Knights of the Old Republic: Outcasts
Chapter Two: Renn
The hordes of strangely dressed beings and bewildering sounds and smells assaulted Kara's senses in waves of chaotic interference.
She'd never seen so many people in one place before, nor been in a city the size of Othani. The stench of near-panic filled her as she watched the ebb and flow of traffic about the spaceport district. Her first step would have to be getting passage. She frowned down at her all-too-light purse. Maybe she could strike some deal with a ship captain, supplement her meager funds with the willingness to work.
Finally, she let the crush of traffic carry her along until she stumbled into a small cantina. From the array of species and clothing about her, she thought this bar must be frequented mostly by off-worlders. A good place to start looking.
Kara made her way to the bar and signaled the barkeep. She ordered a non- intoxicating drink and asked, "Do you know of any ship willing to take on passengers?"
The barkeep scratched at his considerable chins. "Lotta people want off this rock just now, Miss," he said. "But I think I know a few folks in need of some quick credits. Try that guy over in the corner." He motioned to a small table towards the back. It was occupied by one human male, apparently nursing a drink of his own. "Poor Renn's luck ain't been what it used to," the barman added conspiratorially.
Kara nodded. "Thanks." She paid for her drink and melted back into the crowd.
News of the forming Sith blockade spread quickly through the little spaceport of Othani, and had drawn its inhabitants, both temporary spacers and permanent residents, toward the cantina to trade news and information.
In many ways, it made it easier to meet a contact about some not-so-legal goods, thought Renn Falani as he watched the stream of people pass by the small corner table at which he'd parked himself. His plain dark hair and dark eyes did not stand out, and his clothes were perfectly nondescript, chosen to keep him pleasantly anonymous among the crowd of spacers and other folk jamming into the bar's small confines. He had a small drink sitting in front of him, which he hadn't touched past the initial sip - an excuse to linger here. No one seemed to take note of him, beyond a friendly nod. That was just how he liked things. It made it easier to do his job.
It didn't hurt either that everyone not native to this backwater was looking to get cargo and get off-planet. The Sith ships hovering in orbit were threatening to become some more permanent mess, and every spacer here wanted cargo, legal or otherwise, before they wound up permanently grounded. He'd never seen the place this crazy in all the times they'd come here. Derra IV had become a regular stop for them on their route, transporting supplies back and forth from various planets in the sector. But the ship was empty right now, and an empty ship made no credits. Would make no credits either, unless his contact showed up. With everyone else grasping for cargo too, this was their best bet to make a profit.
He scanned the crowd again. Renn didn't know the name of the man he was here to meet; he had only a description of a blond human male hair, and a load of slightly illegal cargo.
A young woman with pale hair moved through the crowd, stopping at his table. "Excuse me, are you Renn?"
Not his contact. Damn. She was wearing clothes in the native style, he noted, and she seemed agitated. "I might be," he said cautiously. "Depends who you are."
"My name is Kara Tao Vanden," she said. "The bartender said you have a ship, one that might be willing to take on a passenger?" She moved her cloak aside a bit to show her money pouch.
Renn stifled a snort at this bald-faced attempt to impress him. He was going to miss his real contact if this kid didn't get lost, and fast. "The bartender told you wrong. We're a cargo ship, not a passenger liner."
"I can't afford a liner," she admitted. "Look, I know I don't have much, but I'm also willing to do any work you'd ask of me during the trip. It's vital I get off Derra IV."
"Oh, it's vital. Why didn't you say so?" He couldn't keep his amusement out of his voice. "Girl, every other being in this cantina thinks it's vital that they get off-world too. We don't need more workers. We need profitable cargo, which you're not, and we're not leaving until we can get some." Over the girl's head, Renn caught sight of a blond man staring in his direction. Finally.
He looked back down at the girl's face only to find her eyes wet with the threat of tears. His teeth clenched. "Talk to me again later. We might be able to take you once our hold's full."
She nodded and moved off, taking a spot a few tables away. Renn's contact approached and slipped into a chair across from him. "The girl?" he asked without preamble, glancing suspiciously toward Kara.
