
good.
         “That can be arranged,” the Zabrak nodded as he sat on the corner of the desk.
         “Well then, what happens if I do cooperate? I die a hero crashing into a transport
full of criminals or maybe die in a spice lab raid or maybe even save those thousands of
innocents on that luxury liner and am mourned the galaxy over?” Traz was just stalling
now as he eyed the surface of the desk looking for a weapon of any sort, but there was
none to be found.



                                                                                        15
                  Deadline     by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         “That too can be arranged, but at the moment you are worth more to us alive, so
I‟m willing to help you if you help us.” Traz looked back at the Zabrak, who still showed
no sign of emotion.
         “You want me to name names then, sell out my friends?”
         “Not quite. We could care less about your rebel friends. They can have their
encrypted disc.” The Zabrak officer set the disk down on the desk and slid it towards
Traz.
         “Then what do you want from me? A fluff article maybe about how wonderful the
Empire is? Maybe even focusing on a brave Zabrak such as yourself who combats evil
for the sake of innocents on luxury liners everywhere?” Traz kept his eyes on the
Imperial.
         “An interesting thought, maybe later. But what we want is for you to drop your
Prefect story.” A lump formed in Traz‟s throat. So that’s what this is all about.
         “Oh, I see. The Empire‟s protecting their own, or did he just bribe you as well?”
Traz looked over at the disc lying on the desk in front of him. Maybe at least some good
will come of this.
         “No, the Empire does not approve of the Prefect‟s activities. In fact, a mission is
already underway to remove him from his position, but we can‟t have the galaxy
knowing about his little side business and we can‟t have him knowing that we‟re aware
of it either.”
         “I see. And what happens if I go along with all this?” Traz asked, looking back up
at the Zabrak.
         “We‟ll owe you one.” Still no expression on the officer‟s face, meaning he either
didn‟t have an opinion or really didn‟t want Traz to know what it was.
         “Think about it, Mr. Silver. You can have some very powerful friends. You‟ll be
trading a scandal story now for something very big that‟s coming down and you‟ll be the
only reporter with the exclusive.” Traz could swear there was a hint of a smile on the
Zabrak‟s face, but he couldn‟t tell for sure.
         “How big?”
         “Galaxy changing. Going down in history, and you‟ll be the one whose name will
be written alongside it.” Traz thought for a moment, trying to read anything he could
from the Imperial.
         “Okay, let‟s say hypothetically speaking, I go along with this.”
         “Hypothetically?” the Zabrak arched a single eyebrow at the word.
         “Yes. Then I‟d still need a story to turn in. I already informed the Times that I‟ve
got my story, and it better be big enough or they‟ll fire me for wasting three months
worth of their funding.”
         The Zabrak leaned in toward Traz.
         “We already have something put together.” The officer‟s eyes pierced through
him, a blazing red that Traz hadn‟t noticed before.
         “What is it?” Traz almost felt entranced by the two burning embers in front of
him.
         “A politician named Sean Trandrell in the Tatooine Governor‟s office. You‟ve
heard of him?”
         “Yes. The commerce director?” Traz answered.
         “And the new assistant Governor,” the Zabrak added.



                                                                                          16
                   Deadline    by Ryan Archer Ryan_P_Archer@juno.com


         “So, what about him?” Traz asked, breaking his eyes away from the officer‟s.
         “We have some very interesting information from a contact in Bestine that ties
him to some very embarrassing family members.” The Zabrak leaned back on the desk,
still staring at Traz.
         “So a political muck piece?” Traz was actually a little disappointed at the
prospect.
         “He descended from one of the most brutal pirates in the outer rim territories,” the
Zabrak confirmed.
         “Hmm, a very damaging muck piece.” Traz smiled slightly.
         “What do you say?” The Zabrak ignored Traz‟s charm.
         “Alright, but you‟ll owe me two after this.” Traz snatched the disc from the desk‟s
surface.
         “How do you figure that?” The Imperial agent crossed his arms.
         “Well, if I publish this stuff about Sean Trandrell, it‟ll put the Imperial Loyalists
into a very good position to win the upcoming election when Sean resigns. Which I‟m
almost positive he will.” Traz tucked the disc into a pocket sown into his jacket.
         “Ah, you caught that, did you?”
         Now Traz was almost sure that he saw a hint of a smile, but still wasn‟t a hundred
percent sure.
         “I‟m a reporter. I have to catch these little details.”
         “Alright, we‟ll owe you two, then. What do you say? Beyond hypothetical?” The
Zabrak stared hard at Traz gauging his response.
         “You‟ve got yourself a deal,” Traz stood. “On one last condition.”
         “What‟s that?” The Zabrak remained casually seated on his perch.
         “You get me to Coronet in time for me to meet my deadline.” He looked around
for any sign of his pack with no luck.
         “We already have a shuttle waiting to take you straight there. All your things are
on board.” Traz looked back at the Zabrak, who motioned toward the darkness. Two
stormtroopers in gleaming white armor appeared and motioned for Traz to follow.
         Well, Uncle Finn, I may not win the Montellian Prize this time, but I’ll change the
galaxy yet. For now, you’ll just have to settle for me meeting my deadline.




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