Chapter 24: Pax

Murkhana

MURKHANA was the most beautiful world Pax had ever been to. The area around Murkhana City was far from serene, with bustling tourism all along the beachfront, speeder traffic, and, in low orbit, a defensive Corporate Alliance fleet; in spite of how busy it was, Pax was still convinced Murkhana was the most beautiful place in the Galaxy.

When Pax first arrived five days earlier, Murkhana City Spaceport was so crowded with defecting Judicials that he and Driffu were redirected to the old spaceport. They landed, not at the Murkhana City Spaceport built on the ocean with ten-kilometre long bridges connecting it to the mainland, but in the old spaceport in the jungle.

Driffu bought a ship and left the planet the day she landed. Pax, on the other hand, spent 600,000 Separatist credits on a two-story house with a swimming pool in West Murkhana City. It was on a jungly hill overlooking the black sand beaches and pristine blue ocean. He had neighbours, but they were separated from him by dense jungle. From his balcony, he could only see the roofs of the houses lower down on the hill.

After just one day on Murkhana, Pax had already decided there was nowhere else in the Galaxy he wanted to live. This was his retirement. This was—

"—Zuro, the job offered to you is now even more important to us given what just happened on Geonosis. Pax, we just declared war on the Republic. If you think the Republic won't bomb the hell out of this world too then—"

"—Zuro, do you want this HoloTerminal on the back wall? We'll need to contract an electrician in that case."

"—All right all right," Pax sighed. "And no, put the HoloTerminal where the outlet currently is!"

He and a Corporate Alliance Koorivar named Sterpen Vaj, were having their third heated discussion this week. They were both seated on the only couch in the living room. The furniture deliverers, a Koorivar, a Chagrian, and a giant Dowutin were awkwardly carrying boxes and furniture into Pax's house in their middle of their conversation.

Intentionally having invited Sterpen over to discuss a job offer during the chaos of moving in, Pax had wanted nothing more than for the Koorivar to just leave—at first. Now however, the Koorivar had gained Pax's reluctant attention.

"Zuro, we could really use your assistance," Sterpen asked more urgently, ignoring the ruckus of the movers. "You know more than a thing or two about the Republic's HoloNet infrastructure. With your assistance, we can figure out what worlds they are going to attack next."

"KRIFFING REPUBLIC!" Pax yelled exasperatedly. He had made a significant effort to ignore the news, swim on the beach, drink some sweet icy drinks. Even ignoring it, Pax would occasionally see the devastation of Geonosis on a public terminal someone else was using.

"I agree," Sterpen Vaj said coolly. "Could we please have this conversation somewhere else?"

"I am not sure. Maybe we should wait until the movers finish," Pax sighed. I can't go yet. What if they steal my stuff?

"No one is going to steal your things Pax. This is Murkhana, not Coruscant," Sterpen said sternly."

"All right," Pax said reluctantly. "Hey, I am going to be going. I'll be back in….?"

"An hour," Sterpen suggested.

"An hour, can you guys lock the door if you finish before then?"

"Sure thing," the burly Chagrian said with a smile.

Pax walked towards the front door, slipping around a desk being carried by the Dowutin.

Sterpen had a bit more trouble slipping around the Dowutin and the desk, as he was plumper than Pax. He stood of to the side, waiting impatiently for the Dowutin and the desk to move by.

"My speeder I think," Pax said, grabbing his wide-brimmed Duros hat from the coatrack as he stepped through the door.

"Really Zuro, it is no problem, I can fly."

"I insist," Pax said forcefully, putting his hat on as he stepped through the door. "I haven't flown in two days."

"All right," Sterpen sighed. "It is just well… I hate to say this…"

"WHAT?!" Pax asked. "You badger me into going with you to the Corporate Alliance Headquarters, and now—"

"—Your speeder. Zuro Pax, you fly a Flash speeder. That is a Naboo model," Sterpen noted.

"And?" Pax said impatiently. "The Royal Security forces only use the landspeeder model, this is an air speeder.

"Oh, I know! It is a fine speeder, but I worry if we have any Nemoidians visiting today, they might be less than amused."

"Ugh! Don't remind me that the Trade Federation is a part of this Separatist movement!" Pax yelled. "I told you before, I find them disgusting. If they don't like my speeder, they can kriff off. I don't like them."

"I don't like them either," Sterpen admitted. "However, they are a vital ally and—"

"—Tell you what Sterpen," Pax sighed. "If I paint my speeder my favourite colour, that is yellow by the way, it won't look like one of the speeders the Royal Security Forces fly, will it?"

