2: CHION'S REVENGE
CHAPTERS 11 - 20
Story © Copyright M.Kuppe
"Take her to the refresher unit and then to her 'room'. I will call for you later my dear." Chion's smile did nothing to relieve her; Rigel could sense that this man meant her harm and was truly evil inside. She was lead away, still dazed from her kidnapping. She just wanted her mother to take her away from these bad men, and from this strange place.
"Have Captain Moa report to me immediately." Chion's smile faded into a menacing scowl. He knew something had gone wrong. Now he needed an alternate plan. One of his prizes was gone, if the bounty hunter's story was to be trusted.
"You called for me, sir?" Moa's expression was a practiced blank stare. He would not let on that he knew what was coming.
Chion's anger was surfacing as the veins in his neck began to throb, his hands clenching in fury. His voice rumbled low. "Give me a full report, Captain, and do not leave out a shred of information."
Moa was prepared for this. He held out the datapad and read aloud. "It seems that there was some difficulty with the girl, Commander. Bossk reported that after the kidnapping, the mother insisted on following his swoop and crashed by accident. She did not survive." The Captain left out the most important fact, of course; that of Bossk's revised orders to kill the mother anyway. The crash just covered Moa's plans all the better. He had no intention of Chion getting his way. Now he had to get the child away and make it look like Bossk's ineptitude again. Bounty Hunters were a credit a dozen, so pitting Bossk against Chion was a expedient way to have the Commander eliminated.
Commander Chion was furious at his loss. He wanted the satisfaction of looking into Kali's eyes, ensuring that she knew who was responsible for sealing her fate, and the fates of those she cared for. Now that inept hunter ruined his plans. He should have known better than to trust a mere alien with such an important task. "Pay the Trandoshan half of his promised bounty, since he was only able to complete part of his assignment. I will choose another hunter if my needs require it. The careless reptile will never work for us again."
Chion stormed from the room to be alone and think of a new strategy.
Captain Moa also left, but headed straight for the comm room. "Lieutenant, send another message to The Hound's Tooth - tell the pilot he will receive NO payment for services he was hired to perform. By order of Commander Chion."
Yes, this was going to work out just fine. I'll just have to get rid of the remaining crew and then the ship will be all mine. Moa chuckled to himself, satisfied he would be free to collect his fortune very soon.
Now on to part two of his scheme.
Luke stopped mid-stride at a table, where some holoprints caught his eye. There was a print of Biggs, his one-time best friend. He looked so young, so full of hope and energy. That was before the Empire, and the Rebellion for which he gave his life. Luke stared for a long moment at his friend and wished somehow he was here with him. The print beside Biggs' drew Luke's attention away. It was of Kali, in full uniform, smiling, arm in arm with a strange man, also in a Fleet jumpsuit. A feeling of jealousy swept over him. Who was this guy? I don't remember him from Saurat or Hoth. Luke took a closer look. The holo was dated and signed "To Kali, We did it! Love always, Seton."
Seton? This was dated about the time he was on Endor. What was Kali doing back in the Fleet then? I thought she left the Alliance for good after Hoth. And why was this Seton fellow with her?
Luke had an uneasy feeling this man was the reason Kali had asked him there. Luke was ashamed to admit that he never considered the possibility that she was married.
Huff Darklighter cleared his throat, trying to get Luke's attention. He seemed to be struggling about something, and had finally come to a decision. Kali's mother nodded to give him encouragement.
"Luke, there is something you need to know. Kali wasn't alone in that speeder. She was coming from our place, with her daughter, Rigel." His eyes filled with water, but the grown man struggled to keep from shedding a tear.
A daughter? Kali was a mother? Luke staggered backward until his heels bumped into a chair, dropping him into the seat. All his plans while coming here, the thoughts of being together again - came shattering down around him. His ears rang as he tried to absorb the news. So she was married. And they have a child. Then why would she call, asking me to come for some "important news"?
Mrs. Darklighter brought Luke another holoprint. It was of Kali and a small child; a blue-eyed, brown haired girl, the family resemblance already apparent.
"Luke, I know they are still alive. They have to be." Luke returned the print to her shaking hands. As she clenched the frame protectively to her chest, her reserve began to break. "I just couldn't stand it if we lost the rest of our family, lost, like Biggs -- so young." Kali's father consoled his wife and led her to her room to lie down.
Even though his feelings were mixed, Luke told himself he would help find Kali and her daughter - as if she were his own child.
