The Maelstrom came out of the swirl of hyperspace with a slight lurch. Out the cockpit window, Orena was greeted by four star destroyers. They loomed like ominous clouds over the green and blue planet of Lothal. The hairs on her arms stood up. These behemoths didn't have the noble energy of the Republic cruisers she had served on. She hadn't realized she'd opened the compartment under the dash till she felt the lightsaber's comforting weight in her hand. Trembling slightly, she nestled the black hilt back into the hidden hatch.
As she drew the lancer-class ship closer, a flurry of TIEs around the Destroyers drew her attention. Smoke and bits of ship floated lazily off into space.
The TIEs immediately converged on the Maelstrom. Orena kept the ship steady, flying casually towards the blockade as Imperial fighters swarmed around her. The dash beeped as a hailing signal came in.
"Lancer-class pursuit craft, what is your business on Lothal?" a flustered male voice demanded. Alarms wailed in the background.
Eyeing the smoke beginning to snuff out in the vacuum of space, Orena tapped a few buttons. "Bounty collection. Sending credentials." Her voice was calm and steady, all business. She looped around the aft of the nearest destroyer. A charred, jagged wing of a TIE drifted by. Lothal rotated slowly on its axis.
It was beautiful, even from way up here she could see the rolling grass lands. On the surface, the plains probably went on forever. Crystal blue oceans spilled like paint in the swash of green and yellow. Would the beaches rocky or sandy? Perhaps a bit of both. Orena let out a long breath. She bet they would be even more beautiful in person.
The console beeped. "Maelstrom, you may proceed."
Tension bunching in her shoulders slackened. The TIEs arced away, and she headed for the planet, the view out the cockpit growing more and more green.
Perhaps she shouldn't marvel as much as she was at the wisps of cloud that gathered around the ship. They were pink and yellow in the evening light: a watercolor painting. If the Inquisition had reached a planet like Lothal...
The sky scape became dull. There was a Jedi here, or at least a strong enough Force user to warrant such attention. To recruit or exterminate, there was no telling. Find the Jedi, and she would find her quarry.
The ship's computer indicated Capitol City housed a large Imperial compound. She weighed the pros and cons of heading straight into the rancor's den. There would be no other place an agent of the Emperor would go, unless they were currently off world.
Orena closed her eyes and allowed the hum of the ship to blend and fade into nothing. The planet was so rich in the Force, it thrummed far below when she opened her senses. She reached out, and the pure life of it washed over her.
Come on, give me something to follow. Minutes passed as the ship drifted through the clouds. She was about to retract when she felt it; a tug. She followed it, eyes still closed.
Her concentration slipped away as the Maelstrom descended from the sea of pink. A cozy little space port interrupted the swaying grass. No imperial ships or distinctions in sight.
Upon landing, Orena donned her hood, mask left around her throat. She didn't need to look more suspicious than she already did. The ground was indeed flat, far as the eye could see, gray mountains shadowed on the distant horizon. The green and yellow grass turned golden in the waning sun. A breeze ruffled her clothes, its fresh scent filling her nostrils.
Orena wandered for a bit till she found what she suspected to be the cantina. The most telling sign being most everyone heading that direction while the market closed up for the night. She was about to follow a couple through the open entrance when she stopped dead. Jutting out above the doorway was the front half of a Republic gunship. Its wings acted as a sort of canopy over the doorway, colorfully painted and looking more like a piece of art on display than a historic troop transport.
It had been ages since she'd laid eyes on one. They were retired a few years after the Clones Wars ended, a newer Imperial model taking its place. Possibly, one or two were spared the scrapper and were housed in the galactic museum on Coruscant, but she hadn't been back...
"Execute Order 66."
She shook the croaking, jagged voice from her head and passed under the shadow of the gunship.
The cantina wasn't as rowdy as she expected it to be. It seemed the locals were just here to wind down after a workday. Some played cards or dice, drank, ate, and talked. For a cantina, the usual heavy smell of alcohol wasn't present. Eyes turned her way as she headed for the bar. An aging Ithorian behind the counter tilted his head slightly as she took a seat.
"Don't get many outsiders here lately." he greeted.
She took the drink he offered, laying a credit chip down in return. "Not surprising with all the minocks hovering overhead."
He laughed. "You'll fit right in."
