STAR WARS - THE DARKEST SHADOW
written by Stephen R. Sobotka / 2000-2012

DISCLAIMER : This story is an original prose based on situations, settings, places and themes from the Universe of "Star Wars", by LucasArts Entertainment Ltd. All characters that appear within - with the exception of all original characters created by the author - are the property of said licenses, and are used here without knowledge or permission of same.

This story is the rightful property of the author; all original characters and the plot depicted within are protected by copyright law. This story was produced to entertain fans of the original game, and is in no way, shape or form intended to be published for monetary gain. Please do not sue.

AUTHOR'S NOTE : I wrote this as a gift for a dear friend of mine, who told me once if she was ever to be a character in a Star Wars story, she'd be a smuggler.

This one's for you, Shinga. Enjoy! - SRS

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"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

# # #

THE DARKEST SHADOW

It is a time of Galactic change...

Due to the actions of the freedom-fighters that forged the unexpected Treaty between the remnants of the Imperial Empire and the struggling members of New Republic, a major shift has occurred among the worlds which had long been under the rule of former Imperial Masters.

As the forces of New Republic move to firm up the holdings of the far-flung star systems of the Outer-Rim, several of the smaller systems are trying to maintain their once-Imperial backed power by establishing Martial Law. Because of this, several liberties are being taken against the Citizens of the New Republic; even those that are considered to be outlaw.

One such system is ERIADU. Here, where even association with criminals is considered a high crime, events are about to come in motion that will form an unlikely alliance...

# # #

Chapter One

Using one webbed, pink, thick-skinned hand to slap a layer of reddish-dust from the pock-marked surface of his chest plate, the fish-faced Dock Master glowered at the mass of humans, humanoids and other alien sundry - all passengers off of the recently-arrived, rust-covered AA-9 transport freighter that was resting on the platform before him.

At the head of the pack, a human dressed in somber robes of maroon and umber fabric paused to address the Dock Master; holding a leather packet tightly to his chest like a life preserver. "Where do we-?"

The Dock Master coughed against the dusty air, drowning the man out, before he snarled. "Just keep yerself moving, ya gonk-faced skinnie!" Motioning with that same hand, he rumbled something in Huttese before saying clearly in Common, "Move along! Processing for entry to Capital City!"

Standing next to a wide, arching entryway across from the gangway, another Dock Master - this one a thick-necked brute of a Malastarian - motioned with one large, scarred hand. "Processing for entry, straight ahead! Keep the line movin'!"

The man gave him a meek look, before he followed the rest of the mass of passengers milling through the archway. Under the roof of the Number-6 Port Authority Processing Center, the air was thick with the stench of old fuel, overheated lubricant and smog, making many of the passengers draw a variety of cloaks and hoods to protect their faces. The crowd did their best to comply with further directions; forming six, tightly-packed lines before three admission kiosks, which were manned by a pair of utilitarian droids and their processing terminals.

One of the droids spoke in a harsh, rasping tone, pitching their voice over the mutterings of the incoming beings: "Have all documentation and identity cards avalible. Approach the nearest P.A. Agent when you are called to do so!"

The line of passengers shifted forwards, the hum of voices filtering over the sounds of the port city that leaked in from all around as they filed through the entryway. Many were refuse from any number of far-flung systems; trying to get away from the battles that had enveloped the core systems... a few were actually there to conduct business on Eriadu, eager to get through the process of declaring before the local officers their intents - at least, their known intents - and moving ahead to matters at hand.

As the last of the passengers moved down the ramp, a short, feminine figure, clad in a dark, weather-beaten cloak tried to keep from being squashed between the hulking bodies of two Gamoreans as they bullied their way down to the end of the ramp. This woman reached the edge of the moving mass of passengers that were stalled at the entrance, before taking a moment to slip around a stack of crates and melt into the shadows cast behind them. There, she paused briefly, watching as a few officers of the local Constabulary were filing in between the rows of passengers.

The Dock Master's voice barked over the crowd. "Keep moving! Have your papers ready for verification!"

With a rustle of cloth, Mirik Besel slipped deeper into the shadows, heading towards a point underneath a low, metal shutter on the far side of the processing house with practiced stealth. Crouching, making small clouds of red dust billow under the soles of her worn-leather boots, Mirik looked cautiously over her shoulder towards the sounds of the disembarkation processors. When no one raised an alarm or moved towards her, she slipped a long, cylindrical object from a pocket on the leather vest she wore beneath her cloak. Turning back to examine the shutter, she quickly found a small control panel at its lowermost corner, blinking dimly in the shadows.

Prying it open, she started fiddling with the circuits inside, when-!

"Hey, you!"

Ducking slightly at the harshness of the processor's voice, Mirik whipped her head around. Teal-hued eyes peered out from her hood; spying the Constable Officer take hold of some wretch in the middle of the crowd.

"Bring that case over! We need to search it for contraband!"

Letting out her breath in a slow exhale, the slim human woman paused to brush a slight drop of sweat from her nose before continuing to briskly tinker with the panel. Coughing softly against the dry air flowing in through the gaps in the metal slats of the shutter, Mirik leaned back sharply when the shutter released with a muted clang to expose a small gap. Thrusting out one hand to prop the shutter open, she stopped to glance about once more, before slowly pushing it up and inwards. When the gap appeared to be large enough, Mirik slipped through and let the shutter close behind her with only a soft thud to announce her departure.

Outside, she paused to get her bearings: finding herself in a low alleyway next to the processing house. Glancing upwards, she could see a wide vista of sand and sun-scorched rooftops, tall buildings of rock and lone, metal spires that were either transmitters or were there for other technical uses.

