Star Wars: Sith Academy
Prequel - Brent Valom's Backstory
Jacob Valom. Entrepreneur, pilot, salesman. Starting with nothing but a tiny field and basic tools on a freshly terraformed moon, he constructed the largest and most profitable farming empire in the known galaxy. Well, the largest and most profitable single-world farming empire. There are others who span entire solar systems and make far more money than us, sure, but my father literally built the family business with his bare hands and whatever tools he could find. Out here, far from the core worlds, we became known for growing only the finest crops which were purchased by only the highest class of vendors who fed only the most overpaid of government officials.
It was there on our little moon where he taught me how to use my senses to feel for fertile ground and prepare it for sowing. How one man can use a speeder and a modified plasma torch to carve out a city-sized network of irrigation canals in a matter of hours. When I was old enough, he would take me on his supply trips to the core, teaching me to read charts and pilot the ship. The entire moon was our family business; we were almost alone save for the deluge of freighters come harvest season. Of course, with the freight traffic comes a spaceport, complete with a small town of folk who made their living selling the traders hot meals, fake “historical artifacts,” and sexual devices so torturous and exotic that I still cannot fathom their purpose.
My father’s talents were not limited to the sowing and care of crops. He was a shrewd negotiator and held a commanding presence that ensured we never fetched anything but the best price for any harvest. He was able to sooth the most hostile of traders with nothing more than a dismissive wave of his hand. As a child, I would ask him how he worked out deals with the angry aliens who all too often shoved their blasters in his face in an attempt to lower his price. He always blew me off, “I’ll show you when you’re older.”
As a boy, my father warned me of the Jedi and their evil lies. Spreading tales of loyalty, of trust. Yes, they want to bring peace to the galaxy. What they fail to mention is that this perfect universe is one under their control. They plan to invite only those they deem fit into their little utopia and laugh as the rest of us destroy one another. Peace indeed!
I heard different stories from other children on the inner worlds during our supply runs, but I knew they were victims of the Jedi propaganda. My father knows the truth. He was a member of their brainwashing club after all. In fact, he was too smart for them. He left their ranks and ran out here to the edge of the galaxy when he discovered the their true nature. We are safe from their mind-bending influence, hidden here on our moon. We protect our names and hide our faces when we venture into the core for added safety. Now that our crop has be come the praise of royalty and senators alike, though, it is doubtful the Jedi would ever endanger their message of peace to trifle with us. Or so I thought.
I was nineteen when they murdered my parents in cold blood.
I’d just finished my rounds on the fields and was outside working on the transport, Kara, my mother’s namesake. There was a coolant leak in the drive system. A quick fix that I’d grown accustomed to performing; these old R.E.O. model Speedwagons sprung more leaks than a cardboard canoe. I was in the middle putting the drive back together when I was approached.
“Good evening, I’m looking for Jacob Valom. Can you tell me where I can find him?” Probably just some traders trying to snake out a quick deal before picking season, “who wants to know?”
“I’m an old friend of your dad’s. We used to work together.”
“That’s funny. My father has never held a job off world, he’s worked this farm his entire adult life, and we have no hired help. That’s what droids are for.”
“It was long ago, son. Long before you were born.”
Wait, what? There was only one place he could have been before coming out here. That means-My head shot up, eyes wide. Sure enough, there were two men standing below the pile of parts I was wading in. Dingy robes. Both humanoid. Their faux benevolance shone like bullseyes across their hooded foreheads.
I spat, “Jedi.”
“Yes, son. Brent, is it? We were sent by the council. We’ve been searching for your father. We’d like to talk with him if we can. Do you know where he is?”
I wouldn’t know how to handle a situation like this, but I’m sure my old man would, “He’s in the farmhouse. Go around back. The comm panel on the front door is broken.”
“Thank you,” the taller of the two removed his hood. He stared at me intently as if sizing me up. He was an older man, flecks of gray showing in the hair above his wrinkled brow. I was uncomfortable. After a few seconds I began to wonder if this old bag of bones was planning to dart over my engine and use his Jedi mind control to turn my thoughts into a sports arena of propaganda. To my relief, he continued speaking instead, “Perhaps when we’re done, we should come talk with you as well.”