While he attended to another customer, she casually scanned the room. The broadcast playing masked most conversations, but she didn't need to listen with her ears.
Nothing caught her attention. Not even the slightest bit of sensitivity. A part of her hoped to find a familiar face, but in all her time as a bounty hunter and in the past year hunting Inquisitors, she hadn't found anyone.
Orena waited for the hammerhead proprietor to finish mixing a set of drinks before getting his attention. "So, what's with such a heavy Imp presence on Lothal? I know about the factory, but a blockade?" If she was going to get any information, she needed to tread lightly.
The translator fitted to the Ithorian's neck twitched. "Illegal mining, trouble with insurgencies." he said. "Just last week they sabotaged the Empire Day parade in Capitol City." She didn't miss the amused lilt in his voice.
"Must have missed that. I don't listen to the holonet on Empire Day." She drained her cup. "Just more kriffing propaganda."
"Oh, this wasn't on any broadcast," he started mixing her another drink, "no way Minister Tua would have allowed it, or Governor Pryce."
She accepted the second drink. "Do they know who did it?"
He huffed out a laugh, "They had the whole city under lock down, chased them down the speed way."
Her eyes narrowed over the rim of her cup. "And if this wasn't on the 'net, and all, how would you know?"
The Ithorian shrugged, "It's my job." And left it at that.
Placing another credit chip on the counter, Orena abandoned the rest of her drink. "Thanks for the conversation."
She was halfway to the exit when he asked, "Who're you after, bounty hunter?" His tone wasn't the usual ire she expected from people when it came to her profession, but it still bristled. She glanced over her shoulder, "Someone you should pray to every star you never meet." and left the cantina.
Night had settled by the time she had gotten back to the landing pad. Aboard the Maelstrom, Orena calculated her next move. Head to Capitol City? It would be on high alert if the rebels here had indeed grown bold enough to blow up an Empire Day celebration. Wander aimlessly and hope to the Force she found the Jedi? It was one of her better plans.
Lothal's twin moons cast a glow through the cockpit window, the light illuminating the hallway running down the ship. She sat in the pilot's chair, boots propped up on the console. The sky was clear and dotted with billions of stars. Wisps of clouds occasionally cast a shadow, but other than that, the deep blue of night shone. Wheels and a mechanical twittering filled the hallway. A mouse droid rolled into the cockpit, stopping by the base of her chair, chirping out a series of binary.
"Hey, Moo, I didn't forget." Orena reached down and patted their flat dome. Moo rolled backwards and forwards a few feet, wheels squeaking almost as much as the droid did. She rolled her eyes. "I know they're bad, I'll oil them later, I promise." The mouse droid grumbled another string of high pitched trills, and whizzed, squeaky wheels and all, from the room. The continued complaining could be heard going all the way down to the engine rooms.
Orena breathed deeply. She felt bad making the little droid wait, but she had other things to do. Mostly figure out what she was going to do next. Deciding it was a nice night for a little fly about before bed, she powered up the engines.
The moons turned everything their light touched silver. The plains, once a sea gold, were now a stunning white shimmering metal. In the distance, she could see the lights of Capitol City, the Imperial dome a black silhouette. Behind it, a line of glittering blue. If she made it to the city, she hoped to be able to enjoy the ocean, even just for a moment.
The Maelstrom soared over the grasses, low enough the blades rustled in its wake. Rebels wouldn't be stationed near any one settlement, rather find a secure place to lay low after a demonstration. If they were smart, that is.
Orena started an aerial scan. She watched the green line on the screen blip back and forth while fiddling with the latch on the compartment underneath the console. It clicked in and out of place as she pushed and pulled it lightly. Her eyes went in and out of focus, but couldn't be bothered to control it. Just the sound of the latch clicking and the whir of the scan going to her head. Sleep was pulling at her, but not enough to convince her to go lay down, even for a few hours. Maybe a cup of caff would chase the sleepiness away.
It was dark in the galley, she didn't bother turning the overhead lamps on. Just the lights under the cabinets illuminated the space. The caff maker hummed and sputtered, the delicious caffeinated smell warming her insides already. She was stirring in some sweetener when Moo came squeaking into the room.
"Yes, what is it now?" A series of burbles. "The scanners offline?" she asked the droid incredulously, tossing the spoon into the sink.