Taking a moment to lower the hood of her cloak, the young woman reached up to brush the thin film of sweat and some stray locks of hair from her forehead. Her teal eyes blinked in the glare from Eriadu's single sun, which reflected off the red in her hair. She replaced the lock-tool in her vest pocket and sighed softly.

"Well, just take a good look now, Mirik... you're not staying long enough to ask for a guided tour!" she muttered, letting her hand drop down, coming to rest on the butt of a blaster pistol at her hip. "Considering how they feel about my type, I'd rather not, actually." She knew the dire straights she was in, and not because she'd just slipped past the Port Authority without letting herself be recorded with the rest of the newly-arrived travelers.

Mirik was a smuggler. A pirate, if one had to nitpick titles. Still, the local government on Eriadu didn't split hairs when it came right down to it. Smuggler, blockade runner, pirate... all were considered outlaws, and right now, the local Governor had placed a high bounty on any such being foolish enough to be found on Eriadian soil or traveling through her space ways.

Rising slowly while brushing dust off of the knees of her spacer's pants, Mirik glanced around to see if the processing house had any external security systems focused in her general locus. When she saw none in evidence, she moved slowly away from the side of the building. Walking towards the mouth of the alleyway, Mirik got within a few steps of the entrance and stopped in the lee of a tall, discarded crate. In the street beyond, several small clusters of bodies were walking by; all recently 'arrived' passengers from the very same ship she'd landed with, just now released from processing.

Sighing in hindsight, she shook her head. "I'd have an easier time of this, if I would've bargained with the captain of the clap-trap transport!" Propriety - and her own sense of self-preservation - demanded that she decline the rather disgusting levels the son-of-a-gundark's 'price' was capable of reaching. Shaking her head, Mirik snarled under her breath. "Enough blathering about the might-have-beens! I've got to get out of this backwater hole!" Raising her hood once more, she took a breath and slipped out as a small cluster trundled past, melting into the crowd as she matched their quickening pace.

Unaware, that on the rooftop above her, a small, spheroid-shaped sentry droid had been observing her silent exodus from the alleyway the entire time...

# # #

The tin-tan sound of the book shop's door chime sang out through the musty air; fading away amid the heavy hiss of the bookshop's door opening. Slipping inside, a tall figure wrapped in long, brown robes moved away from the door to stand inside a clear, nearly-square space just beyond the entrance. The stranger paused, his eyes taking in the sheer volume of books and records stuffed into this tiny space. All around the small shop's interior, every other possible centimeter of space was occupied by stacks of books, some large shelves - equally loaded - that stretched from floor to ceiling, as well as boxes and other containers overflowing with similar relics.

Clearing his throat, he called out in a mellow baritone; "Pardon me... is there anyone about?"

At once, the whirring sound of rapid wing beats filled the air, as the shop's owner rose up from behind a stack of old print books; a wrinkled, goggle-eyed Toydarian, whose mouth quickly spread into a smile as she spied the stranger. "E tuda noiya! A-welcome to Madame Zuufy's Shoppe!" she stated, her gravelly-yet-feminine voice carrying across the room to the robed man.

"I am honored to be here, Madame. My name is Bossa Ma'tam." The stranger made a short, polite bow towards the Toydarian, before turning his hooded face once again towards the cluttered shelves lining the shop. "I see you have many, old manuscripts collected here," he said.

Blinking her large, yellow eyes in what could have been a flirtatious gesture, Zuufy grinned as she shifted around the stack, the quick beat of her wings propelling her pudgy body towards the visitor. "Ahhh, thee noticed, eh? A'ma large collector of a-these olde books an' scriptures," Zuufy said, grinning as she came to a rolling hover in front of the stranger. "A'ma the only one with such a shoppe in theesa entire system!" She fixed him with an open, appraising look she usually reserved for sizing up merchandise. "'Praps Thee has come to buy some of-a my books, Aye think?"

"As a matter of fact," the stranger said, his low baritone voice seeming to resonate around the confines of his hood, "I'm seeking any artifacts or scriptures from the Old Republic... particularly, any pertaining to the Order of the Jedi Knights."

Zuufy nodded several times, making her elephantine snout waggle over her two jutting tusks. "Ah, Jedi! Yes... come, Aye show-a Thee what We have, eh?" Turning with a languid motion, she motioned for the visitor to follow her deeper into the shop.

Stepping away from the doorway, the robed man padded silently after the shopkeeper; slipping between the tables - piled high with books and boxes - and around the corners of free-standing shelves. His eyes glittered as he took in the new expanses of old, dusty books and leather-encased scrolls on one shelf. Such a find as this, would make mother weep to know that such knowledge could be found... even in a old post of the Emperor's former domain!

"Not a-many peoples come looking for such a-things," Zuufy said airily, dropping under a low ladder as she scanned the rows of books and sundry on the dusty metal shelves beside them. "Een fact, Aye don't always a-reckon much of what Aye keep would belong to one of those a-Jedi." With a chuckle, Zuufy added, "Aye think-ee much of what was once a-belongin' to the Jedi might a-have long since gone to ages, Aye think... Sirah-?"

With an negligible shrug, the man replied, "Bossa, Madame." Shaking his shrouded head, he added "Not all things the Jedi once had existed strictly on books or paper..."

"Oh? What do you seek then, Sirah Bossa?"

Looking at the Toydarian, Bossa held up his hands, making his fingers form a square shape. "What I seek would be very rare... perhaps you might have seen such a thing once? Something, well... small? Like a cube, with intricate markings on the sides?" he asked.