That was all I needed to hear. Once they were out of sight around the house, I redoubled my efforts with the engine. I had a feeling we were going to need to take Kara for a ride VERY soon.
I had just finished getting the ship back together and was preparing the engines for warm-up when I heard shouting erupt from the house. I tapped a couple of buttons to switch the computer over to automatic flight prep, grabbed a blaster, and bolted for home. All my target shooting may come in handy after all. As I jogged down the ramp, there was a flash from inside as a bolt of lightning shot across the living room. A bolt of lightning? The stress must have been playing tricks on my eyes. Adrenaline pumping, worst case scenarios flooding my mind, I pounded the dirt. I crossed the hundred meter stretch between our ship and the house in what felt like two short steps.
The front door flew open as I leapt inside, then froze. I was in the entryway to our living room and completely paralyzed. Somehow, I could feel the shorter Jedi’s stare piercing my mind from the darkness beneath his hood, holding me in place. The old man was locked in mortal combat with my father.
Actually, to call it combat would be an insult. My father has been working the land his entire life. This Jedi. This coward of a man. He’s been training to become a killer since he was a child. I was paralyzed. Horrified. Forced to watch as that old son of a bitch plunged his glowing blade into my father’s chest. I watched my father take his final agonized gasps of air, collapsing at my feet. The next person on the killer’s list was my mother. She had left during the slaughter and grabbed one of the blasters from their room. Returning downstairs, she opened fire on the old man. Mom didn’t stand a chance; he used his light blade to deflect her shots right back at her.
Milliseconds later, it was over. Still frozen. My father face down at my feet. My mother on her back in the doorway, the flesh over her left temple and chest burned away by the bolts deflected by that murderous bastard. I couldn’t move, but I could feel my mind tremble with fury.
The old man sheathed his glowing blade, “Son, listen to me. I can sense your anger. I didn’t come here to do this, I assure you. I am a member of the Jedi Order; we follow the path of light. We sacrifice our lives to defend peace and harmony in the galaxy. Your father was once one of us, but left under unfortunate circumstances. We came to grant him an opportunity to requite his past mistakes, but instead he attacked us. We were merely defending ourselves. What has he told you of the Force?”
‘Don’t feed me your lies,’ I fumed, wishing my body was able reflect the rage I felt toward these men.
He turned, his eyes meeting mine, “I beg of you, heed my words. I don’t know what he told you of his time in the Order, but I can feel that it has tempered your opinion. Your father was discovered by us when he was two. We sensed his presence on Tralus and brought him to the Jedi Academy. There he trained for many years as an Initiate, and a very promising one I might add. Unfortunately, as a young man he developed a false sense of superiority. He felt that the Jedi were better than common folk. Questioned our sworn duty to help them. The council worked with him. We-they tried to help him see beyond the errors in his judgement. In the end, nothing changed and no Jedi Knight was willing to take him as their Padawan.
“We tried for several years to guide him back to the path of the light. We even allowed him to remain in the Academy longer than permitted. When he was fourteen, we offered him a choice of two options. He could either enlist in our service corps or leave the Order entirely. Jake-your father-stood before the council and accused them of sabotaging him. The council! Accused them of actively preventing him from joining the ranks of the Jedi Knights when the blame actually rested upon his own shoulders! He announced that the Jedi Order was nothing more than a gang of thugs trying to control the galaxy through a message of peace. That we allow a select few to live in harmony as an incentive for the governments of the galaxy to pay our leaders for their services. Tribute in exchange for peace-like some kind of deranged mafia. He went so far as to hold meetings, preaching this idea to the younger members. We lost many promising children that year; even I found myself swept up in his theories for a period. In the end, he was expelled from the Order for his actions. He met a young girl shortly afterward and disappeared. I imagine it wasn’t long before he settled here-and no wonder! This moon is so far from civilized space, so isolated, it has only recently begun showing up on our official star maps.