"A local, wants off-world. I told her to find another ship, of course."
"Good. Down to business, and fast," the blond man said. "I want this stuff gone before the Sith decide to start searching warehouses...."
Across the bar, someone else noted the rejected look on the young girl's face. He also noted who she'd been talking to, and who was talking to him now.
This man was there specifically to note such things. He also took note of the people around them who were obviously armed, and those who were not, as well as those who might have something nasty tucked away in a private pocket.
His target was here and was trying to flee the planet. This much was now confirmed. They'd spooked her and now she wanted to escape them.
He was just reaching surreptitiously for his comlink when someone else entered the cantina. This newcomer was trying not to be noticed. In fact, he was trying so hard that the only thing he had not done was carry in a lit sign reading "I am up to no good."
The man watched the newcomer head for the bar and argue with the barkeep about the price and availability of some impossibly expensive drink, then turn to survey the crowd.
'All right,' the man thought, 'let's add the dandy to our detainee list.' He thumbed the squelch button of his comlink twice and then, almost sub-vocally, whispered, "Target in sight. Location blue delta 4. Move in."
Renn reached across the table and took a thin card from his contact, who called himself Thes. "That keycard'll get you into the warehouse where the cargo is stored," Thes was saying. "I want to avoid attention, so load it fast."
"As soon as the cargo's loaded, I'll transfer the first 2,000 credits. You'll get the rest when you get it safely to Boss Qui on Ord Mantell."
"Agreed. Pleasure doing business with you," Renn replied, pocketing the keycard.
Suddenly, light poured through the grimy windows and armor-clad troopers pushed their way in through the front doors and boiled in from the supply room. Someone wearing a lieutenant's armor brought an amplifier to his faceplate. "No one move, this entire establishment is under interdiction! Remain seated with your hands in plain view while we conduct our search!" he barked. The troopers began sifting through the crowd towards the corner where Renn sat.
Renn casually brushed a button on his comlink as he drew his hand out of his pocket to rest on the table. He risked a glance toward the Sith. There were still coming toward him.
His eyes snapped toward the man across the table, but Thes was looking back at him with an equally suspicious expression. There was a note of panic in the way he was fidgeting that said clearly he didn't want to be caught by the Sith anymore than Renn did. Did someone else sell them out to the Sith? Was it the girl?
Just feet from his table, the Sith troopers veered to the right and surrounded the table that Kara had taken when Renn shooed her away.
"You!" one of them commanded "You are coming with us."
The girl glared up at the trooper, her eyes shading from surprise to fright to outright hatred. She sneered around at the troopers who flanked her, weapons ready. It was a pitiful sight really: one slim, unarmed girl surrounded by seven Sith troopers with rifles leveled at her.
Renn had just mentally crossed her off the betrayal list when one of the troopers detached from the ring around her and brought a rifle to bear on him instead. "She was talking with this one. We'll bring him in too."
"Hey, I didn't-" he began, but fell silent as the Sith trooper took another step closer.
Then a new voice reverberated across the cantina. "Hold, foul curs!" it shouted, accompanied by the snap-hiss of a lightsaber.
If they didn't have men at the door, Renn might have tried to run for it amid the little distraction. But there were, so he remained seated. He looked up, saw the trooper who was supposed to be watching him had turned to stare at the man with the lightsaber. Renn snorted. If he was a Jedi, he was an idiot to just announce himself like that. If he wasn't... well, he was still an idiot, and he was probably going to get himself killed for nothing.
Renn watched the trooper and inched his fingers toward the still-full glass in front of him. If he was going to have any chance at all to get out of this, he was going to have to be creative.
He grabbed the drink and threw it blindly toward the table next to them.
The glass connected with the back of a glowering Trandoshan's head. The hulking reptilian alien whipped out a hold-out blaster and, not bothering to aim, simply opened fire in Renn's general direction.
By the time the Sith troopers had finally adjusted to the presence of a Jedi and opened fire on the man at the bar, the entire Cantina dissolved into general chaos.