Turning slightly, Zuufy's eyes lit up with understanding. "Ahhh... well, a-yes! Aye might have a-somethin' like that!" Turning back to the shelves, she narrowed her large eyes as she slowly drifted down the row... until she suddenly darted upward towards a higher shelf and started rummaging deep inside a long box perched there. As the robed visitor watched, every other syllable out of her mouth was gutteral Huttese, punctuated by the odd object falling or fluttering down from above.

Eventually, Zuufy floated back down to eye-level, clutching something wrapped in an winding strip of old cloth. "Ahhh... Aye knew it-a would be here!" she said with high satisfaction. Presenting it to the stranger, she added, "Very olde artifact... though, Ay'm not certain of it's a-function."

Taking the object, Bossa unwrapped it with care - almost reverently in his actions - and, with a slow intake of breath, he found himself gazing at a crystalline cube; much as he described it, with its intricate etchings and slight greenish tint showing through the crystal. Amazing! he told himself. In his hand, he held one of the true treasures of the Old Order: a holocron! The sum of a Jedi's total lifetime of knowledge and wisdom were stored in these ancient crystal devices. Many were lost over the centuries of past time, but... to find one of these intact-!

"Soooo, that is what Thee is looking for, then?"

Looking for one last moment at the holocron, Bossa tore his eyes away to stare at Zuufy - who had been watching him with keen interest herself. Collecting his thoughts, he asked, "How much may I offer for it, Madame?"

With a gleeful rubbing of her hands, Zuufy eyed him shrewdly before replying, "Let a-me see... hmmmm," she muttered thoughtfully. "Two-hundred thousand, Ay'da say, hmm?"

The stranger nodded after a moment. "I have Imperial Credits, or local coin if you'd prefer?" he offered.

Zuufy rubbed her chin, thinking the offered payment over. "Well, Aye-!" Suddenly, the door chime rang several times in a rude fashion, cutting the Toydarian off. With a scowl, she turned and moved around the side of the shelves. "Chuda-nai! What-a gives here! Hahn! W-what are Thee doin' in-a my shop?"

There was a rustle and clatter, before a gruff voice replied, "City Militia! We're seeking a stranger that entered your shop!"

With a quick movement, Bossa made the cube vanish into the folds of his robes, before he turned and stepped slowly out into view. There, bracketing the Toydarian shopkeeper, stood six men in dark, weather-beaten uniforms of the local law-keeping force; all armed with blasters and stun sticks. One trooper bearing an officer's flash on his sleeve turned quickly, spying Bossa. "You there! Identify yourself, now!" Behind him, his men tensed, hefting their weapons to a ready position.

With a shrug, Bossa removed his hood to reveal a wide, pale face framed with short red-blonde hair, a close-cropped beard and mustache and two piercing blue eyes. "I am Bossa Ma'Tam, Sir. Is there something wrong?"

"Identicard, if you please." The officer took Bossa's identification card, all the while sizing him up as he quickly looked him over, though it was clear from his stance that Bossa was not whom he was expecting to find. "What is your purpose here, Mister Ma'tam?"

"I am a collector. I traveled here from many places inside the Mid- and Outer Rim in search of old artifacts." He arched one eye in expectation, gazing calmly at each trooper in the semi-circle in turn. "Am I under arrest?"

The officer frowned, then shook his head as he returned his identicard. "No, Sir. Sorry to have interrupted your business here," he said, giving Zuufy a black look, as if she was at fault somehow. "We're on the lookout for a criminal."

"A criminal?" Bossa replied.

"Criminal!" the Toydarian squeaked.

"A smuggler," the officer stated, nodding to them both. "She was identified sneaking through customs, and the entire city has been notified to watch for her. When she's found, we're to apprehend her at once."

Bossa nodded. "I see... then, I should not impeed your search."

The officer nodded. "No, you shouldn't..." With that, he turned to his men and motioned towards the door. "Let's go. We have another lead in Seeshamar to check out!" With that, he lead the squad out through the door and left Bossa and Zuufy alone once more.

"How do Thee like a-that?" Zuufy growled towards the retreating backs of the Militia, shaking her head sourly. "Bargin' in a-hear, distruptin' my a-business!" She muttered something in Huttese, floating towards the shop doorway to reset the chime and close the door properly. "Some a-day, these mucky-mucks are a-gonna really make t'ings go down-a-hill 'round this place!"

Bossa watched her rail for a moment more, then he reached into his robes and removed a large cloth pouch. "Madame, I thank you for your time," he said, waiting until Zuufy turned around before he tossed the pouch into her hands. "This should be more than enough for the item. May the Force be with you." With a small bow, he strode past her, out into the street outside of the shop.

Surprised, Zuufy watched him go, before she looked down at the pouch in wonder. Inside was a substantial sum of local credit chips, well more than double the original sum he'd offered.

"Hmmm... strange a-things 'round here lately. Ahhh, chubaa!" She muttered, taking the pouch with her as she returned to her sorting.

# # #

The sign over the door read D'HOOB & SON, in Common, Huttese and several other language glyphs.

The door was only entryway to a run-down shop in the middle of Seeshamar; a rag-tag part of the Capital City that was just a smaller part of the outlaying sprawl surrounding the larger 'hub of the star port.

Across the street, Mirik stood in the shadow of an alleyway, gazing at the sigh with a relieved expression on her face. The trek across the city had been a harrowing one; ducking past lone members of the city constabulary; hiding in shadows as clusters of militia in their dark uniforms ambled past... and a couple of tense moments when city security-cam droids had floated by on the thick, smoggy air overhead.