Suddenly the flaps swung back to reveal two large Tusken Raiders entering the tent. Kali screamed again, in sheer terror - all the horror stories about the fearsome Sandpeople that she had been told as a child flashed into her mind. Just as the storytellers had described, their heads were covered with dirty cloth wrappings, with two round metal eye lenses and four smaller metal points at the top of their heads jutting out of the head wraps. Masks covering their mouths gave their breathing the same frightful rasping sound Darth Vader made. They wore long flowing robes, so she could not tell if they were male or female. Across their chests crossed two wide animal skin straps.
She backed away from them, ready to run but the Raiders grabbed her, bound her hands and shoved a filthy cloth into her mouth to keep her quiet. The taste of it was bitter, and made her tongue go numb right away. They let her fall back onto the skins she had been sleeping on while they held an animated conversation over top of her. Kali tried but could not understand the guttural grunts to know what they had in mind for her.
I've got to get out of here...was all she could think of before she passed out again.
Then he would make an example of the Imperial Officer, so no one would ever think of trying to cheat him again. Thoughts of inflicting excruciating torture on the deceitful human made the lizard smile.
At the helm of The Hound's Tooth, the Transdoshan set course to intercept the Omega.
Still shaking, Kali inspected the food and her stomach rumbled. She tentatively smelled it, then ate the sweet gourd voraciously. She hadn't realized how hungry she was. How long have I been here? She really didn't know. As she ate, she surveyed her surroundings. Still the same spartan tent, with nothing that I could use to escape or defend myself. I have to get out of here as soon as possible - and get Rigel back...somehow. My parents must think I'm dead by now; someone must have realized I didn't make it home and found my crashed speeder. And Luke! He was supposed to come by that night! I have to get back and let them all know I'm still alive - and that Rigel was still alive too - I just know it. I have to get her from that hunter!
As she was trying to figure out why a bounty hunter would want her child, the same (at least she assumed it was the same) Raider returned to take the tray. But instead of leaving alone, he pushed Kali outside into the encampment before him.
She was shocked to see it was night - she had lost all track of time. Kali looked around for some landmark to tell her where she was - and then she spotted it - Fort Tusken! I know where I am; they have camped not far from the human's Fort they viciously raided all those years ago - the infamous attack which gave these nomads their auspicious name.
Kali was pushed forward again. It looked like the whole tribe was crowding the clearing before her. Tall poles topped with flaming torches lit the entire area. She had never seen so many Sandpeople at once! Panic swept through her, and despite the juicy gourd she had just eaten, her mouth went dry from fear. What now? She wished she could understand even a bit of their language. The crowd parted as she was led into the open center of the ring of people. They left her standing there and she was unsure what to do.
Then the crowd split again, this time on the far side of the ring, and out strode a single Raider, a bit smaller than most. Kali could see he was dressed identically to the other Sandpeople, but he lacked the criss-crossed straps that held a hunter's tools and prizes. Must be a younger member of the tribe. Just then she realized what this was. The storytellers had told of a ritual that all Sandpeople must go through before they are considered true members of the adult hunting tribe - a feat of skill at inflicting pain usually performed on an unlucky captive. Unfortunately, Kali was that captive tonight. This was the youngster's rite of passage and if he succeeded, Kali was his doomed prey.
The Raider was upon her at once. He was still too small to handle the heavy gaderffii stick well, so Kali was able to avoid his deadly thrusts with the straight, sharp end of the weapon. She was unarmed, and surrounded by the rest of the tribe. How am I going to get out of this alive? His next jab hit her in the left thigh, the quad-edged blade cutting through her soft leggings, but only grazing her skin. She couldn't outrun her opponent, so she had to fight back. As the Raider stepped forward again for another stab, Kali dodged, grabbed the gaffi stick above the blades and threw him down to the ground with as much force as she could muster. The formerly quiet audience burst into an uproar. They seemed to be urging the youngster on, as he got to his feet again and rushed his now-armed adversary. Kali gripped the gaffi in both her hands and swung with all of her might. She caught him hard on the side of his head with the large curved end of the weapon. A dull crunching noise was followed by an ever-widening patch of dark blood on his headwraps as he fell limp to the ground at her feet. The tribe went wild, and Kali was certain they would kill her right there and then. Instead, four Tuskens disarmed and shuffled her back to the tent. Kali's hands were bound again, and another drug-laden cloth shoved into her mouth. In seconds, she was out.