‘Jedi Spin Doctor. How DARE you attempt to turn me against my own blood. He outsmarted you in the past, and now you try to blind his only child from the truth!’ my mind cried as he continued speaking:
“Does any of this sound familiar to you, son? Is this what he told you about us? I have been a member of the Order for nearly fifty years and a Jedi Master for twenty. I promise you, this could not be further from the truth. Please, allow me to take you back. To show you what it is we do. I sense The Force is present within you, just as it was within your father; I believe you would appreciate what I can show you. What we can teach you. Perhaps learning more about us will help you to see the truth of the situation. Then you can return to work on your farm if that is your wish.”
My blood was boiling. I could feel the anger filling me, pressing outward against my skin, blurring my vision, making my ears ring. When he finished his stupid recruitment speech, I could take it no longer. I saw red. I felt something in my head snap.
Then I could move again.
“LIES!” I boomed, punching the brittle old coot in front of me. No, not punching him. I tried to send my fist through him and into the wall-he went sprawling. His assistant fared no better; I flung an elbow at him, managing to send him through a closed door and into the kitchen. I tore across the living room and out the window, making it to my father’s transport in record time. My memory may be failing me, but the hundred meter trip still felt like a scant few steps. My father’s transport. Named after my mother. Well, I suppose this is my transport now. They’re both back in the house where I grew up, lifeless. Murdered at the hands of the Jedi. Images of their bodies appeared before my mind’s eye. Tears tugged at the back of my throat-No. Stop. There’s no time to think about my loss. Those cloaked men were surely on my heels. I flicked the switch to retract the ramp as I sprinted for the cockpit.
The engines hadn’t finished warming up, but I didn’t have time to wait. I kicked the nose up with a burst from the retros, slammed the throttle against its forward stop, and prayed that the sudden increase in temperature and pressure wouldn’t cause the drive case to buckle. Nothing. ‘Come on, you old boat!’ I felt a twinge of panic as the ship sat idle for a fraction of a second. Eventually, the tired old engine let out a familiar rumble as it spooled up to full speed. I mashed in the button sequence for emergency power and destroyed about a thousand credits worth of crops while leaving the ground atop my column of flame.
Looking back, I couldn’t see the Jedi or their ships. A side effect of running on a cold engine under emergency power is that an enormous amount of unused reactant is routed through the exhaust system. This reactant inefficiently combusts as it comes into contact with a planet’s atmosphere. In other words, I was leaving behind a rather impressive looking plume of black smoke which obscured my vision and made me painfully visible to half the planet. I held my hand firmly against the throttle stop with the faded etching: ‘120%/Full Military Power,’ and waited for the atmosphere to recede, taking my smoke trail with it. It didn’t really matter. Trail or not, I knew where I was going and there was no way these treacherous Jedi were going to catch me.
Kara was an old ship, but she came into the family with a long history. In the days of the old war, she was an Alliance blockade runner. Fast, extremely tough, but with a cargo hold too small to be practical for anything more than a diplomatic envoy, a small contingent of troops, items of extreme value, or enough supplies to keep my family comfortable for a month or two. After the war, it was stolen from dry dock and served for decades as the notoriously successful outer rim pirate vessel, the Kato Maroon. It was finally disabled and its crew killed by a band of freighters in an elaborate trap known in the freight community as the Traders’ Liberation of Pydyr.
Its survival through the years is a testament to the benefits of reliability, durability and speed. My father came into it by way of a freighter captain and long-time friend who was willing to drop it off in exchange for a healthy discount on the year’s crop. What we received was a husk of a ship, but it took only a couple of months and several favors to return all of the systems to perfect working order. After its maiden voyage as a Valom ship, we painted our family crest across the bow and registered it: Kara, Class IV civilian supply transport. Mother insisted upon staying at home during our trips to the core, so father saw it fitting to bring her with us in spirit.