Now, however, she felt she could relax. She'd found the shop... and she still hoped it was still owned by the founding owner, or his son. "It would just be my luck," she muttered to herself as she slipped out of the alley and started walking across the street. "Just hope Ol' Creb is still alive." Stepping to the door, Mirik rapped on it sharply, pausing only for a second before she gripped the entry plate and pushed the door open to step inside.

The jangle of metallic strips sang a discordant chime, heralding her entry into the shop. Letting the door shut behind her, Mirik glanced about and frowned. On shelves and tables were piles of various discombobulated junk and parts; some of which might still be useful. If one were looking for items nearly older than she was by twenty years! The floor lay under a fine layer of grit and sand, and the smell of a thousand types of metals and fluids hung heavy in the air.

At length, Mirik scanned the counter and the back of the shop and called out,"Creb? Creb!"

From somewhere in the back of the shop, behind a closed door, a crusty voice shouted back. "Hold your ailerons! Be right out!"

With a chuckle, Mirik stepped towards a rag-tag counter, littered with more spare parts and nick-knacks. She paused to give a couple of the items on the counter a perfunctory glance, just before the sound of a shuffling side-step against the stone floor made her glance up.

"Mirik? Mirik Besel? Nar... it can't be!" Creb D'Hoob said.

With a half-grin, Mirik exclaimed warmly, "It's about time you dragged your backside out here, Creb... son-of-a-gundark! You look worse than the last time I saw you."

Hobbling towards her, the short, stumpy, ocher skinned humanoid gave Mirik a short, snorting laugh. "Blame that crash off of Salar-Ten... I never did fully recover from that." Brushing a long, braided forelock back from in front of his face, Creb slid his homespun-clad body to a halt in front of the young woman and gripped her outstretched hand in greeting. "Mirik Besel! What brings you to this backwater cess-hole? I thought you were still running a shipping circuit from Malastare?"

With a frown, Mirik replied, "I was. Until the Imperial Remnants shut the trade down with a blockade some months back." Sighing, she added, "I had to resort to... alternates to keep going."

Creb frowned deeply. "Smuggling runs into Imperial-held space?" He fixed her with a hard look. "But, you had to come here, of all the worlds in the Rim!"

"I had to! It was the only way to stay alive," she shot back. "My ship was jumped by two Imperial corvettes!" She sighed heavily. "I lost my shipment and my ship... some civilian transport found my escape pod, and rescued me."

"No one else on board made it with you?" Creb asked pointedly.

Wincing, Mirik admitted, "I... was using a droid crew."

"Droids? Now you are going 'round the far side of an asteroid, girl!"

"I had to, Creb! I had to split the crew to take two other ships, and the only way to keep the Star of Corella flying was to use droids!" Mirik gave a snort as she added darkly, "Which will be the last time I depend on a bunch of tin-cans to fly my ship!"

Shaking his head, Creb looked at Mirik with sympathy. "So, the others are still running the operation, hm?"

"Back to base with payment in hand by now, hopefully." Mirik crossed her arms and sighed once more. "In the end, I know Deke and the rest will keep the operations running, until I can get back to them."

"Ah."

"That's why I came here," Mirik stated, looking at Creb with hope-filled eyes. "I need your help to get me off this Imperial mudball!"

# # #

In the street outside, a cluster of men in the maroon-on-black uniforms of the Militia marched forwards. Shoving the few pedestrians out of their way, they trooped along the dusty street, giving no one a second glance as they passed.

The officer in charge of them - Lieutenant Gullar; a rat-faced man with long teeth and three-days of beard growth on his cheeks - flipped open a holo-com as he marched, his dust-caked boots clicking as they stepped onto the sidewalk. At once, a face belonging to the headman in charge of the Processing Center filled the green-on-white glow of the emitter.

"You are certain it was-?"

"One doesn't get through my center without notice, Sirrah," the headman gurgled. "The droid tracked her as far as this block of Seeshamar, before he lost her! Find her, and there's a cut of a one-thousand daktari reward in it for you... and your men!"

Nodding, Gullar closed the holo-com with a curt click. With a glance to his men, he said, "Weapons out, stun only. There's a possibility she might be seeking aid from someone here. A few former smugglers ply a trade here in this district. We'll search them out first! Move!" He quickened his step, leading them down towards a lone shop ahead.

# # #

Creb grunted, and shook his head. "No, I can't!"

Mirik stared at him for a brief moment, before anger bubbled up from her belly and spilled out through her words: "Are you telling me you won't even help the daughter of an old friend, Creb!"

At that, Creb's red eyes grew wide as ducats. "No, Mirik. I'm saying that I won't get involved in aiding a known pirate...even if she is the daughter of an old friend!"

"You better explain yourself, Mister!"

"I'll let this explain it for me," Creb replied, reaching over and tapped a wrinkled paper filled with Imperial script. "The local constable posted this within the past week, along with all the regular updates on all pirates and smugglers wanted by the Governor!"

Mirik stared at the paper; her eyes stopping when she saw her own name printed there. "Damn it! How in the galaxy did-?"

"Word's been traveling fast lately," Creb explained, "ever since the territorial governor made it clear that he wants all pirate and smuggler activity stopped colder than a Wampa's backside! In fact, most of his staff and a lot of the local enforcers have poured money in to bulk up the rewards posted for bounties!" He sighed gustily. "Eriadu and a lot of the systems around her are no-show zones for all smuggler-types!"

"Then, why are you still here?" Mirik asked.

Creb said pointedly, "I've been a reformed ex-smuggler for six years. I've worked my hardest to prove I've long since given up my former ways as one of the pirates that once raided along the Kalassi Borders."

"Creb!"