"Uh no, I suppose not." Sterpen touched the horn on his head awkwardly, cautiously knocking off a jungle bee that had landed on it.

"You should put a hat on that thing," Pax joked.

Sterpen let off a chuckle. "That was a smart hmm… tactic on your part."

"Thanks," Pax smiled.

"So, I fly today, and you paint your speeder yellow and then you can fly it to the Corporate Alliance and park in our parking lot all you want yes?" Sterpen asked awkwardly.

"Agreed, I'll schedule it to be done tomorrow."

"Good, okay," Sterpen approached his speeder, a black Koro-4 Exodrive speeder. It had the same shape as the Koro-2, but with a passenger compartment two times larger with five seats and four doors.

"I have never been in one of these," Pax remarked as he sat down in the front passenger seat. "It is pretty roomy."

"Indeed," Sterpen said as the speeder lifted off from Pax's driveway. "These babies also have a two-week air supply and can function in the vacuum of space. If, for some reason, I were insane enough to fly this thing to our moon, I could. It would take eleven days at a maximum speed of 800 kilometres per hour. I would have no shower, and only as much food as I could pack in the back seat, but it is possible."

Pax laughed in earnest at that. "You know, some spacers," he gasped catching his breath after laughing so hard. "Some spacers in the Tessa Belt would really do things like that."

"Really?" Sterpen asked curiously. The speeder was now flying over the lush green jungle and houses below.

"Yep really," Pax said. "Some Duros would even build extra oxygen space into speeders like that and use them to get from one side of the belt to another. It could be a journey of a few weeks or even a month. No room for a shower."

"And no room for error either," Sterpen noted in awe.

The speeder passed over the bay separating West Murkhana City from Murkhana City. A long ten-kilometre long bridge connected West Murkhana city to Murkhana Spaceport in the middle of the Bay, and three more bridges connected Murkhana Spaceport to Murkhana City. Far below, smaller hover speeders and pedestrians went along the bridges.

"Ahh we should have taken the jungle route around the bay," Sterpen sighed as they encountered some speeder traffic. His speeder followed in line, closely behind another speeder.

"This is nothing compared to Coruscant Traffic Sterpen. We are still moving," Pax said sternly.

"I imagine not," Sterpen admitted. "In the worst of Coruscant traffic though, this baby could fly into low orbit no problem and skip it. We really don't have that far to go, though."

The Corporate Alliance Tower was already visible. The tallest building in Murkhana City, it had recently been renamed Argente Tower.

o.o.o.o.o

"It is an honour to meet you sir," Pax croaked nervously and extended his hand.

The sole being standing in the parking lot atop Argente Tower was none other than Passel Argente himself dressed today in ornate golden robes. This time, he did not wear a pointy hat on his horn.

The tall Koorivar remarked the Duros for a moment, then slowly extended a hand. "It is good to finally meet you too," he said with barely concealed contempt. "Did you normally invade Senators' privacies while you were working for the Judicial Corps, or was it just me? And how the hell did Wookiee urine end up in my ship?"

Pax sighed. "I am sorry about that sir. The Republic ordered us to smash your ship and make it look like piracy. We had almost no oversight at all. Some of the beings under my command got… Got a bit hooliganistic."

"Hooliganistic? Is that even a word?"

"I don't know sir, I just want to convey my apologies," Pax said.

"Sterpen here says you may be interested in helping us," Passel Argente said coolly.

"I may be, but I am not going to beg. To be honest sir, while I feel bad about what we did, I don't like the idea of working for an employer who still partakes in the Galactic Slave Trade," Pax said bluntly.

Sterpen looked nervous.

Passel Argente led Sterpen and Pax into the parking lot turbolift. The only button on the rooftop was 'Down.'

"The Corporate Alliance itself discourages slavery. It is not very profitable, except for sexual slavery." Argente said this matter of factly, without the slightest hint of guilt or emotional impact. "In a Galaxy of droid labour there are rare instances where slaves are actually the more profitable alternative."

Pax cringed. "I understand that, but you don't seem morally bothered—"

"—Oh, I am morally bothered by slavery my Duros friend, I assure you. We at the Corporate Alliance, unlike the Trade Federation or Commerce Guild, have recently ratified the Century Plan."

The turbolift stopped after descending to floor 304, only twenty floors down from the parking lot. The door opened into a large circular room under construction. Two large, slightly rounded, 10 meter long, 5 meter tall screens sat along the furthest walls of the room. They were both turned off.