Orena followed Moo back out to the hallway. "I thought you fixed the capacitor." The droid clarified with some trills. "You couldn't reach the panel, huh? And when were you going to tell me this?" Another boop. "I know you're telling me now, I—oh, never mind!" she growled. They were back in the cockpit. Placing the cup of caff on the top of Moo's dome, she removed a panel by the empty co-pilot's chair. "You really need to tell me these things, Moo." The answering chirp was subdued. She sighed, turning from the wires. "I'm not mad, buddy, just tell me next time."
After tweaking a few crimped pins and replacing a connecter deep in the panel, the console made an ascending whumpwhumpwhump sound that confirmed the repair was successful. Moo rolled to the front of the cockpit, cup of caff still balanced on their dome.
Taking up her post again in the pilot's seat, Orena sipped at the now cooled beverage. It wasn't too long before the scanner beeped incessantly. A ship was nearby, power reading low. Directing the Maelstrom to climb higher, she circled. A large, ugly brown cargo ship was parked on the grass lands below. Growling, Orena banked away, and began the landing sequence.
A trail led from the ramp of the cargo ship out into the grasslands. It was hard to tell how many people had trekked through, the grass covering any clues, but with how much had been flattened, a good number. She waded through the waist high grass for almost half an hour before seeing anything. Lights twinkled through the dark ahead, and after a moment, the sound of blaster fire rang out.
Crouching down, she crept forward till a metal and concrete fence came into view. Beyond it, a simple domed structure, shipping crates, a flurry of blaster fire from either side, and a freighter.
She scowled at the bug-eyed helmets on one side. Unclipping the guard on her holster, Orena was ready to draw when the firing ceased.
"New terms," stars above she hated that voice, "I get Calrissian, and this one lives." By a stack of crates near the freighter, the orange piece of bantha shit had a Lasat at blaster point. A Twi'lek and three humans stood from where they were crouched on opposite sides, blasters lowering but not backing down. "I get Calrissian," Azmorigan continued, "and you all can go free." Of course Lando's involved with him.
Taking a deep breath, Orena slipped into her Garrah persona. She stood just as two of the humans, one definitely a child, were quickly agreeing to the terms.
"Azmorigan," she began loud and clear, stepping forward through an opening in the fence by the freighter, hood coming down, "I knew I recognized your grubby ship." Orena allowed a smirk to creep onto her face at the gangster's face paled. Multiple blasters primed and pointed at her. She didn't flinch, resting her weight to one side, the pinnacle of casual boredom. "No need for that, Azmorigan was just leaving."
"Garrah!" said criminal sputtered. "I-I-I didn't know you did business in the Lothal system."
She tilted her head to the side. "What I do is none of your concern."
He puffed out his chest, but she didn't miss the way his blaster began to tremble. "Then my business is none of yours, bounty hunter." His voice cracked slightly despite the brave front he was putting on. The others were exchanging looks, and Azmorigan's men began skirting around the crates to the other exit. The pink Mandalorian up on the structure was more interested in the exchange than keeping them in place.
Orena didn't move, eyes unblinking. She could kill him, but that would look bad, even if he had been about to blast their friend. "Do you remember what I said if we crossed paths again, Azmorigan?" she took a step forward spinning her blaster lazily from its holster, "I said I'd break your wrist." He didn't have time to flinch. Quick as an asp, she fired, the red bolt exploding his blaster into burning pieces. The blow-back had him stumbling away howling, clutching his arm.
The Lasat leaped away, spinning to hold his bow rifle at the ready. He alternated pointing it between Orena and Azmorigan. Orena kept her blaster on the gangster, even as he whimpered pitifully. "Get going, Azmorigan." Her voice was low, conveying every distaste or the male.
His men didn't need to be told twice, bolting past her in the direction of their ship. He, however, hesitated. Lando stepped in, "Azmorigan, I would suggest you listen to our fine acquaintance." For a tense second, Orena thought she was going to have to kill the gangster, but to her hidden surprise, he listened to the smuggler and waddled as fast as he could after his men. Once he was out of sight, she re-holstered her blaster.
