Kaya sprinted through the jungle brush of Rakata Prime, doing her best to ignore the scraping branches and leaves that conspired against her rushed escape. A clearing came into view ahead, but she avoided it; so far, the trees had done a good job of intercepting the weapons thrown at her by the natives who’d killed the rest of her team, and that seemed like a good arrangement to keep up. She found a trunk big enough to hide behind and pressed against it, listening for pursuers. Urgent rustling and unintelligible shouts echoed through the brush.
She’d smirked when her Exchange handler brought up the job. Smuggling antiques? Really?
Oh yes, he’d told her. Very lucrative, and quite a bit safer than spice or weapons.
He’d been the first to die, spiked in the back with one of the same cobbled-together spears Kaya could hear clanging against bark in the distance. The ambush came on the third island the team visited, while they were busy searching through a small collection of worn-down buildings, crumbling sculptures, and bits of tech that hadn’t worked in millennia. Old and useless as it all was, the locals preferred to hang onto it. They looked a bit like Ongree, with tall, slender heads and eye-stalks protruding to the sides, but their mouths were low-slung and capable of some particularly unsettling battle-cries.
Kaya checked her wrist pad— three hundred meters to the ship. She looked ahead, spotted a rocky outcropping, and darted toward it. More shouting echoed toward her, so she pointed one of her blasters backward and fired off a few blind shots in response. The weapon went into its holster as she skidded behind the cover of the rocks, her hand scrambling for one of the proximity charges she’d taken off her team’s Klatooinian security chief. Pausing just long enough to activate the charge and plant it on the rock face, Kaya barreled onward, following the edge of the outcropping as it stretched uphill.
Supposedly, these barbarians had ruled a gigantic, interstellar empire several thousand years back. It wasn’t easy to imagine, but the creatures’ persistence at least kept it in the realm of possibility. The only interesting thing that had happened on Rakata Prime since prehistory was a Republic battle in orbit, and even that was a few hundred years in the past – still ancient in Kaya’s mind.
People actually care about this junk? She had mostly stayed out of the way while the team gathered up everything small enough to carry. Her job was transportation, not labor.
We’re getting paid enough to care quite a bit. The Klatooinian didn’t like attitude on the job. He’d caught up with her after the initial attack, then collapsed at her feet, succumbing to more wounds than she’d had time to count. As Kaya approached the top of the hill, she wondered if he’d been fed the same line about Rakata Prime being an easy run. The exploding proximity charge knocked her mind back to the present, and she bolted onward.
Another clearing. She almost stopped, but then she spotted the glint of sunlight off of her ship’s engines in the distance, and nothing else mattered. Ignoring her previous thoughts on the defensive qualities of jungle foliage, she ran straight toward the boarding ramp, pulling out her comlink on the way.
“Dom, I need you to cover me! Fire up the weapons, now!” One hundred meters.
“Are you being pursued, master?” The droid’s voice didn’t show an overwhelming amount of concern.
“Dom!” Seventy meters.
The ship’s engines powered up and it rose gently into the air, turning to face Kaya at what seemed like a glacial pace.
“I think it would be best for you to drop to the ground, master.”
Kaya dove forward, skidding to a stop on the grass with a pained grunt and wrapping her arms over her head. Cannons roared to life above her, shaking the ground over and over as Dom strafed the clearing and the jungle beyond. She closed her eyes tight, shut out everything, focused on breathing. It felt like there wasn’t enough air on the entire planet for her to catch her breath, but she kept trying for what seemed like hours.
Kaya opened her eyes again. Dom was standing over her, one of his knobby metallic hands extended to help her up. An inferno raged through the jungle she’d just fled, its oily black smoke gushing upward like a geyser.
“We’d better go.”
* * * * *
Once the ship broke orbit, Kaya stepped out of the cockpit to check their cargo. Two medium crates, filled to the brim with useless old junk from their first two stops. Probably ninety kilos total, and six people dead to get it. To the Exchange, their lives were worth about fifteen kilos of rubbish each.
The high-pitched alarm ring of the long-range sensors brought Kaya back to the cockpit. A Republic corvette had just exited hyperspace, and it was burning toward them at full speed.