Old memories came rushing back as he stepped down into the dark building. It hadn't changed a bit, and was still filled with, what was it Obi Wan had said? "a wretched hive of scum and villainy." Well, Luke wasn't the timid farmboy he was back then. With the same assurance Ben had, Luke's eyes swept through the crowd, waiting for his Jedi senses to tell him the best location to position himself. He found a group of spacers engrossed in conversation and judged that would be the best place to start. Wuher handed him a large glass of Whyren's Reserve. Luke had no intention of drinking the strong Corellian whiskey but he accepted it, knowing full well anyone who didn't come in to drink was immediately held under suspicion. Luke moved to a table on the far side of the room and soon his ears picked up the conversation. The spacers, a mixture of human and alien, of all sizes and shapes, were arguing over who currently comprised the secret "Elite Group" of the Assassin's Bounty Hunters Guild. Many agreed the famous Boba Fett would be included, even though he was out of commission now. A few insisted that IG-88 was part of this select group, and still others voted for Dengar. But when Bossk was mentioned, they all nodded. "Especially since he's still finding high-paying jobs" one intoned.
Something about the mention of Bossk's name made Luke's senses jump. He knew the names of all the hunters mentioned. The stories he heard of their competition to find the Millennium Falcon after their escape from Hoth were famous. But the sound of the Transdoshan's name made Luke eager to learn more. Of course the spacers couldn't resist telling tales to a captive audience. One Rodian mentioned that Bossk himself was in the cantina a few hours ago, boasting of a prime job he had completed. He was on his way to collect a substantial bounty for taking out two humans just outside of town, but had stopped by as he was thirsty from the long trip on a dusty swoop. The group hung on every word. They seemed to be in awe, and it took all of Luke's Jedi control to keep from showing his anger at how the hunters were being admired in such a way. He was certain Bossk was responsible for the crash. It answered some of his of nagging questions - but he had to know if Kali and Rigel were still alive. The discussion had turned to another topic, so Luke decided to leave. He had heard enough anyway, and would find out nothing more in here.
Luke went back to his ship, activated Artoo and flipped on the sub-space comm in the cockpit. Besides going back to the Darklighter farm, this seemed like the safest place to transmit a sensitive message. He dialed in the codes for the Falcon. "Han, old buddy, you there?"
The comm crackled with static. A familiar voice roared into the headset.
"Chewie. How ya doing? I'm looking for Han. Is he there?" The Wookiee growled in the affirmative. "Just let him know I need both your help with something. You guys free to join me for awhile?"
"Sure are kid" Han answered back. "What's up?"
Luke filled them in on the situation. "Can you help me track down Bossk?"
"I would LOVE the opportunity to. After all, hunting down a bounty hunter could prove to be fun - especially since I was on his hit list not too long ago." Luke could hear Chewbacca hoot in agreement.
"Great. How about we meet at these coordinates tomorrow at 0800?" Luke punched in the data.
"Sounds good kid. Don't worry, if Bossk did have something to do with this, we'll find out." Han clicked off his receiver.
Well, at least there's something to go on was all that Luke could think of. There was still the question of why - why would a bounty hunter want Kali and her daughter? Was that Seton fellow in trouble somehow?
After she felt it was safe, Kali removed the headwraps and shoved them into her belt, gulping the fresh air. She decided that if she was going to survive alone, she had to take advantage of the cooler nights and sleep during the heat of the day. She kept looking behind her - it didn't seem as if they were following her yet, but she was sure the hunting party would be after her soon. The wind began to blow with more fury, and she was nearly swept off her feet, as the sand pelted her in the face. Much to her chagrin, she had to replace the smelly headwrap to protect her from the rising sandwhirl. The breath filter works surprisingly well she had to admit, so she was able to continue her trek throughout the storm, albeit much too slowly for her liking. Sheets of sand rained down, stinging her even through her wrappings. The fierce wind pushed her back like a huge hand preventing her advance. It was getting more and more difficult to see, and she could only guess she was still headed in the right direction. If turned around, she could be going west further into the Dune Sea. Visions of suddenly falling into the hideous Sarlacc in the Great Pit of Carkoon made her shudder. She had to keep going southeast, into the safety of the Jundland Wastes where she could stop to sleep at daybreak. Kali leaned into the howling wind as she plodded knee deep through the sand, using the gaffi stick for support. The only good thing about the sudden storm was that it would make it virtually impossible to track her - all traces of Kali's footsteps were quickly being wiped clean again. After walking all night, the sand beneath her feet gradually subsided into rock and she realized that she had made it to the Jundland Wastes.
