“If the wind no longer calls to you, it is time to see if you have forgotten your name.”
- Caamasi proverb
It was during that eternity after Amelia and the girls left me. An ageless house I inhabited in either fitful, dreamless sleep on the bridge of my ship or against the hull as loaders moved freight in and out. A small-timer takes every job he can get in this galaxy. He doesn’t have the luxury of choosing who loads his credstick. There was one dealer — I cringed every time his ugly alien name came up in amber sigils on my terminal. No soul, no spark within. One would think he remained animate only by sucking the joy of living from others.
He was a bastard, but he paid well. He was my customer.
And my first kill.
Fenn’s voice crackled from the comm: “I think your father’s ship is down here.”
We had just de-boarded the Defiant and were “debating” which way to hit the summit control center holding the meteor-slinging Jedi who controlled access to the planet. Enough walkers stomped the grounds inside the fences and barricades to preclude any notion of a full frontal assault. Moppo and his companions were ready to attack from another flank, but it just wasn’t enough.
Sartok recalled a generator further down the mountain which might control the base defenses, and went ahead with Bart to investigate. Quickly. The two picked up the power source within a forgotten cliff-side temple and a scan confirmed its tendrils wended through the rock core and supplied the structure we grimly surveyed. Apparently, their recon had found something else.
“What?” My incredulous response croaked loudly through our cover, and Tor pressed his hand on my shoulder to quiet me as he watched my expression. “What do you mean? How do you know?”
“Well, it looks like what you’ve described. I’ll transmit. Viddy and you tell me.”
Like a long-lost sister found slumped in an alleyway, body wrecked and life abused, there it was. The aft entrance swarmed with Trandoshan slavers, blasphemously misappropriating my father’s shipwright mark on the shoulders of their flight suits as they herded natives into their onboard cages. Zooming to a crudely modified archboard, beneath a rust-red scrawl of “The Bloody Credit”, the shadow of an elegant script formed the word: “Spelljammer.”
Tensed hands nearly crushed my datapad. Tor asked quietly, “Is that it?”
“That’s it,” I replied, voice cracking.
Then, solidly and firm: “Fenn, I’m coming down.” I holstered my datapad and rose up from the brush.
“I’ll be back. Sartok and three of his men should be sufficient.” I turned to Sartok. “If that’s good with you?” He nodded, then talked amongst his men.
Tor approached. “I told you I’d help you with this. I’m going with you.”
Gathering my pack, I shook my head, avoiding eye contact. “No. What you need to do here is more important. This is the mission. I’ve got plenty of backup without wasting your valuable talent.”
Grinning as I pulled on my pack, I clasped his furry shoulder. “Besides, I can take a handful of Trandoshans, no problem. And the temple? I’ve blown up churches before.”
Tor’s snout bore a weak smile, eyes betraying his concern. He knew why I didn’t want him to go, even before I did. Maybe it was his Jedi mojo, or maybe it was because he had become my, well, the best of my few friends. Once I slaughtered the slaver toads in legitimate combat and boarded that grail of a ship, I’d find its “captain”. He knew.
Tor clasped my hand on his shoulder, his three claws digging into my thin human flesh. Then he let go. He seemed placated, or maybe he was just projecting that aura for my benefit. In any case, he wasn’t going to argue anymore.
“From stranger to be trusted to friend from afar. You’re not getting rid of me.” He smiled more genuinely now.
“Alright, I’m going before we start rutting like a couple she-Hutts. Ready, Sartok?”
What I’d forgotten, what I’d constructed in my mind — it all reconciled with the solid freighter just meters before me. A chain of bound slaves shuffled from a cruiser near us up the loading ramp of my father’s ship. Billows of thick smoke belched from its neglected engines. Trandoshans shoved them onward, occasionally clocking one on the head if he slowed the others.
Bart nodded to me and started toward the temple and generator. I turned to where Fenn had stood to ask where he was going, but “going” he had already done, slinking through the cover of smoke toward the ship. Sartok’s men were going straight toward the slavers, one of them rallying when he saw his sister amongst the taken.
Sartok and I slunk into the cruiser and powered it on. Blaster bolts criss-crossed outside as we glided back, running down a few slavers in the process. While I wielded the ship from the helm, I suggested sidewise to Sartok, “Anything you want to say to those slaves, maybe get them to lend us a hand?” He flipped on the external speakers and launched into a fire-sermon, urging the captives to strangle their captors with the chains that bound them.
First outside the ship, then from within, mustering whatever strength and hope they had after being broken during their capture, they forged their greater numbers and nobler purpose into weapons, choking the life out of what slavers remained after the volleys from our trio of resistance fighters.