When I say we returned all of the systems to working order, that includes the modifications that pirates have made over the years to squeeze a little extra performance out of the ship. A bit more thrust out of the main engine, a couple of tweaks to the hyperdrive, and some of “additions” to the electronics systems give Kara some extra pepper and a few surprises for would-be pursuers. Surprises that are perfectly suited to losing a pair of irritating Jedi. Speaking of Jedi…
I rotated 180 degrees and killed the throttle as the afternoon sky gave way to a familiar blanket of stars. I pulled up, rotating the glass of the cockpit and the ship’s forward sensors planetward, letting inertia and gravity carry me across the edge of the atmosphere. Another 90 seconds and I’d be in position. I didn’t see anything coming up from the surface, but I wouldn’t be able to pick them out by eye until they were right on top of me anyway. 60 seconds. Nothing on sensors yet. 45 seconds. Perhaps my hasty escape set the field on fire and trapped them in the house? 30 seconds. 15 seconds. Almost time to-there they were. Two infantesimal blips popped up on the forward sensors, numerals displaying their distance following them across the display. Some sort of single seat craft. Fighters, maybe? Did they intend to shoot me down for not giving in to them? I didn’t want to give them the chance. I nervously eyed the ships’ range as I approached my exit window. The power sensors showed no sign of weapons for the time being.
5…4…3…2…here we go! I raised the nose sixty degrees and kicked the engine back up to full throttle. I would to use height to my advantage. From this elevation, flying at a tangent to the planet would allow me to get a gravity boost, whip around the upper atmosphere, and rocket off to my next destination post-haste. It would also be an incredible test of the ship’s structure. I ran a quick check on the skin and fuselage; everything came up green. Get ready. It’s about to get extremely hot out there.
I momentarily forgot about the little dots as I focused instead on my heading, altitude and exterior temperature readings. 62 kilometers/530 degrees Kelvin…58km/560K…41km/620K. The ship began to vibrate slightly as I descended through the uppermost hint of atmosphere. 36km/800K. I glanced up as a halo of flame began glowing around the nose of the ship. Soon I wouldn’t be able to see anything against the glare. I tapped a button, bringing down the sun screen. 33km/900K. I glanced around the control board; all green-everything running perfectly. 31km/1030K. This ship’s exterior is rated for 2000K. No problem, it looks like I’ll be staying well below that. 29km/1200K. I’ve reached the apex of my turn. In a few moments I’ll be home free. Wait, what’s this? A proximity alarm?
I stared at the sensor screen and cursed in frustration. The Jedi ships weren’t hundreds of kilometers behind me as I’d hoped. Rather, they were flanking me. Pacing me. Either their ships were capable of ludicrous speeds or they anticipated my maneuver. Have they seen this before? My attempt to lose them in orbit would be fruitless unless I up the ante. I tipped the nose down a few degrees and punched a sequence of keys to reignite the emergency reactor, resuming my descent. Much more of this and I’d be without an engine-or a ship to fly.
Gravitational forces pinned me in place despite the inertial dampers as I tore through the lower atmosphere. I kept one eye on the external temperature and the other on the distance of the Jedi ships. 1600K…1800K…the Jedi remained an unwavering 5km on either side of me. I wrenched my arm out and tapped the reactor for just a bit more juice. 1900K. Still right on me. The ship began to groan, flexing under the enormous strain and temperature. 2000K. I gripped the seat as it shuddered violently, atmospheric turbulence threatening to throw me to the floor. 2300K…2500K…the deep groaning was accompanied by a melody of pops and pings as fragments of the ship’s skin decomposed in the heat and flew off. Red lights began to appear in my periphery.
I took another glance at the range indicator. Damn! Still only 5km away! Wait. Are they starting to fall back? 5100 meters…5200 meters. It looks like I’ll be able to outrun them after a-
My small victory was cut short as the ship threw me left, right, then up against my harness. BOOM! I’m suddenly in an oven. I immediately sweat through my shirt as a deafening roar pounded against my eardrums. Red lights flooded the console. The aft starboard storage compartment just buckled. I was already on it, struggling against the heat and G’s to remotely seal the inner compartments before being burnt to a crisp.
The halo of fire around the nose gave way to a pale glow and slowly faded to nothing as I left the atmosphere for a second time. The Jedi were falling back, but not as quickly as I’d liked. They probably didn’t expect me to survive that little stunt. No luck this time, guys. I took another glance around the control board. The immediate crisis had been averted, but now I’m off course. I had to make a few corrections at the expense of allowing them to catch up. Turned out I almost killed myself for nothing.
I adjusted my heading and killed the engine. It wouldn’t help me at this speed. I watched the Jedi ships; they were no longer falling back but they weren’t gaining either. The blips settled in a few thousand kilometers behind me. Well out of weapons range. That would have to be good enough. I started preparing for my next move.