As she walked through the canyon, Kali surveyed the area for a resting place. Small caves were known to exist in the mesa, and she soon found one that she could crawl into, dragging the gaffi in behind her. It was wonderful to be off her feet at last, and once she was into the darkness of the cave, Kali pulled the headcover off her sweaty face. She was parched, and remembered the container she had strapped to her belt. It's a water container! She gingerly took small sips, just enough to quench her thirst and tightly sealed it again. She was hungry too, but there was nothing around that she could eat. She would have to ration her water to last her until she could find civilization again.
Just as her heavy eyelids were closing, Kali heard the moaning of the banthas. They've found me! She peeked out of her hiding spot. No, they were moving down the canyon, in single file, searching for me. Kali kept very still, and soon they were gone. Relief and exhaustion took its toll, as finally she was able to fall asleep.
Maybe I can make it to Arnthout or Bestine, she thought as she continued her trek though the Wastes two nights later. The only other sign of life she had come across in this desolate area was a few small gray womprats scurrying about, looking for nourishment themselves. She scanned the horizon. Nothing. No sign of human or alien existence anywhere.
After a third spectacular twin sunset, she set out again. The stars shone brightly, making it easier to find her way through the rocky canyon. I only hope this doesn't make me easy prey to predators like a Krayt Dragon....
Kali walked for hours, stopping only a few times to rest her feet or to take a sip of precious water. Tatoo I was beginning to rise at the horizon. Soon Tatoo II would follow, and the heat would be unbearable. She took her remaining sip of water and donned the headwrap again to keep the suns off her head. Not much farther, I know it ... I've got to keep going - I have no choice - my water is gone, and I won't last another day out here. Already the heat was making her delirious - what was that ahead? She stopped in her tracks in disbelief. A vaporator! Thank the stars, I've made it to a moisture farm! Now if I can only find the farmhouse, I'll surely be home soon! Kali staggered towards the gray rise on the far horizon. It must be buildings! Please, let it be buildings, with people, and help...
Fixer was still upset, and poured himself another drink to calm himself down. Tusken Raiders! At his farmhouse! They had surprised him just as he was powering down for the night. A whole band, going wild, and destroying anything in sight. Fixer had hidden in the underground hydroponics station until they had left, too frightened to get his blaster from the house. I should have blown them all away, he drunkenly thought, as he staggered outside to assess the damage they had done. He patted his Merr-Sonn 44 strapped securely to his leg. They won't catch me unarmed again! Blast! Look at this! It will take me a whole season to replace and repair it all! He kicked at a destroyed power convertor, and looked up. His fogged mind took a moment to comprehend that someone was approaching. Another Raider! They're back! Well, I won't be such an easy target today!
Fixer drew his blaster and fumbled with the dials, assuming he was setting it to "kill" mode. He aimed it with both wavering hands, closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger.
Kali dropped like a stone, the gaffi stick falling beside her.
Fixer checked the area nervously. He couldn't spot any more Raiders. What was a single Sandperson doing out here alone? Had last night's party left him behind somehow? Well, regardless, he won't be joining his gang ever again, thanks to me.
Still pointing the blaster at the prone body, Fixer approached the fallen Tusken. His curiosity was piqued and his bravado had returned with the lucky shot. No one had ever seen what a Sandperson looked like under their masks, and Fixer decided he would be first to find out. He bent over and pulled off the head wrap. Staggering backwards, Fixer realized it was a human woman. He came back and took another, closer look.
Wait, I know her --- oh my stars....I've shot Kali Darklighter!
He couldn't believe it. After traveling half-way across the galaxy to be with Kali, he had missed her by only hours. Now, from the story her parents related to him, he may never see her again. Seton shook his head. No, I can't think like that. There has to be some way to find her. And I will.
He also just missed meeting the great Luke Skywalker. He would have loved to have met the hero of the Rebellion face to face, but something at the back of his mind told him Luke didn't just happen to be here -- there was a connection, and Seton suddenly felt like a third wing. Well, some of the mysteries about Kali were being answered. A daughter! Seton couldn't believe that Kali had a little girl. In all the time Seton had known Kali he had never heard her speak of Rigel, had seen no holoprints, nothing. She did indeed keep a lot to herself, he realized. Seton wondered if she was married, or perhaps had once been married, but he knew that he couldn't pry at a time like this. He shouldn't have come unannounced; he just assumed that Kali was single and he could charm his way into her life. Everything had changed now.
It was time to go. He had arrived, what, days ago now? It seemed like forever. The Darklighters were in shock and wanted him to stay - so he helped out where he could, and assisted in the recovery of the crashed speeder, but he could do no more here now.