Renn ducked under the table, though not before he saw Thes fall back in a heap, struck by a bolt from the Trandoshan's weapon. Bastard hadn't even paid them yet. Renn swore to himself and grabbed for the comlink in his pocket. "Now would be nice," he managed to get out. Another blaster blot struck a few feet from where he crouched. He grabbed his own blaster, then upended the table for more cover.
He glanced at his fallen contact again, then turned him over and slipped the man's blaster out of its holster. He wouldn't be needing it anymore, and Renn thought he could use all the extra firepower he could get to get out of this.
Kara sat transfixed by the shimmering blue blade and the man who wielded it. It was like the weapon she'd found at the farm, the weapon she kept concealed in her cloak.
The people around the man seemed to fall back, most whispering the word "Jedi" like it was a myth made real before their eyes.
The armored men around her stared at the newcomer as well. Their attention off her for a moment, Kara decided to risk it all. She lunged backwards, her chair toppling and spilling her beyond the ring of men. At the same time, she felt at the small of her back for the weapon she'd hidden there.
The crimson red blades extended from either end of the hilt and she crouched low into her center of balance, the same way she'd done for countless hours with her mother in the fields.
The soldiers stood dumbfounded, their posture slack with shock at the unexpected sight.
Her heart pumping, the Music sang in her mind. The faintest hint of a smile graced her lips and she made a downright rude gesture at them.
"Open fire," the lieutenant barked, and the rifles sang their deadly counterpoint.
But the Music had Kara now. In its embrace, she spun and danced through the blaster fire like it was a warm breeze, letting it bend away from her and her blade and passing through it with no damage at all.
The troopers weren't so lucky. They fell like wheat before her crimson scythe. Either the flashing blades or the blasters of the cantina's patrons ate into the Sith troopers and they fell one by one.
For a moment, Renn, too, was transfixed by the girl with the lightsaber. That had been about the last thing he'd expected. Explained why she wanted off this rock so badly. Seeing a pair of troopers coming up behind her, he opened fire with his blasters from behind the cover of his overturned table.
At this point, he had to assume no rescue was coming. He edged toward the nearest door, taking potshots at the troopers, hoping he'd be able to get out without drawing too much notice.
A fresh barrage of laser fire from the doorway seared past him. For one terrible moment, Renn thought it was Sith reinforcements, but the blaster bolts struck home and Sith troopers fell on all sides of the cantina.
A female humanoid with sleek tawny fur stepped in over the bodies of the Sith who had been guarding the entrance. She held a blaster in each hand, and continued shooting. Her eyes glanced over the tableau of the room, but she didn't seem to react to anything. Renn smiled grimly. He knew that look. "Right on time, Captain," he muttered.
Her cat-like ears twitched toward him, and she fired in his direction. He ducked back behind the table, only to be joined a moment later by the smoking body of a Sith trooper. She had to enjoy doing that to him. Renn saw his opportunity and ducked his head, running to her side.
"How do you always get yourself into these predicaments, Renn?" She didn't look at him. Instead, she continued to scan the room for targets. Between blasters and lightsabers, the Sith troopers lay dead or dying across the room, and most of the locals had scattered.
Renn made a face at her. "That was cutting it a little too close, Liana."
Her tail flicked gently, but she made no other comment. He hated when she did that.
Closing down her weapon, Kara felt all strength leave her. Even the exotic feline alien didn't register through the exhaustion. She stood panting and could only muster a weak look as she heard the man with the blue blade exclaim in shock.
"A red lightsaber? That means you're a Sith!" He seemed so shocked by this that he didn't even notice a trooper behind him who'd only been wounded struggling to raise a hold-out pistol.
Kara tried to re-ignite her weapon but the man was suddenly between her and the trooper, glaring at her in indignation.
The trooper fired before Kara could move. Blue energy crackled along the man's length for a moment. Then his eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped against her.
Both Renn and the cat-like alien fired on the trooper, who didn't twitch after that.
"What the bloody hell is a Sith?!" Kara exclaimed, trying to shift the unconscious person's bulk from her and into a chair, without dropping him to the ground.