‘Son?’ I looked around, bewildered. ‘Son, can you hear me?’ Father? No way. There’s no way. I watched the old man shove that damned light stick right through his chest. What the hell was that glowing thing anyway? Oh, wait. That’s just the comm system, audio only for some reason.
“Son, I don’t know if your communications are damaged. I can’t pull you up on video, so I’m not even sure you can hear what I’m saying,” the antenna must have been damaged during my second ascent, “Please, there is no reason to run. There is more that I haven’t shared with you. We detected your father’s presence here a few months ago and came to investigate. I’m sure you can understand that, given his history with the Order. His ability to manipulate the force has grown stronger, but he would never reach his full potential as a warrior of light without our guidance. The Jedi have suffered greatly in recent years. His very presence would have been a blessing to the Light Side.
“We came here to your moon to offer him forgiveness for his transgressions. Forgiveness in exchange for his service. Even at his age, his abilities would serve as a great boon to the Jedi. Your father, Jake, he is a unique man. A man of great power. Have I mentioned that he and I attended the Academy at the same time? In fact, he’s a few years older than me. He mentored me as I grew up there. Until his expulsion, we were inseparable. Like brothers. It was only fitting that they choose me for this delicate mission. How it saddens me to find that after all these years he would side with those who bring us harm.”
I made no attempt to mask the anger in my voice, “And this is how you repay his alleged disloyalty? You murder him? You murder his wife-my mother? And now you mean hunt me down in the depths of space?”
“I mean no such thing! I beg you to see reason! The events of today are unfortunate, yes, but I hope that through explanation you will come to understand the larger picture. You have no training but you are cut from the same cloth as your father. Perhaps you can become like him! Become the man who will help us save the galaxy from those who would spread evil. Those who wallow in the icy grip of the Dark Side. Like the Sith. Son, have you heard of the Sith?” I ignored the question, “You speak too much, old man. If you mean me no harm, explain your pursuit.”
I slammed my fists against the console, “WHY ARE YOU FOLLOWING ME?”
“I-to explain myself. Share the story of your dad. I felt you had the right to know. Son, I’ve noticed you’ve cut power. Is your engine damaged? If you can still fire your retros, I’ll give you a tow back to the spaceport.”
Not on your life. “Save your lies for another time, Jedi. We’ll cross paths again. When that happens, I will have the pleasure of watching you die.”
Over the course of the conversation, we’d been cruising toward a large cloud of ionized gas-a remnant of someone’s idea of ‘new and improved’ gas giant mining. The theory goes: if you set off a large enough explosive charge in the atmosphere of a gas giant, it will blow the matter away from the planet, allowing ships to harvest large quantities of hydrogen and methane without having to risk getting caught in the massive gravity well. Whatever quack thought this up, he must have miscalculated horribly because the experiment backfired with a vengeance. The explosion set off a chain reaction in the planet’s atmosphere which caused it to ignite, become a star, and go supernova in a matter of hours. Supernova may be a bit of an exaggeration, but either way the entire planet caught fire and exploded, destroying the science station and cleansing the system of all life. This gas cloud is all that’s left.
There was nothing in there that would pose a danger to a starship, but the particles within were still highly charged. It’ll do a number on your sensors, even fry some systems if your electronic shielding isn’t up to snuff. As I child, I used to fly up here with the children of passing traders and play tag in the cloud. The low visibility and lack of sensor input made the place ideal for sneaking up on your friends. I had a plan; those Jedi wouldn’t see this coming.
I projected my course and entered a set of coordinates into the navicomputer, letting it crunch the numbers before drifting into the cloud. The Jedi ships didn’t show up on scanners anymore but they were 6,000km back – about 3 seconds behind me. I waited five before charging up the hyperdrive. Moments later, I was in the center of the cloud and ready to go. I tapped a few keys and linked up with the upper aft storage unit. Through the console, I powered up a canister, set it for a five second countdown, and jettisoned it. As soon as it was free, I punched it into hyperspace. The canister was a portable gravity well simulator; not as powerful as the ones you’ll find on those old Interdictor cruisers, but still potent enough to fool a ship’s hyperdrive. Those Jedi would emerge on the other side of the cloud alone and find themselves incapable of following me, much less find the generator in that swill before the power kicks off in a few hours.