Sartok and I ran from the cruiser and up the ramp into the ship. My heart raced. As I crossed the threshold, my body flushed with purpose, determination. After all those years, I was here. Sartok ran ahead with his men. Fenn was in there somewhere. I stood motionless at the top of the ramp. There before me was a huge glowing orb.
My father was at his workbench, his back to me as I curled in a nest of greasy blankets. I stayed up with him nightly as he “tinkered” with gadgets and materials from the mundane to the arcane, playing matchmaker to them, coercing them into partnership. My heavy lids rose to a glowing ball pinched between two robotic fingers.
“What’s that, dad?”
He stopped his work, stretched, and yawned, swiveling his chair to look at me, his face wizened before its time, but ever-brightened with the sunset glow of his smile.
“It’s you. And me. And here. And it’s time for bed.”
He scooped me up, blanket dragging on the floor as he carried me to my room.
Rubbing my eyes, I asked again, “No, really, dad. It’s pretty.”
The overheads snapped to a crackling glow as he shrugged the blanket off my shoulders and gently placed me under a cover of clean bedclothes, tucking them around me as he sat on the edge.
“It’s the engine. It makes us run. Makes everything run. It drives Correlia and all its people. Maybe it drives everything.” He yawned again.
My eyes were strained wide to watch him explain, to watch his own eyes glitter with curiosity and mystery.
“I dunno, kid. I’m just a hacker.”
He winked, stroking a flop of hair back from my forehead. I smiled as the world faded into warmth and calm. It was the last night I remember sleeping so well. There were surely others after, but that was when he left me his legacy as a seed in my young mind. We barely spoke of the orb again, but he kept working at it, each night its glow brighter as his faded with frustration. He’d tease out its secrets eventually, but at such a cost.
I should have smashed it. Killed it. Saved him.
Such a cost.
“Who’s that tramping on my ship?”
That discordant barking broke my reverie, the blasphemy of its intent boiling a rage in my belly that rushed through my veins, shot through my brain — my eyes were afire, every muscle tense, fingers white against the grip of my blaster. Down the hall, a lumbering heavily-armored bastard was the source. Stepping left into line, I crushed the trigger and sent a blue bolt down through his midsection. He only shook his head as if casting off a dizzy spell, then looked down at me, reaching for his sidearm.
Another squeeze of my trigger — nothing. I slapped a loose panel on the grip and pulled again, sending a second shaft of light into him. That one sent him back a meter onto the floor, but again he rose. His body was veiled in armor, but I could feel him grinning behind his helmet as he staggered to his feet and came toward me. I approached likewise, both arms stiff with a determined aim, gaze straight down the barrel with his head in the sight, the space between us a reverse tug-of-war, an inevitable pull.
Before he could return fire, my finger started to pull, but a patch of oil on the panels under my feet twisted my body sideways. I kept him in my sights and wrapped my hand around the blaster. A rail of energy slammed into the charred surface of his chest armor and his body was thrown against the hull as my own dropped to the floor, arms still extended, my eye still fixed on the smoking hole centered in the ridged tip of my blaster.
He crumpled against the wall, motionless. No — still alive. A faint rising and falling, a labored breathing through his mask. Fenn appeared near the body.
I rose quickly and ran toward them.
“Don’t touch him!” The rage in my expression startling Fenn and his companions. I pulled back, wiping a thin veil of calm over my face and motioning starboard. “Down there, the last of the slavers.” Fenn seemed wary, cautious, then heard the sounds of a fight and followed my direction, waving his band behind him.
I was alone with him now. The crude insignia on his flight suit identified him as the pilot. I couldn’t say “captain”; there was only one captain of the Spelljammer. His leg was twisted backward: bloody, jagged bone jutting through the knee joint of his armor. I kicked the side of his head, sending his cracked helm clattering down the hall.
A Trandoshan. His reptilian muzzle gasped, gurgled. He was still alive. His eyes opened slowly, then closed again. He was groggy and confused and moments away from slipping naturally into death, but he could hear me. I knelt down close on the balls of my feet, my blaster hand on my knee, muzzle propped a finger length from his eye.
“Your ship? Funny. You don’t look like my father.”
The bastard was berating me for being late, accusing me of fiscal malfeasance, casting feigned doubt on what comprised the weight of the containers his droids dutifully unloaded. I lit a cigarette and took a hit from my flask, leaning back against the ship, staring into nothing a meter in front of my face. There was no joy to steal from me, and for a man so identified with the virile effectiveness of his bullying, his impotence with me made him dangerously angry.