"I'm sorry about that." she addressed the hodgepodge crew in a lighter tone, "Azmorigan and I have a less than pleasant history." The man didn't lower his blaster, and the Twi'lek and the Mandalorian still had their firearms at the ready. Lando came between them, hands up in placation. "Now now, we're all good people here." The black-haired boy snorted, and the man beside him rolled his eyes hard enough she was sure he could see out the back of his head. "Garrah, may I so humbly introduce to you the crew of the Ghost; Captain Hera," the Twi'lek narrowed her stunning green eyes, "Sabine," the Mandalorian removed her helmet to reveal short cropped blue and orange hair, "Kanan and Ezra," the man's blaster lowered and the boy waved awkwardly, "and Zeb." Calrissian finished. The Lasat growled, also lowering his weapon.
"Lando, it hasn't been long enough." Orena greeted him, an amused glint in her eyes. He clutched his chest in mock hurt, "My dear, you wound me. Was our last meeting so terrible?"
She raised a brow. "Your nose isn't as crooked as I hoped it would be. I'll have to punch harder next time." The last part came out as a whimsical breath.
The twi'lek, Hera, relaxed her weapon. "He get a little too flirty with you too?"
Orena took that as an invitation to step closer to the group. "He tried: got handsy after a glass or two." She crossed her arms, giving the smuggler a pointed look. Lando averted his eyes. "I've learned my lesson, no more punching please."
She ignored him, walking past to surveyed the small…campsite? "What are you doing here, Lando?" A snuffling pulled her attention to behind a shipping container, and a long tan face and tube snout appeared. "A puffer-pig?" she turned to the smuggler, "are you a miner now?"
"Lots of money to be made, Garrah." he said smoothly. She crouched down and patted her leg to get the pigs attention. "Smuggling and Gambling just doesn't cut it now a days." He lamented. The pig trotted over after hesitating for a moment. She trembled, but Orena soothed the animal with scratches behind her small ears. "You wouldn't happen to be responsible for the blockade, would you?" she said, raising an eyebrow, "And I'm talking to all of you."
Ghost crew shifted uncomfortably, but Lando jumped right in, "Private land owning for profit is prohibited by the Empire on Lothal. Tried getting some equipment here a week ago and got caught. I hired Captain Hera to help me smuggle the pig." Said pig was trying to climb onto Orena's lap. "And where does Azmorigan come into this?"
"Got the pig from him, of course." He said matter-of-factly.
She rolled her eyes, standing and dusting off her coat. "You're an idiot for getting mixed up with him again. He's a no good slemo."
Lando chuckled. "Ah, but an idiots array is what brought us all together!" The Lasat, Zeb, growled.
"Speaking of, Captain Hera," his attention diverted to the Twi'lek, "I will gladly give you back your droid, wherever he got off to."
Orena didn't care to listen in on their business dealings. The puffer-pig was demanding more attention from her, and she tried her best while walking back over to the ship. Zeb, she noticed, looked quite sour. "You just about blasted a man's hand off and the pig loves you; I try and calm it down an' it nearly gets us blown up by the blockade!" he waved his arms about, and the pig squealed, hiding behind her legs.
"Well, for one, you're quite loud, my dear Lasat." Orena said simply, "Two, it's about energy. She felt you were upset, and she became upset." She grinned broadly when his ears pinned back in annoyance.
"You sound like Kanan," he huffed.
She glanced over at the brown haired man. "Well, Kanan sounds like a smart guy."
"He has his moments." The Mandalorian, Sabine, had joined them. The girl looked Orena up and down. "DL-44, I see. An older model?" she asked, gesturing to the bounty hunter's blaster.
Orena unholstered it, passing it to her. "Pre-Clone War vintage." Sabine inspected it with an experts eye. "You modified the cooling unit, not a bad idea."
The bounty hunter huffed a laugh, "Yeah, she over heated too quickly otherwise. Capacitor can charge bolts twice as fast as the newer models." Orena swore she saw a twitch of a grin on the girl's bronze face when she handed the pistol back.
"Alright, Specters, we need to load up and move out." Kanan ordered. She assumed the "specters" referred to the crew.
"What are we loading?" Zeb asked.
Captain Hera marched passed, heading for the Ghost. "Yourselves. Lando is going to have to owe us one; doesn't have our credits."
Oh, Lando had credits.
She needed to weasel her way in somehow. The Ghost crew were definitely the rebels she was looking for. If they could lead her to the Jedi…
"Might I bother you for a lift back to my ship?"