I dropped back to normal space after about 20 minutes, entered a new set of coordinates, and resumed the hyperdrive. In fact, I did this a few times. If by some miracle they were able to figure out where I’d gone, throwing them off my tail should be as easy as jumping around erratically. I didn’t know where I’d go, but my father was fairly well known. The trading community isn’t famous for keeping its mouth shut, but they do a good job of taking care of their own. I unstrapped myself and made for the living quarters to pull up his personal comm files. Passworded? K-A-R-A…nope. V-A-L-O-M…that wasn’t it either. Suddenly, it hit me. E-M-M-A. The sister I never had. That’s the ticket. I went through his list of contacts and comm traffic and picked out a few people who looked trustworthy. I prepared a generalized message addressed to them, being careful to use my false name. I didn’t want the Jedi to find me as a result of my own stupidity.
“To those of you who know Theo and Kate, this is their son, Henry Winkler. My family has been attacked, my parents murdered, and I’ve barely managed to escape. My ship has taken heavy damage and I’m running low on fuel. I respectfully request any of you who might be nearby for assistance and temporary shelter from my parents’ killers. I have reason to believe they’re searching for me. I will await your reply then provide coordinates. Thanks in advance.”
Now all I needed to do was wait. I had enough fuel left to make it to a port if need be, but I’d be safer in deep space for the time being. Passers by can’t identify your face and call the Jedi if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Speaking of which, who are these Jedi? I’ve heard that they can single-handedly take down an army of droids, but I’ve never seen someone deflect blaster shots with a handheld weapon-much less reflect them back to their source. And the blood? How did he stab my father and draw no blood? And who are these Sith the old man mentioned? Are there really organizations that mean to do the Jedi harm? It’s good to know that their propaganda isn’t universally accepted. I may not be able to cause the Jedi much grief as a single soul, but perhaps there are others who may be willing to offer me assistance. Oh, how I wish I’d thought to get that old man’s name. That murderer. I want to make him bleed. Make him scream. For my parents. My parents!
The visions of the day began to flash through my head. My father stabbed through the chest. My mother shot down by her own bolts. The flash of light in the living room window. Bounding across the field between the ship and the house. Sending the old man’s assistant through the door and into the kitchen. My father lying on the floor. His chest heaving, his eyes wildly darting about the room, his neck struggling to lift his head off the ground, trying desperately to look up at me. For help? For a final glimpse of his son? Me, standing in the entry way. Unable to move. Unable to help. Helpless. My father’s head going limp. My mother falling to the floor. The burn marks on her chest and temple. Her head smacking the tile with a sickening “thock!” Helpless. Five feet away and I couldn’t lift a finger. Couldn’t help them. Couldn’t save them…couldn’t save them…
I fell to the floor in my father’s living quarters, equal parts rage and fear accompanying the pictures in my mind. I couldn’t make them stop. They played over and over in my head like some kind of cruel joke, as if to mock my loss. I was overwhelmed. I howled. In my delirium I saw the Jedi in the bulkhead, laughing at me, tormenting me. I smashed it with my fists until they bled. I finally curled up on the floor, clinging to my father’s sheets, and cried myself to sleep. They took away my family, my home, my life. Tomorrow…
Tomorrow, I will begin destroying theirs.
“And then I contacted you.”
“Yep, and then you contacted me,” Brent took a sip of Ansionian tea. The warm drink was surprisingly refreshing after a cold week of minimal life support, “and I don’t think I’ve thanked you for that.”
“Don’t mention it! Don’t mention it! You’ve been planetside for an hour. We Jamiroquai, we take care of people who take care of us. And your father? He took good care of us. A good businessman. In return? I will take good care of you.”
“Well I appreciate the assistance, Mr. Jamiroquai.”
“Please, please. Young man, call me Renbee.”