"You don't know what it's like here, do you? On the fringes, the governors out here do all they can to lean on people to see things their way!" Creb sighed heavily. "Even to the point of taking away your freedom, limited as it is these days! I can't give that up, not even for you, Mirik."

Mirik gaped at Creb, unable to speak for several seconds. "But... Creb! You have to help me! Didn't my father-?"

"Mirik," Creb muttered. "Mirik, I served under your father for many years. I know I owe much to him... but, even for all his friendship and trust, I cannot help you!" He gave her a look that pleaded for understanding. "I wish I could, but you have to find another way to help yourself."

Mirik felt her jaw tighten, as a sense of despair and betrayal filled her. "I... I see."

With a shake of his head, Creb's expression softened a touch. "If it's any worth... I can tell you of some people, in the north end in the city, who might be able to help-."

A sudden, heavy banging on the door of the shop cut Creb off. With a grunt, Creb shifted towards the door. "What in the... Hoi! Hold your snargles! No need to break my door down!" He started waddling towards the door, waving Mirik to get behind him.

CRASH!

The wood and metal door slammed against the floor, just as four armored militia men burst through; each bringing up a blaster rifle to bear on the crippled shop owner and Mirik. "Freeze! Don't move!" one of the armored men snarled, even as both Creb and Mirik recoiled.

Creb snapped back, "How do you expect me to move! You're crowded into my shop like tin-fish!" He scowled darkly as more militia boiled into the shop. "What's the meaning of-?"

"We're here under Imperial Orders, citizen," came the voice of Lieutenant Gullar, as the officer stepped through the line of his men to stand in front of them. Planting his fists on both hips as he gave both Creb and Mirik a smug look, he stated, "That woman, Mirik Besel, is a wanted smuggler!"

Oh, galaxies! Mirik cursed inwardly, Mirik glancing at Creb, who was glancing at each of the militia men with a dark, foreboding cast to his face. No, he couldn't have called them! He didn't have time to use a comm-link or anything!

Gullar gave her a pointed look. "Come now... surrender your weapons and come peacefully," he ordered.

She shot him back with a heated glare. "If I refuse?"

"We will use whatever force necessary to bring you in," the officer replied, a note of confidence on his face as his men tensed their hands around their blasters.

At that, Mirik frowned and leaned in close to Creb. "You still have that weak spot in the wall back there?" she whispered softly, as she dropped one hand to the belt at her waist, as if reaching down to unclip the blaster hanging there.

Creb turned and flashed her a slightly confused frown. "Why are you-?"

"Just shield your eyes!" she hissed.

"Come now! You have to surrender to us!" The officer snapped. "You have no way to avoid being captured!"

Mirik fumbled slightly at her waist, as she said to him with a soft sigh, "Well, since you put it that way..." With that, she shoved Creb to the floor, shielding her eyes with one hand as she whipped her other hand down towards the floor of the shop.

Heeding her warning, Creb reflexively shielded his red eyes with one arm, but neither Gullar or his militia were so lucky. The flash bomb she'd been fingering burst against the stone surface with a BANG!; filling the air with a wave of bright, dazzling light. They recoiled, squinting against the sudden glare in a feeble attempt to prevent themselves from being blinded.

"Blast her!" Gullar shrieked, falling back behind the safety of his men. At his words, the men in front filled the air of the shop with stun bolts, aiming wildly as they couldn't see properly.

Huddled against the floor, Creb started shouting in alarm; "No! Don't! Not my father's shop!"

Mirik - moving before the first shot was fired - ducked behind the counter and squeezed her body through a small gap leading into the rear of the shop. Quickly, she scanned the far side of the crowded back room, searching for the weak wall that she remembered was there from one of her previous visits.

Back behind her, the weapons fire stopped. "Find her! Seal off the street!" Gullar cried.

Mirik scowled inwardly. Without pause, she drew a double-barreled blaster from her waist, flipping the charging unit on as she located the rusted, half sealed panel she'd been looking for.

Suddenly, a militia trooper emerged in the doorway from the front of the shop. "Halt!" he barked, bringing his weapon to bear, only to get shot as Mirik whirled around and fired her blaster first!

"Sorry, must dash!" Turning back, she fired the second charge into the panel, blowing it outwards in a flurry of twisted metal. Before she could move through the opening, the whine of a score of deadly blaster bolts screamed through the air around her.

"Blast it!" Clearly the militia had decided to not bother with stunning her now, as several objects on the walls burst into flame or blew apart under the sudden barrage. Ducking, she snaked her way through the blasted opening and threw herself into the clear, where she found herself in an alley behind the shop; one that ran on the entire length of several streets-worth of buildings!

"Great!" Picking herself up, she ducked as the sounds of more blaster fire poured through the air. Bolting to the side, took to her heels and, looking back over her shoulder, she could see curls of black smoke issuing up from the sides of Creb's shop.

A small part of her wanted to turn back to help Creb.

However, shouts from the other end of the alleyway sang out: "Over here! She's gone out the back!" Soon, the forms of the officer and some of his men appeared at the head of the alley. Several shots rang out, filling the air with the snarl and whine as they shot by her head.

"Sorry, Creb," she muttered, before turning to slip through a bank of mist issuing from a in-ground vent. Friendship and old debts aside, Mirik knew when it was time to slip her cable and make a run for a safer locus. Hoping the mist would make it hard for them to track her, she slipped and ducked around and between several crates stacked in the alleyway as she ran on.

# # #

"She's fast!" a trooper muttered to his fellows, lowering his blaster as their commander appeared at their side.

"Why wasn't this alley covered?" Gullar snarled, his rat-face streaked with dust and soot.

"Sorry, Sir!"

