Prauf was amazed.
He stood up and bounced around on his toes, then leaned over flat-footed and pressed his palms against the floor. “I haven’t been able to do that in years!” he exclaimed. “I feel like a kid again!” He crouched suddenly and drew his blaster with blindingly fast speed. He holstered it and did it again. He was grinning from ear to ear as he straightened up. “Oh, yeah.”
Kor watched him with a bemused expression. “What were you, a quick draw artist in your younger days?”
Prauf shook his massive head. “A bounty hunter.”
Kor blinked in surprise. Just when he thought he’d seen it all, something new came along. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” Prauf was swinging his arms to explore his new range of motion. “Apparently my name sounds like ‘prof’ to humans and they called me Professor Death. I was one of the best.” He sat back in his chair. “At least until I started slowing down and got my head handed to me by a punk half my age. I had plenty of time to think while I was in the hospital and realized being a bounty hunter was no way to live.” He dismissed it with a wave of a hand.
“Hanging out with a Jedi on the run is no way to live either,” Kor retorted. Trying to imagine Prauf as a bounty hunter was a strain. He couldn’t see it.
Prauf sat up quickly. “Uh hunh. No way. This is completely different. The Jedi are about fighting the bad guys to defend the little guys and the good guys.”
Kor was cautious. “So, you want to stay with me?”
Prauf was philosophical about it. “Well, it’s only because I hate you.”
Kor burst out laughing. “You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“Not in a million years, kid.” Prauf gave him a twisted grin.
They shared a laugh then settled back in their respective seats, staring absently out the cockpit windows at the planet below.
Like most standard planets, it was a blue-green globe, more ocean than land with puffy white clouds alternately obscuring then revealing the surface below. From orbit, the topography was flattened and foreshortened, but they could see the ridges and folds on the planet’s surface. Bright blue lines marked where two giant rivers, large enough to be seen from space, cut through the continental landmasses.
Kor could feel the Force generated by all the life down there, from the animals to the forests but he couldn’t see any evidence of civilization. He tried reaching out with the Force to detect intelligent life but either there wasn’t any, or his abilities weren’t mature enough yet.
Prauf stirred. “Wanna go down and check it out?”
Kor started in surprise. “You know, I was just sitting here thinking about it and trying to use the Force to look for any signs of intelligent life but it never occurred to me to just go down. I guess I’m still not used to being my own boss,” he finished with an embarrassed laugh.
Prauf was amused. “Yeah, I know the feeling.” He shifted to look more fully at him. “So, ya wanna go down there or what?”
For the first time in his life, he found himself with money, comparative safety, a ship, a friend, and the freedom to go wherever he pleased. It was a strange, almost frightening sensation. There weren’t any schedules to meet, no deadlines to satisfy, and no overseers to please. He could do whatever he wanted. So why was he stalling?
Aware of Prauf’s unblinking stare, he took his courage in both hands and said, “Yes!” almost defiantly as if bracing for trouble.
“Great,” Prauf answered smoothly as if there hadn’t been any question about it. He sat up in his seat and turned to the controls. “I’ll lay in the coordinates and you can take us down.” His voice was calm and matter-of-fact as if they did this every day.
Kor took the controls, biting his lips as if expecting someone to reprimand him for being out of place. He forced himself to remember no one was looking over his shoulder. He eased the controls forward and the Whimsy began to descend toward the nameless planet below. Prauf’s course was on the heads-up holographic display in front of him. Their course was off track. He nudged the controls until their trajectory matched the course.
“We’re in the groove, five by five,” Prauf reported, even though Kor could see it with his own eyes.
Kor gave him a crooked grin. “You don’t say.”
Prauf shrugged causally. “You were looking a little tense over there.”
They hit the upper atmosphere and Kor was spared having to answer him as he turned all his attention to keeping them on course through the chop. After a few minutes, the ride smoothed out. They were still high over the ground but more features were becoming visible.
The surface below wasn’t quite a jungle but it was more than a rain forest. It spread in an unbroken carpet of green as far as the eye could see in any direction. If there were any breaks in the canopy below, they were still too high to see them. As they continued descending though, the green cover remained unbroken. Kor was starting to believe his use of the Force had been accurate; there didn’t seem to be any civilization or intelligent life on the planet.
He looked at Prauf. “I can’t feel any signs of intelligence down there. What do the instruments say? Am I right?” He was still new enough to the ways of the Force to want confirmation.