Renbee was tall on the order of about three meters and just as wide, with bulous green eyes atop insect-like stalks and a pale blue carapace. A translucent sheath running the length of his back hid a set of vestigial wings. Having long since lost their ability to serve as flying tools, they were now used only for dramatic effect, intimidation, and lovemaking. His spindly legs resembled that of a bird’s and his soft ribbed belly was hidden beneath a silky green tabard that looked more like a poncho over his round frame. Three of his arms featured two elbow-like hinges, allowing for impressive feats of dexterity. The fourth was an unfortunate stump of flesh held rigid by an overgrowth of his shell-like skin-probably the result of a trade disagreement. Traders on the Outer Rim occasionally settled their disputes in a less than civilized fashion. The insectoid spoke in an even-tempoed, raspy voice. Lacking traditional lungs, his race made use of an implantable air sac and creative manipulation of their mandibles to speak a close approximation of Standard.
The two sat opposite one another in a brightly lit room filled with bright red booths. It was a busy time of day and all manner of folk occupied the worn seats, eating their meals off of yellowed tables whose wood-imitative coating had long since rubbed away. In one corner, a synth played upbeat local music in exchange for a small deposit of credits. Despite its condition, this place felt comfortable. It was obviously designed with inexpensive family dining in mind. It was much nicer than the cramped surroundings of his tiny cargo vessel.
Brent was excited at the prospect of being in friendly company after a week of confinement in his vessel. So excited, in fact, that he paid no mind to the other souls in the diner while retelling his story. He glanced around for a moment, suddenly aware of his surroundings.
Brent hunkered forward, his voice hushed to a whisper. “Do you think it’s safe for us to talk here? Shouldn’t we be talking in private?”
The insectoid reared back, violently clacking of his mandibles in laughter. “Don’t be foolish! My wife owns this place. Ynned takes great pride in her diner. All you’ll see here is working men, families, and children. This is no Outer Rim cantina. You have nothing to fear.”
“I believe you. I just don’t want the wrong people to discover that I’ve landed here. I worry that the people who were chasing me might come after you for harboring me.”
“Young man, you are too nervous. If I was worried, you wouldn’t be here. You will find none of your Jedi here. Your story is frightening, yes, but the only people who will find you interesting here are the children.”
The worry melted from Brent’s face as the insect’s words sank in. “Well thank you again, Renbee. Perhaps once I’m back on my feet, you can help me figure out what my next move will be.”
“Before you say more, Brent, let me say something. I have more ships than pilots. You can help me deliver cargo with the name ‘Henry Winkler.’ But your problem with the Jedi? That? That is none of my business. I owe my success to your father. I give you shelter and fix your ship. This is where my help ends. If you need to somwhere to sleep? Ship repairs? A job? I will help you. But the Jedi? I will not.”
‘Wait a second.’ Brent grew tense. He looked up, furrowing his brow at Renbee. What was really at work here? Did this giant bug intend to turn him in? Would there be a reward? Is this all part of a larger conspiracy? Is there nobody out here he can trust? He began planning his escape-starting with the recapture of his ship. Hopefully that blue bastard’s goons hadn’t already disabled the engine.
Renbee sensed Brent’s sudden mood change and broke the tension with more mandible clacking, “Young Brent, stay calm. To be so jumpy, this is no way for a fugitive to act! To doubt everyone around you, you will drive yourself mad! I knew Jacob’s feelings for the Jedi. I don’t share them and most people do not. You must learn to respect this. I will not help you with your Jedi, no, but I will not let you go homeless.”
Brent wasn’t entirely convinced, but he allowed himself a smirk, “Does this mean you won’t turn me in?”
Louder clacking. “Why would I offer you a job, then turn you in? That is bad business, my friend! Bad business! Now!” Renbee tapped a display on one side of the table, “Order something. I have work to do. Come see me later and we’ll talk about your next move-if that move is a job!”
A job? That might be a good first move. Even if Renbee wasn’t trustworthy, there was nowhere else to turn. He was the only person who replied to his distress message after five days of floating in deep space. Flying freight for the big guy would introduce him to a lot of people. Give him the opportunity to make connections of his own. Maybe even get on the trail of that Jedi. The one who…
Brent shook away the pictures before they flooded back into his head. Those memories were the only company he had while drifting through the void. Now was not the time.
He tapped a few buttons on the screen and ordered a fire skillet and diet quafe. He closed his eyes and sat back in his booth, enjoying the feel of real gravity for a change.
“Let’s hope this is a step in the right direction.”