"Go! Get after her!" the officer barked harshly. "We can't let her get away! A good sum of credits is the reward for her capture, and I will not see it slip through my fingers!" Gullar slapped one man on his shoulder, urging him and his fellows onward. "Go! Move it, move it, now!"

The harsh clatter of booted feet followed behind the charging bodies of the militia, echoing up the alleyway as they pursued their quarry.

While from a low rooftop above, a figure cloaked in both robe and shadow watched them pass by, before it moved to leap across the rooftops to chase after the chasers.

# # #

Why do these things happen to me? Mirik ran on, ducking around corners as she followed the maze of back-alleyways through and around the streets of the city.

Several times, the men chasing her got too close and she had to fire her weapon to discourage them from making a grab at her. Panting for breath, she'd hoped they'd give up after several moments of unsuccessful pursuit... but, the officer in charge seemed unrelenting! At nearly every turn, she could hear him goading the militia on to continue the chase, even though they had crossed nearly an entire sector of the city to keep up with her.

Guess Rat-Man there hasn't earned his pay-stub lately! Mirik groused; her sides ached under the stress to pull air into her lungs, and her legs were growing more tired with every turn and twist. Desperate to lose them, Mirik crashed against the corner of a building before slipping into another alleyway. Sprinting along, she suddenly had to drag herself up short, as a tall wall blocked any further progress!

"Blast it!" she cursed, glancing for a door or window that led out of the sudden dead-end... but, she could find none.

Turning, she started towards the mouth of the alleyway, only to throw herself down onto her belly when a blaster bolt flicked past her face. With a yelp, she fired four fast shots back towards the militia man, knocking him aside like a rag doll.

"In there! Fire! Fire!"

Three more armored men appeared, firing back with a fury of crimson blaster bolts.

Forced back, Mirik dived behind a heavy, metal garbage container; its thick metal skin serving as a shield from their attack. With a scowl, she caught her rapid breath and pulled herself further in behind her temporary shelter... only to discover that in their eagerness to hit her, the militia had managed to blast away several pieces of the container! They were quickly whittling her protective cover down by chunks in seconds!

With a word in harsh Huttese, Mirik took stock in her situation; pinned at the end of the alleyway, with the walls were too high to climb, and the scant scattering of old crates and rusting fuel barrels would be naught for cover against the militia's blasters once the garbage container was gone!

Abruptly, the firing stopped, as the sound of boots clattering and armor clanking filtered in from the head of the alley.

Daring to peek out, Mirik glanced around the corner of the nearly shot-through container. The militia formed a living barricade at the head of the alley; too many to take out with just one blaster pistol alone.

"We've got you now!" Gullar barked from behind his men, his voice echoing off the narrow space between the buildings. "Throw down your weapon and surrender!"

Grimacing, Mirik swore something in Huttese under her breath, then called out, "Why not come get me, you overbearing, worm-ridden nerf-herder?"

"You've no place to run to, pirate!" the rat-faced officer shot back smugly. "Surrender, and it will go easier for you in front of the magistrate!" With a guarded whisper to the front rank, he nudged them towards her, before he added aloud, "After all, you're worth more alive to us, than dead... but, force us, and we'll take you any way we can get you!"

With a thick swallow, Mirik brought her blaster up and thumped it softly against her brow. Damn it... I knew I should have stayed on the transport! Not seeing any other recourse, she turned back to face the militia...

snap-HSSSSSS!

That sound was all the warning either she or the armed men got as a cloaked, shadowy shape dropped down from the roof above the alleyway. Landing with a slight puff of dust, the figure suddenly lunged towards the armed men with incredible speed. An arc of bright, amber-white light spun out from underneath the cloak with a humming, stinging sound of energy. In one breath, the four men in front of the new arrival recoiled, their shouts of alarm echoing off the alley walls amid the clatter of smoking blaster parts!

"Watch out!" The officer squawked even as he back pedaled, trying to avoid being crushed by the retreating forms of his own men.

"Strike me! He's got a lightsaber!" One of the militia cried in surprise.

"Of course. What else would a Jedi carry?" This came from the robed stranger; his posture speaking clearly that he'd attack if provoked further.

Jedi? Mirik watched in awe, her weapon forgotten as she watched the attacker twirl the yellow light into an overhand guarded stance, standing his ground between her and the soldiers.

Gullar moved two of his men aside, stepping hesitantly forward to address this newcomer. "Stand aside... you... Jedi, or whatever you are! You're interfering in an official seizure of a posted smuggler!"

"Actually, I'm interfering in the illegal seizure of a private citizen of the New Republic," the stranger countered smoothly. "Those posted bills were only enforceable, while Martial Law stood. Considering that this Sector is supposed to be relieved of Martial Law, your presence here is unneeded and unwarranted."

Several of the militia looked at one another in surprise.

"Under whose authority?" Gullar shot back. "We're supposed to maintain order, as ordered by the Regional Gov'nor!"

The stranger chuckled - a surprisingly rich, deep sound to Mirik's ears - before replying. "Old Governor Tarsk is no longer in charge. The New Republic dissolved his regime and replaced him with a representative of the new Government three days ago." Straightening slightly, the figure didn't lower his guard. "You and your men should have known this... if you report to the planet's capitol officers on a regular basis. Or do you?"

That made Gullar go white as an iceberg, and his men looked equally worried.

"No," the stranger said at length. "I can sense you don't." There was a pause, before the figure made the glowing blade of his weapon vanish with a hiss-click. "In that case... you shouldn't delay in reporting to your superiors, now."

At that, Mirik blinked as Gullar suddenly got a blank look on his face. "No... we, shouldn't... delay," he said stiffly.