As they stood in the heat of the mid-day suns just outside the farmhouse, a cloud of dust on the horizon caught Seton's eye. Good. This must be my ride. As the skimmer approached, Seton realized it was not the same speeder that had brought him here. Well, that's a relief; my stomach is still doing flips from that ride.
But as it approached, Huff and his wife both recognized it at once. "Fixer? What in blazes..."
Kali! The three ran to the hovering floater in time to see Fixer stumble out from the driver's seat, landing flat on his face into the hard gravel below.
He rolled onto his back, squinting and blinking in the suns' glare, blearily apologizing to no one in particular. "I didn't mean to...it was an accident.." was all they could understand from his slurred speech. It was obvious he had been drinking heavily again. "I thought she was a lone Raider, back from last night..."
Mrs. Darklighter and Seton rushed to Kali, while Huff went directly to the driver's side of the vehicle. He bent down and grabbed Fixer's shirt collar with one hand, yanked him to his feet and propped him against the skimmer. He nearly toppled the man over once more with his booming voice as his temper exploded. "What did you do to my daughter, you..... you.... drunken nerf-herder you!" Huff had never been so angry in his life. Fixer winced, squeezing his eyes shut in anticipation of the blow to come from this huge farmer. But before Huff lost all control and pummeled some sense into him, he let go and walked away to the other side of the speeder and gently lifted his daughter into his arms.
Seton watched Fixer slide to the ground again, then followed the family to thier home. He could tell that Kali was alive, but wearing a strange robe and boots that looked too big for her slight body. Her cracked lips quietly mumbled "Rigel...got to find Rigel".
Huff stopped in his tracks to look back inside the speeder. "Where is Rigel? Was she with her too?"
Fixer was dumbfounded. Right! Kali's little girl! "No! She was alone, I told you! There wasn't anyone else around! Really!"
Kali's mother returned to help Fixer to his feet again and led the distraught man toward their home. "Don't worry son, we believe you. Now let's go in and you can tell us slowly, everything that has happened."
Kali was brought to her old bedroom where her mother shooed out the men and took over alone. She peeled off the disgusting robes and realized Fixer was right -- these are Raider's clothes! What in stars happened? After washing her down with precious cool, water, Kali began to stir. Her mother got her to sip some water as well, causing her to cough most of it up again. It would take time to get her well again. But suddenly, Kali's eyes opened wide and she yelled "Rigel! Come back with my baby!"
"Yes, sir. At once." The Communications Officer relayed the message. A ransom note? And it mentions Luke Skywalker. This should cause some reaction, indeed.
"Thank you Threepio. Tell her I'll be there shortly." What now? Why does it always seem that Han, Chewie and Luke take off to who knows where just when another crisis seems to surface?
Leia threw a light cover over her casual jumpsuit. It draped to the floor, billowing behind her as she walked briskly down the marbled stone hallways of the Palace. She soon caught up to and passed the golden droid as he marched stiffly along the corridor. "Wait! Wait for me! I have to ANNOUNCE that you're coming first!" Threepio cried plaintively as he shuffled behind her, flailing his arms to get her to slow down somehow.
Leia tried to calm the feeling of impending doom and absentmindedly tucked and prodded at her braids. She opened the heavy doors to the Chamber, noting the vast room was empty except for her dear friend from Chandrila sitting alone at the end of the majestic Council table, a datapad in front of her. Normally, Leia would be joined by representatives from various member species, waiting for the Alliance Leader to preside over the New Republic's Inner Council meetings. But today her footsteps echoed in the barren chamber as she strode across the room. As she approached, Leia could see the serious look on Mon Mothma's face. Her sixth sense never failed her; something was terribly wrong.
"Leia, I needed to speak with you alone. We just received this." She handed Leia the datapad. As she read, Leia dropped to a seat at the Council table. "Where did this come from?"
"It was transmitted in Imperial code, via sub-space transmission, so we believe its origin is somewhere in the Outer Rim. Although they are spread thinly throughout the galaxy, we do know that factions of the Empire still exist; it could be authentic or a ruse. If I were a Sabaac player, I would bet that it is genuine."
Leia wished desperately that it was not. A hoax. It has to be. Either that, or some remnant of the Imperial command wanted a pot-shot at her brother. "I have to contact Luke."
"I know Leia. That is what I expected from you. He should be told privately, so he can decide what to do. No word of this will pass out of this room. We cannot risk public knowledge and jeopardize the situation even more."
|CONTINUE THE STORY...|