The entire system is a Republic no-fly zone. All traffic is banned, has been for three hundred years. A “historical preserve”, they call it. The Exchange handler had laughed at the notion. With the war on, it’s never patrolled. We’ve sent dozens of crews over the years, and they’ve never seen a single Republic ship.
Kaya took her seat, quickly shifting power to the engines. “Remind me never to work for the Exchange again, Dom.”
The droid was plugged into the navicomputer, his head quickly swiveling to view different displays. “I have initiated the calculations for a jump to hyperspace.”
“We’re almost in their weapon range. Hang on.” As soon as the proximity alert sounded, Kaya shoved the flight yolk forward and twisted to the right as hard as she could. Glowing lances of turbolaser fire streamed around them menacingly as the ship spiraled into a rapid dive.
“This is not an optimal trajectory for our jump to hyperspace.”
“Just give me a minute.” Kaya hauled the yoke back toward her, then fired up the boosters, pressing her back into her seat as the ship picked up speed.
“We have passed back out of their weapon range, but they are turning to pursue.”
“I guess the Republic really likes antiques, too.” Kaya eased off the boosters to give them time to recharge, leveled the ship’s pitch, and angled the shields aftward. “How long until we’re out of here?”
Dom’s response was drowned out by another long-range sensor warning. The droid checked the screen. “Another ship has exited hyperspace. Imperial. Terminus-class destroyer.”
“Well then, let’s just get out of the way so these two can fight it out.”
“They aren’t fighting, Master.”
“What?” Kaya glanced at the aft scopes. The ships were within range of each other, but neither was firing. Instead, the Imperials had turned to join the chase. “What in blazes is going on out here?”
“The Republic vessel is gaining. They appear to have shifted all power to their engines and tractor beam. They will intercept several seconds before we can jump to hyperspace.”
“Just keep us steady!” Kaya clambered back out of her seat and headed to the cargo hold, her legs aching from the chase through the jungle. The crates were secured right where she’d left them, but a coded mag-lock kept her from opening them. “Blasted Exchange!”
“Ten seconds to intercept, Master,” Dom’s voice called from the cockpit.
Kaya disconnected the cargo braces and started pushing one of the crates toward the airlock. It was slow going, and the entire ship started rumbling before she even made it out of the hold.
“We are caught in the tractor beam.”
“Just get the hyperdrive ready!” Kaya vaulted over the crate, but immediately regretted it when she landed on the other side. After hobbling painfully back out of the hold, she keyed in her override code for the exterior cargo doors. “Is it done?”
“The hyperjump is set, but—“
Kaya drew her pistols, aimed, and opened fire. The crates withered and burst under the rain of bolts, scattering their singed contents all over the hold. Hurling the blasters aside, Kaya slammed the panel for the exterior door and braced herself.
Just before the safety override kicked in and sealed the opening between Kaya and the hold, she glimpsed a cloud of smoldering antiques hurtling out into the void toward the Republic corvette. The rumble from the tractor beam’s grip eased, then stopped entirely.
“Our pursuers have lost tractor lock.”
The familiar hum of the hyperdrive kicking in was like a great electric sigh of relief. Kaya leaned back against the bulkhead, then slid down to the floor, releasing the breath she didn’t remember holding. Dom joined her a moment later.
“In order to save time, I only calculated our route as far as Cerea. What is our ultimate destination?”
“The wrong end of a disruptor, if the Exchange finds out we dumped their cargo.” Kaya rubbed her legs, trying not to think back to the ambush. “We’d better stay low for a while.”
Kaya smiled for the first time all day. “D0-M9, navigator and mind-reader.”
“I’ll begin the calculations, master.”
As she slowly worked her way back to her feet, a thought crossed Kaya’s mind. “They didn’t even ask us to surrender.”
“A normal patrol would talk first, try to get us to power down. They just started shooting as soon as they got the chance.”
Dom gave his best approximation of a humanoid shrug. “Barbarians don’t always carry spears, Master.”
An array of gruesome images did their best to pull Kaya’s mind back to the surface of the planet. “There are still plenty who do,” she replied morosely.
As the pair made their way to the cockpit to plan the long route ahead, Kaya wondered just how far she’d have to go to truly escape.