"You and your men must leave here, now."

Amid the questioning looks from his men, Gullar just nodded. "My... men and I... must leave, now."

The stranger nodded, and said with a note of finality. "Forget the bounty, and do not seek this woman further. Now, go."

Gullar stood a little straighter. "Right, come on! We've got to go." He turned to leave, moving through the shocked, flabbergasted cluster of his militia. When he saw they weren't following him, he snapped around and barked, "Move out! NOW!"

Accustomed to his sharp tone of giving orders, the men reacted on instinct, "Sir!" As one, they shifted into a jumbled column to follow him, quickly trailing out of sight as they moved briskly away.

With the militia gone, the stranger turned towards Mirik's direction, pausing briefly to slip his lightsaber underneath his cloak before addressing her. "You can come out now," he said. "You won't be bothered any further by those simple-minded souls."

Taking a moment to gather herself, Mirik peeked out, then lifted her blaster into the clear to point it at him. "Maybe not them, but how do I know you're not just as bad as they were?" She stepped further out of hiding, grimacing at the stranger warily. "How did you-?"

She was cut off as something unseen suddenly yanked the pistol out of her hands, sending it flying to land in a pile of garbage behind the tall stranger. "Do what I did?" he finished for her. "I think you'd know what a Jedi is, or what we're capable of doing."

With a bleak look, Mirik stared at her hands in disbelief, then back at him. "My father... h-he said they were old folk tales!"

Stepping closer, the stranger dropped his hood, revealing a heavy-set face with blue eyes and red-blond hair. "I am Bossa Ma'tam, and I can assure you, I am no folk tale. I'm as real as you are-."

Before he finished his sentence, Mirik made a sudden, whipping motion from behind her back, bringing something around that looked long and dangerous. Acting on sheer instinct, the long cylinder of his lightsaber flew out of his cloak, activating a spit-second before he caught it and intercepted the blade of the pirate's sword.

Surprisingly, the metal sword cut right through the amber energy blade, making it spark and wink out a heartbeat later!

In shock, Bossa looked at his weapon, then down the long length of Mirik's blade as she kept it pointed at him.

"I'm glad I did listen to my Da's tales," she said with an arched grin, waving the tip of her sword under his nose for emphasis. "It's made of Duranium and Cortorsis. Makes your light-blade just a glorified flashlight!"

"Impressive... for a pirate to have a weapon made of that metal." Bossa shifted backwards for a step. "I am no threat to you."

Mirik held her ground, the blade never wavering as she glared at him. "As long as I have this at your neck, you're damn right you're no threat! Tell me what do you want from me?"

With a sigh, Bossa shook his head slowly. "I simply wished to help you out of a tricky situation," He stated. "If you feel I am a threat, then I'll leave you." With that, he stepped back three more paces before he turned and started to walk away.

Blinking in confusion, Mirik let the sword drop slightly. "You're not out to get the pile of credits on my head as well!"

Looking back at her, Bossa nodded once. "You must not confuse a Jedi Knight with a bounty hunter," he said, giving her a nod before he resumed his exit from the alley.

Utterly unhinged, Mirik let her arms drop until the point of the sword touched the alley floor with a soft clank. "B-but... but-?"

At that, he turned and shot her a knowing look. "Of course, I can't vouch for any other bounty hunters that may be on this world... after all, news about a head with a price on it travels fast, and unless you know how to get back to your ship unmolested, well..." With that, Bossa smiled and slipped around the corner and vanished.

For a span of heartbeats, Mirik let the Jedi's words sink in. Then she suddenly darted forward, pausing to scoop up her fallen pistol from the pile of garbage. "Wait! WAIT! Jedi!" she called out, moving towards the head of the alley. Sliding to a stop at the end, she craned her head around the corner and looked, but the only thing she saw was an empty back street.

"Blast it! He really was trying to help me!" A black look swept over her face. "Damn, self-righteous-!" She looked around quickly, hoping that none of the militia men had come to their senses and headed back to find her. Assuring herself that they weren't around, she started moving out in the direction the Jedi had last been walking in.

# # #

Her steps carried her within sight of the intersection where Creb's shop sat; the street surrounding it now closed off by several peacekeeper and militia vehicles.

"Oh, Chunda," she said softly, gazing at the blasted, smoking shell that had been her friends former shop. A cleaner crew was hard at work to put the remaining fire to ashes, while several of the local constabulary were seeing that no one would get in the way.

Well, it could've been worse, Mirik told herself. Glancing to the side, she spied the Jedi standing off on one corner of the street, talking to Creb himself. The two were in deep in conversation; obviously about the loss of Creb's former business; her friend standing before the tall, robed man in a rescue service blanket, holding something that looked like a battered money box in his arms.

Taking in the surrounding movements of the constabulary, Mirik slipped around the small knots of onlookers, making her way towards the place where the shopkeeper and the Jedi were standing. Coming closer, she could hear Creb's voice; bitter and accusatory...

# # #

"If you ever see that girl again, you tell her from me that she owes me BIG!" Creb scowled up at the Jedi, then turned to look at his shop with a sorrowful expression. "My Da's shop... oh, Great Stars!"

Bossa only nodded in sympathy. "I'm certain you will be able to restore it in short time, friend. In the mean time, I will relay your, um, sentiments to Miss Besel... when I find her next, that is."

Creb looked back at the Jedi, then just waved one ham fist in dismissal. "I thank you... well... oh STARS!" With that, he trundled towards the peacekeepers and started nattering at them in Huttese.