Argente led Pax and Sterpen to the right.

"The Century Plan?" Pax asked.

"Oh yes, the Century Plan it is—"

"—Wait!" Pax exclaimed as he saw two crates he recognised. They were empty. Broken HoloNet parts were being repaired on the floor. "Sorry sir, are those the crates we stole on Felucia?"

"Indeed," Passel Argente said coolly. "Do you want to hear what the Century Plan is?"

"Yes sir, sorry for the interruption."

"The Century Plan, which all Corporate Alliance companies have agreed to, is a slow phasing out of slavery within one hundred years. By the next century, not a single Corporate Alliance member will have any slaves."

Pax frowned. I guess it's better than nothing.

"Do you still find the Century Plan distasteful, Duros?"

"Well sir, no, I don't find abolishing slavery over a century to be distasteful," Pax said evenly. "I just think a century is too slow."

"In the business world, my Judicial friend, rapid change is far too disruptive. Entire economies would topple if we abandoned slavery in too short of a time."

Pax frowned.

"Sterpen says that you enjoy engaging in conflict de-escalation. Is this true?"

"Enjoy it sir? Well, I suppose," Pax said. "De-escalation? There is more de-escalation we can do even though we are already at war?"

They arrived at Argente's office at the end of the hallway. "Take a seat, both of you," Argente said after opening the door.

Sterpen and Pax sat in front of Argente's wooden desk. The room had maroon carpet and elaborate black and gold walls. A single window overlooked the ocean and the cityscape below. While West Murkhana was over the horizon, the spaceport could be seen on the ocean through the window at the very edge of the horizon.

Argente walked behind the desk and sat down. "Yes Zuro Pax, de-escalation," he answered, continuing to walk. "At the moment, we are setting up feeds in this office—still under construction I admit. These will get the truth out to the Galaxy for now. At the moment, Republic citizens are only hearing the narrative presented to them from the Jedi and the Senate. We want them to know about the atrocities! Already over two million Geonosians are dead. You dislike slavery? Geonosians are being rounded up by the Republic and locked into cages. Their technology is currently being stolen. You would not hear about that on Coruscant, would you?"

"I suppose not sir, what is it you need me to do? How will this protect Murkhana?"

"Pax, you have a unique set of skills for me. You, and one other Judicial here on Murkhana, Loth Danlos, both are Judicials and have experience with computers and HoloNetworks. You know the HoloNet and you know the Republic," Argente paused for a moment dramatically. "You Zuro Pax, also have leadership experience. Both of you know the Republic from the inside and you know how to lead an organisation in hybrid warfare. We are going to launch Shadowfeeds."

An organisation?! Six people is hardly—fine I'll let him portray it that way. "Thank you, sir, but what is it specifically you want me to do? Will Danlos also be working with me? Are Shadowfeeds like Shadowsync datapads?"

"Oh yes, both of you will be working very closely along with slicers, technicians, HoloNet experts… and… Shadowsync?"

Sterpen chuckled a little bit and turned to Pax, "no Pax. Shadowfeeds have nothing to do with Shadowsync datapads. They are a new experimental procedure where we force our way onto the HoloNet. We believe you already have the know-how to do this, but that you just haven't well… done it."

"All right," Pax said with embarrassment. He felt like he should know this.

Passel Argente began narrating again, "most importantly, Pax, you and the engineers, technicians, smart beings, you will be working with the media."

"The media?!" Pax asked alarmed.

"Yes Pax, the media," Argente said. "What we are going to do is force our media into the HoloNet. When Republic citizens see what their government is doing, many will call for peace, more of them will join us, it is the best conflict de-escalation we can hope for."

"Hmmmm," Pax said. "You know what, okay. Now I know what you are doing, you still haven't said exactly what you want to hire me to do?"

"Zuro Pax," Argente said sliding Pax a datapad with a signature box. "I want you to Direct this effort. I am putting you in charge of it."

"In charge of it, sir?" Pax gasped. I just found out about it a few seconds ago!

"Yes Pax, as a former Republic team leader, a slicer, someone who has seen and even partaken in some of the Republic's ugly deeds, and participated in the corruption, you are perfect for this job. Do you accept our offer? There is no penalty for you if you refuse and you can still remain on Murkhana. Additionally, I could offer you a position on the Shadowfeeds that won't be—"

"—Sure. I accept," Pax sighed. "I just hope this actually helps people in the Galaxy and saves lives, you know."

"Oh, I assure you that it will," Argente said confidently. "Millions of lives will be saved. Perhaps billions."