Prauf’s fingers danced over the controls with new-found dexterity.
“Nothing on this side of the planet,” he said. “Want to circle it to be sure?”
Kor shook his head, feeling more at ease making a decision this time. “Nah. We can do that later.”
He turned his attention back to the guide path he was following. They were low enough now for him to make out individual trees. Their branches were intertwined so tightly he couldn’t see the ground below them. How were they supposed to set down?
A few moments later the question answered itself when the heads-up display guided him to what looked like a hill. It turned out to be an irregularly shaped building poking through the trees. A cave-like opening, twice the size of the Whimsy yawned before them. The guidance line on the display led him straight to it. He throttled back cautiously. “Lights,” he said.
Prauf nodded and flipped a switch. Giant headlights came on, illuminating the ancient landing bay ahead of them. The front of it was overgrown with moss and hanging vines but inside there wasn’t enough sunlight for anything to grow. The bare metal decking was interrupted by occasional piles of debris but little else. Kor shook his head at the sight. “Knock, knock,” he said sarcastically.
Prauf laughed. “I don’t think anyone is home.”
He set the ship down, keeping his hands on the controls until he was sure the platform would hold the ship’s weight. He was finally convinced it was stable. “Shut her down,” he said, peering through the window at the vacant expanse around them.
Prauf nodded absently, scanning their surroundings as he flipped switches. The engines shut down.
After a long moment, Kor got up. “Let’s go see what we’ve got.”
Prauf joined him. “Watch out for stobor.” This time he wasn’t joking.
Kor understood the dangers of exploring an unknown planet. He collected his lightsaber and a blaster from his cabin then met Prauf at the forward passenger ramp on the starboard side. He nodded at him and Prauf hit the button. The ramp lowered as the door cycled open.
They went down the ramp, weapons at the ready. Prauf used a remote to close the doors and retract the ramp. He tossed another one just like it to Kor. “One for each of us,” he said.
Kor nodded and slipped it into his pocket. He looked at the datapad in Prauf’s hand. “Did Moreland leave any directions or maps for this place?”
Prauf shrugged. “Just this landing bay and a couple of hallways. That’s as far as he explored before he left to write his report.”
Kor ran his eyes around the landing bay. There wasn’t much to see. Ahead of them was a large double door, suitable for cargo loaders. Fifty or so feet to the right was a huge picture window. The room behind the window was covered in darkness but it was undoubtedly a control room of some kind. There was a regular door beside the window. There was another normal door directly ahead of the ship and he’d seen one to the left of the ship as well. “Let’s try that one first,” he said, pointing at the door beside the window.
Prauf nodded and they headed over to it. It was rusted shut but together they were able to force it open. The hinges squealed in protest. Kor winced from the noise, glancing around to see if they’d woken something up but nothing moved.
They went through the door into the dark hallway beyond. Prauf lit the flashlight attached to the barrel of his big blaster, panning it around. It only took them a few minutes to confirm Kor’s suspicion that the room behind the window was a control room, then explore the rest of the short hallway and the warehouse beyond it. The warehouse was noticeably empty and their footprints were the only ones in the thick dust covering the floor. Prauf found a power switch in the control room but nothing happened when he flipped it.
They returned to the landing bay and tried the door directly ahead of the Whimsy. They found what looked like a series of offices and meeting rooms, all stripped to the bone. By the time they returned to the landing bay, Kor was feeling a bit disgruntled. His first adventure wasn’t shaping up to be much of an adventure, after all, he thought.
“This is disappointing,” he said as they trudged toward the last door.
Prauf glanced at him. “What were you expecting?”
Kor shrugged. “I don’t know. Something more interesting, I guess. This is just boring.”
“If you’re bored I could blow up another ship right in your face,” Prauf offered.
Kor laughed. “I”m not that bored.”
When they tried the third door it was locked. They pounded and tugged on it but it was rock solid.
“Think we can blast it open?” Kor asked.
Prauf ran a professional eye over it. “Not with handheld weapons,” he said. “This thing is heavy armor. The ship’s guns might do it but this is too small a space for something that strong.”
Kor holstered his blaster and pulled his lightsaber. “Maybe I can cut through with this,” he said. He flipped the switch.
He stepped up to the door but before he could do anything a light came on beside it.
A mechanical voice, stilted and harsh, issued out of a metal grate beside the door.
“Greetings, Master Jedi. How may I be of service?”