With a sigh, Bossa watched Creb go, standing there for a moment to watch the shop owner argue with one of the constabulary over something pertaining to their incident report. Glancing at he ruin of the shop for a moment more, he appeared to go rock-still. Not even looking behind himself, he said, "If you're going to sneak up on me, at least try to calm your emotions, Miss Besel."

Behind him, Mirik stiffened in surprise, then she scowled. "Are you trying to get me caught!" She'd slipped into the shadows behind the Jedi, clearly thinking he wouldn't notice her, while trying to keep herself from being seen by the local officials in the street.

Bossa didn't move, or turn to indicate to anyone watching him that he was even speaking to someone behind him. "You seem to be doing a better job of that, than I am." Stepping back as a pair of constables ambled past him, he asked, "Though, I might ask why you are back here so soon?"

"Why did you help me, back there?"

"I told you," Bossa said simply, "you are a Citizen of the New Republic, and it is my duty to protect anyone that needs aid." Without warning, he wrapped his brown robes about himself and turned away from the scene before them, and started to walk away.

"Jedi?" Mirik hissed urgently. "Hoi, Jedi?" Making a small, upset noise in the back of her throat, Mirik cast a baleful glance at the nearby lawmen, before she darted after the Jedi; emerging onto the street, to take two steps to match each of the Jedi's long strides.

"Slow now," Bossa said with a cautionary tone. "Move slowly. It keeps people that wish to notice you from doing so."

Taking his words to heart, Mirik moved so that she walked along on his right side; out of eyesight of the constabulary and militia men. "Do you Jedi always make light of people like me?"

Glancing at her, Bossa asked, "People like you?"

"Yes! Pirates! Smugglers... you know?" Realizing her voice was raising, she looked about self-consciously at the pedestrians walking by. "I'm a bloody criminal!" she hissed.

Bossa stepped onto an adjoining sidewalk, never increasing his pace nor turning to face her as he started towards the open center of a wide marketplace. "You are too concerned with what you are." He paused to let a large speeder rumble past them, before they started walking again. "Criminal or not, as far as I was concerned - and still am - you were in danger, and I only wished to help."

As they made their way across the marketplace, Mirik shifted so she could place herself in front of him, walking backwards as she faced his fair-skinned continence. "So, what's the deal now, Jedi? Are you going to make me your prisoner or-?"

The tall man cut her off gently. "Is it your wish to be placed under arrest?" Bossa came to a sudden stop and looked at her squarely.

In the face of such a direct question, Mirik stumbled to a stop, and found herself looking back at him with a puzzled expression. "So... you're not at all interested in the bounty on my head? I mean, Jedi or not, you're still human, aren't you?"

At that, Bossa agreed. "I am, though what does that matter?"

Mirik said, "I thought every human wanted to make money! You can't live without it these days!"

"Well, true. One must be able to use money for some of life's necessities." Bossa cocked his head as he regarded the small woman for a moment. He then leaned towards her, and shot her a telling look. "Truthfully, I'm not that desperate for funds. Yet."

The way he said that last word made Mirik's eyes go wide and her eyebrows shoot upwards like two frightened birds.

To that, Bossa merely winked. "You also find I have a terribly evil sense of humor." He smiled. "I realize your point, Miss Besel but, you are perfectly safe from me."

That made her relax a bit, but she was still wary. "Then, why are you here on this mud ball, if you don't mind-?"

"My business on Eriadu is completed, and it involved locating something much more rare than daktari or monies of any other name," Bossa said. "I was on my way to my ship when-."

"Wait! Your Ship!" Mirik all but rounded on him. "You have a ship, here?"

"A small freighter, but it serves me well enough." He nodded. Stepping back from her, he asked pointedly, "Is it your wish to leave Eriadu?"

Mirik gave him a dark look, before she glanced around at the city about them. "After what happened just now, do you think I want to stay around here?"

"Then, if you permit me, I can offer you passage from Eriadu," the Jedi explained, continuing to lead her further along the way across the marketplace; stepping clear of the assorted stalls, merchants and gathering crowds of locals. "If you wish, you're more than welcome to travel with me, as I return to the Academy on Yavin... afterwards, you may go wherever you see fit to head to."

Mirik fell silent, thinking as she followed him. "You would still help me?"

The Jedi looked at her and gave her a smile. "Yes." He came to a stop at a corner of a new street, turning to face her fully once again.

"But, isn't there, well... something, you want in return?"

"You believe I want something as payment for your traveling in my ship?"

Mirik felt her cheeks go hot for a moment. "Well, yes!"

Bossa just chuckled. "Apparently, you still don't believe in all the tales you were told about the Jedi Order, do you?"

Now her cheeks grew hot with anger. "What's that supposed to mean?" Planting her fists on her hips, she glared at Bossa.

"If you truly believed in them, do you think that a Jedi Knight would ask for that... when it goes against our very code?"

Her jaw dropped slightly, as the implications sunk home in her mind. Ducking her head, Mirik replied, "No... I guess you wouldn't."

"Then there is no need to apologize." Bossa waited for a moment, then asked, "Do you still wish to accept my aid?"

With a sigh, Mirik gave him a slightly skeptical look, which quickly melted when she realized she had little choice just then. "Yes," she said.

Bowing his head once, Bossa asked, "What is your full name, Miss?"

"My name's Mirik. Mirik Amandis Besel."

"I am Bossa Mat'am, Jedi Knight and at your service," he replied. Nodding towards the direction of the end of the street, he added, "Come with me, then. We can leave this area faster, using one of the non-registered ground transports."

"Fine by me." Mirik fell in step beside him, shaking her head as she muttered. "Blast it... what have I got myself into now?"

# ### #