Prauf slapped switches to activate their weapons and shields while Kor answered the warning. “This is the Jedi ship, Whimsy. Viceroy Zark Jien sent us to track down the pirates that have been stealing your ore, destroying your ships, and killing you.”
There was a long silence.
Finally, a different voice came over the comm, a woman’s voice, full of suspicion. “That’s easy to say, but do you have any proof? And why would the Viceroy care about miners all of the sudden? He never has before.”
Kor inserted the disk Jien had given them. “We’re transmitting the credentials the Viceroy gave us. As to why he cares . . . trust me, I got the distinct impression he doesn’t. He only cares about getting the ore moving again. Gotta pay for that fancy office of his after all.”
They heard faint laughter in the background. The woman was trying to hide her amusement and remain official. “Okay, the ID checks out, but why are the high and mighty Jedi working for scum like Jien?”
Prauf bristled at the insult but Kor put a hand on his arm. “We don’t work for anyone, not the way you mean. When people call for our help, we come. When we’re done, they give us whatever seems appropriate to them. AND, if you’ve seen any of our videos, you know we’re neutral toward all governments, especially the ones we don’t like.”
“Seen your videos?” The woman wasn’t trying to hide her amusement any longer. “Who hasn’t?”
Prauf relaxed and turned off the weapons and lowered the shields.
The woman said something to someone in the room with her. “I see you’ve lowered your shield and deactivated your weapons.” She said something else and received an indistinct reply. “Alright, Whimsy, you’re cleared for docking on A17. It’s got a universal collar on it.”
Kor nodded even though the Terminal had never turned on their video feed. “That’s fine. Whimsy out.”
Prauf eyed the data coming in. A path showed on the screen. “Left and down that way,” he said, pointing out the window.
Minutes later they docked and shut down the engines. They heard the docking collar settle around the starboard passenger door. It began pressurizing and was showing green by the time they reached it. They opened it and strode down the ramp into a cold metal room. There had been a soft rubber coating on the walls at one time but it had long since worn off, leaving only bits and pieces of torn rubber clinging here and there. The floor was covered with noisy metal grates that bounced and rattled as they walked.
They heard footsteps approaching and stopped in an elbow of the extended arm, where there was more room.
A slender woman with flaming red hair down to the middle of her back and sparkling green eyes led the way, wearing a gray, loose-fitting jumpsuit and high black boots. She was tall for a woman, only a little shorter than Kor. Presumably, she was the one they’d spoken to on the comm. She moved with the easy confidence of one born to command. Behind her was a motley assemblage of humanoids, mostly human but with a fair assortment of Bothans, Twi’leks, and a couple of Zabraks.
She stopped several steps from them and eyed them curiously. “I’m Mia Riencam.”
Mia wasn’t as snooty as they’d feared a former pilot for the New Republic would be. Once they got past their initial reaction to her, she turned out to be a font of information.
“Yeah, I know most of them,” she said, tossing the sheet of possible pirates on the table. They were in the station mess hall, talking over the dull roar of miners eating their meals, talking, coming, and going. Numerous surreptitious glances were being thrown their way.
The terminal, or station, was run on a loose “first come, first serve” basis with the miners themselves filling in as needed to help run it. Since their livelihoods depended on it, they had a strong incentive to keep it running as smoothly as possible. She’d been coming “on duty” in the comm center when they arrived.
“Sector 287 is moderately busy,” she replied in answer to their questions about it. “Each sector covers a lot of empty space. You could stuff thousands of planets in each one with plenty of room left over.”
Kor leaned forward. Mia had the most amazing cheekbones. He blinked and shook his head. “How many miners does it take to be considered moderately busy?”
She seesawed her hand. “A couple hundred, give or take.”
He and Prauf exchanged glances.
That’ll make it harder to track them.
Prauf had to agree. We can’t necessarily track them by their feelings either. A lot of these miners are on the ragged edge of turning into outlaws themselves.
It was true. Ever since coming aboard the station, they’d been swamped by an overload of negative emotions, hostility, and fear. Mia was the one beacon of clear, honest goodness that shone all the brighter for the darkness around her.
“Do you know what parts of the sector these guys like to work?” Kor asked her.
She shook her head firmly. “Miners keep the location of their claims secret to prevent claim jumping. It happens a lot out here and there aren’t enough marshals to keep a lid on it. Hardly any, in fact,” she added with disgust. She waved it away. “Once the ore is in the bucket, there’s no way to tell where it came from so everyone keeps their claim locations hidden. They take convoluted courses to get to them and do the same thing leaving them to shake anyone trying to follow them.”
Kor wished he could find an excuse to keep talking to her but if she couldn’t tell them where the pirate-miners stayed, they’d have to interview the other three candidates who might know. “What about these three?” He pushed over a sheet with Jorge Ancho, Ladd Inux, and Rolf One Eye written on it. “Do you think you could tell us where to find them?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Well now, isn’t this interesting?”
He and Prauf traded looks. “Interesting, how?”
“All three of these guys took off in their ships as soon as you identified yourselves as Jedi.”
Kor’s lips compressed. “Don’t tell me, let me guess, heading for Sector 287.”
She laughed lightly. “Of course.”
Prauf snarled, “We can still catch them if we hurry. They should be the only ships on the scanners that are heading away from here. And if the scanners can’t track them through the asteroids, we can.”
Her eyebrows went up. “Really?”
Kor nodded, then suddenly said, “You can come with us and watch if you like.”