When the last of his droids rolled the final crate away, he came over to pay me. I didn’t look at him, but continued staring, dragging in and dragoning out thick billows of smoke. His insults continued as he adjusted his credstick. I seem to recall him mentioning something about my wife. He touched me, shoved me. Something. The catalyst is cloudy, but the reaction is clear, burning through that fog.
I flipped my cigarette to the floor, turned it under my boot heel, then faced him and exhaled a dark cloud into his eyes. He coughed, squinting, fingers rubbing his sockets. I kicked him in the middle. He dropped to his knees, clutching his stomach. Up to the jaw. His head whipped back and he groaned, eyes opening with an instant of tightly-sprung vengeance, then wider with horror as the blackened muzzle of my blaster rose over the bridge of his nose.
The hard wrinkles of his hateful expression smoothed and lengthened into the visage of a child spying midnight Death in the bedroom closet. He started to say something, to beg or cry or — his jaw dropped, then his face was gone in a flash of brilliant blue light. He crumpled to my feet. I nudged his limp puppet of a corpse away from me.
Since that early morning I returned to Qaestar Town, when a warm embrace became a cold rebuke, a home became a mortuary, a full life became an empty shell — since then my mind had been a riotous cacophony of black noise. Now, just one voice in that hell-tuned chorus was muted, but my trigger-pull afforded me a moment’s respite of dead silence. There was no shame, no guilt, no surprise, and the normalcy of it makes me hesitant to label it my “first” killing.
Right then, I was at peace.
“Funny. You don’t look like my father.”
His eyes opened again. He still had that hatred innate to his species pulling his strings, keeping his tattered body as animate as physics allowed. He tried to bark something in response, black ichor squeezing and bubbling through his fangs. The sharp retort of my blaster drown out any last words he attempted to spill, leaving a neat hold through and through his head.
“Oh yeah. Now I see the resemblance.”
I stood up and pushed him over with my foot, walking over to his head, a masque of death forming over his face as his blood flowed around him, trickling down the floor grates.
“This is for my father.”
My boot rose above him and I paused for a second, as if waiting for him to acknowledge me, then brought it crashing down, feeling his skull give underneath.
“And Amelia.” Raise-stomp. “And Adria. And Bella.” Stomping, grinding, crushing, bits of bone and brain and lizard flesh splattering against my clothes, my face, the walls, obliterating him, trying to erase him and his abuse of the ship and its assumption of command and whatever and whyever he’d done what he’d done. I wanted to erase everything about him, to wipe clear the pages back to my childhood before it all went wrong, before the cursed destiny was invoked, before my father left me, my wife left me, my children left me.
I kicked what remained of his head from its stump, sending it rolling down the hallway, abruptly stopping with a loud squish against the base of the glowing orb.
“For taking my life away.”
The body had been propped in the desk chair of a cramped office noisome with stale smoke, cheap whiskey, salesman cologne — and the rich pungence of splashed petrol. Before returning to my idling ship, I lit the end of a cigar, puffed it into a slow burn, and wedged it between the two teeth left in the hole where a face was.
Powerful percussion rocked the stubby wings of my freighter as it glided out of the hangar bay, licked by the hungry tendrils of a fireball. I pulled up and shot clear of the atmosphere, my cargo hold packed with the same crates I’d carried upon arrival mere hours ago. As the unidimensional points of stars popped forward into twinkling bars around my ship, railing us into hyperspace, I leaned back in my chair, rested my feet on the console, and fished through a bag of scavenged belongings. Only one treasure: a little gold box. Inside, a glittering blue spice.
Rising, I flipped open the overhead, catching a bottle of Toush before it rolled out, then tuned up “Brief Reign” on the ship’s audio banks before settling back down, mixing a bit of the powder with the drink in a dirty shot glass. My eyelids heavied as the liquid slithered into my belly and through my veins. I slumped back, the sounds of Corellian opera echoing through the empty bowels of the ship and raveling around me.
I didn’t remember what destination I’d punched into the nav-comp. I didn’t remember the name of the planet I’d just left. The topography was meaningless. My destiny was on the horizon, my mind was at peace for the first time in what seemed like millenia, and I could dream again.
And, because doing so gave me all those things back, I would kill again.
Looking down the hall, then back to his body, breath slowing, rage subsiding, calmer now, evaluating the scene. Maybe I could have pried some info from him. Found out why. I dropped my back against the wall and raised my head, blaster muzzle pushed under my chin. I slid down to the floor, let the blaster go with my arms to rest on my knees, and stared absently forward.
I’d find out on my own. Do it without him. Do it alone. As always. I had no choice. I curled my knees to my chest, dropped my face on them, and laughed. Or cried. It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. None of it does. Not anymore.
“Dobra do shag.”