What are you doing, kid?
That ain’t the question. Are you falling for this girl?
Well? Are you?
That’s none of your business.
Yeah? Then me and Ahsoka are none of your business either. Mia was looking back and forth between them. “Have you guys got some kind of Jedi thing going on between you? You look like you’re talking without talking.”
Prauf chuckled. “Yeah, it’s not mind reading though. It’s kinda like having a comm set in your head.”
“That could come in handy,” she replied. “I wished we’d had something like that when I was a fighter jock. People were always trying to jam our comm signals.”
Kor stood up. “So, you want to come with us?”
She bounced up. “Of course!” Her excitement was obvious in the Force. “Who wouldn’t?” Her eyes sparkled.
They headed back toward the docking arm. “What about your ship?”
She brushed off Prauf’s question. “Locked up tighter than a drum. I have a few tricks left over from my fighter days that these lunkheads never heard of. The only way they’re getting into my ship is to blow it up.” She immediately started looking around as they boarded the Whimsy. “Nice. Small, but nice.”
There was a fold-out chair in the wall behind each of the two forward seats in the cockpit. Kor told her to take whichever one she liked. She unfolded the one behind him then leaned forward to peer over his shoulder as he powered it up.
Prauf activated the scanners as they pulled away from the station. “There! Three ships heading away from the station.”
“Pull up their registry numbers,” she told him.
“Hmm?” He scanned the controls. “How?”
She gave him an incredulous look. “You don’t know how to pull up a ship’s registry from your scanners?” She stood up and leaned over his board. “Here, like this.” She punched several buttons, then typed in a command, followed by another one. Three registry numbers appeared on the screen and she sat back down. “Compare those to the information you have on Jorge, Ladd, and Rolf and I’ll bet you’ll find those are their ships. I recognize the middle one anyway, it belongs to Rolf.”
Prauf half-turned in his seat to look at her. “Where did you learn to do that?”
“Flight school, where else? Didn’t they teach it at your flight school?”
“Uh, I kinda, learned on the job,” Prauf stuttered. “There may be a few – gaps – in my knowledge.”
“I’ll say,” she smirked.
Kor took pity on his friend and pushed the controls forward, accelerating to top speed, extending his sense through the Force to navigate around the billions of asteroids floating around them.
Mia gasped and grabbed the back of his seat in fear. After a few minutes, as it became clear he was safely dodging all the obstacles, she relaxed her grip. “How are you doing that? You’re dodging things that barely register on the scanners.”
Kor grinned but she couldn’t see it. “I’m using the Force to detect incoming danger, just like we do when we’re fighting. It guides me safely through the field.”
“You mean it controls you?”
“It’s more like a symbiosis. It goes both ways.” He could tell she wasn’t getting it so he tried a different approach. “Have you ever been in a dogfight where you felt connected to your squadmates, where you almost knew before they did it what they were going to do and played off it?”
“Yes!” She nearly squeaked with excitement. “My last year in the cockpit I started feeling that connection to the rest of my squadron. I thought it was just because we’d been around each other so much.”
Kor put the Whimsy into a sideways roll around an oncoming asteroid, sending shadows flashing across the cockpit. “It probably was. The point is, using the Force is similar to what you felt in your squadron.”
“Wow. And that helps you dodge asteroids and track those guys up ahead?”
Kor threw a grin over his shoulder at her. “Naw, that part is because the Force is created by all living things, so naturally we can sense the presence of living things. In space, there’s not much living out here, so anything alive, like our friends up there, stands out like a sore thumb.”
They were rapidly catching up to their quarry. Prauf activated the comm panel. “Jorge Ancho, Ladd Inux, and Rolf One Eye, this is the Jedi ship Whimsy. Stop and prepare to be boarded. If you don’t, we’ll target your engines and make you stop.”
Mia stood up and motioned for Prauf to let her talk. “Guys, this is Mia. I’m on the Whimsy with them. These two are the real thing. Better stop or you’re gonna be sorry.”
There was no response.
After waiting a few moments, Prauf shrugged and powered up the weapons and shields. Mia gestured for him to open the comm again. “Guys, this ship is armed to the teeth and they just activated their weapons. Take a look at your scans if you don’t believe me. I’m serious, you better stop while you can.”
“I’m looking,” a rough voice answered, “and we’re three or four times bigger than them, with a truckload of shielding. They can kiss my rear-end.”
Mia smiled. “Rolf? Is that you? You’ve only got one eye left but hopefully, your whole brain is still intact. Listen, these are the same two who took out a whole battleship in less than an hour! You saw the video the same as the rest of us. You think a little mining boat is going to stop them?”
“Our mining lasers can cut ‘em in half.” Rolf didn’t sound as confident as he was trying to pretend.
“Sure,” she laughed, “if you can get them to stand still long enough. But they can run circles around you and they have more weapons than all of you put together. Last chance.”
There was another long silence.
Finally, one ship, then all of them, slowed and stopped.
Kor gave Mia a thumbs up and gestured for her to take it. She smiled. “Smart move, guys. Link your ships together and we’ll be over to do the same.”
We? Prauf gave Kor an incredulous look. Is she moving in already?
I hate you.
Mia picked up on it and looked back and forth. “Alright you two, what’s going on?”
Prauf raised his hands innocently. “Nothing, nothing at all.”
If you like my writing, the menu at the top of the page will take you to my short stories, fan fiction, and poetry.
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