"That is what these troopers call themselves," the feline alien said, coming over to help Kara shift her burden one of the few unbroken chairs. "I am Liana. I believe we should all leave this place before more arrive."
"Captain," Renn interjected, his tone urgent, "our contact's dead. We need to get the hell off this rock, now."
Her head snapped up. "Did you get the information?"
"Got the key to the warehouse, but we're not getting paid." Renn moved to the doorway to watch for reinforcements.
Liana's tail twitched again.
"My name is Kara Tao Vanden. I can pay if you'll take me off-world," Kara said.
"I told you, we don't have room-" Renn began, but Liana held up a hand. The man fell silent, although the dark look on his face spoke volumes about his opinion of matters.
"I cannot guarantee you will be any safer with us, but you handled yourself well in the fight, Jedi. We will take you with us."
Kara's brow drew down in confusion. People kept calling her strange things today. Off-world slang maybe? She dug into her pouch and produced one of the smaller gemstones hidden therein. It sparkled as she showed it to Liana. "If this will not pay for transit, I am willing to work as well."
Ears flicking forward, Liana took the gem and peered at it. Renn stared. "This is worth more than the cost of passage," she said finally, ignoring Renn's noise of protest. "Though we would appreciate if you will aid us in loading our cargo before we launch. Renn is right, we need to hurry."
Smiling with relief, Kara draped the unconscious man over her shoulder in a fireman's carry. "If there's room and enough change from that trinket, this lump comes too. I need information he has. I don't think there's time to get it here."
"Captain," Renn tried again, "that self-righteous idiot almost got us killed. I don't like the idea of him roaming our ship."
Liana considered. "Very well, but I will take custody of his weapon and he will be confined until I see if he can be trusted." She held out a three-fingered hand. Kara could see vestigial claws on the tips. "Is that acceptable?"
"Works for me," Kara said, handing over the lightsaber. Before this morning, she'd never seen an alien; but the prudence and honesty Liana exuded made the farm girl trust her implicitly.
She made a note, however, to watch that Renn like a hawk.
The speeder Renn had found parked outside the cantina wasn't a great machine, but after a little careful persuading, it was now loaded with four heavy cargo crates from Thes's warehouse, and four passengers. He hoped no one would miss this piece of junk and come looking for it.
He glanced over again to make sure that Jedi idiot was still knocked out. Renn had been objecting since they left the cantina that they didn't have time to stop for the cargo, but Liana was being stubborn about it. Damn proud woman. She was going to get him killed one of these days, he was sure of it.
He drove the speeder straight into the hangar bay, barely coming to a stop before it hit the wall. "You should have let me drive," Liana said mildly, hopping out of the vehicle. She grabbed a crate even as the ship's ramp descended and ran up into the dark opening before Renn could retort.
He turned to grab a crate of his own and found the girl, Kara, staring up at the small cargo freighter he'd called home for the past five years. "The Wanderer. She's not much to look at, but she's solid."
"She's beautiful," Kara breathed.
Renn snorted. "Didn't get off the farm much, did ya, kid?" He thrust his crate into her hands and reached for another one.
She snorted in return, mostly due to the whomp of crate meeting chest. "Out of the way, city boy," she retorted and hefted the last crate as well. "We wait for you, we may as well put down roots." Turning sharply on her heel, Kara stalked up the ramp.
Sneering, Renn turned to consider their other passenger. It would be so easy to just leave him here...
"Don't even think it," Kara's voice came down the ramp.
Renn stalked up the ramp and stowed his crate in perfect silence, then secured the other three before sealing the compartment in the side of the hold. Had she really been reading his mind just now? He turned to the girl and grabbed her arm, forcing her to look at him. "You want him, you go get him," he said coldly. "And if I think for a minute you're using Jedi mind tricks to influence either of us to do something, I'm kicking you off this ship, no matter what Liana says."
"I honestly have no idea what you're talking about," she replied. "Now excuse me." She went back down and returned a moment later with the other man, still out cold.
"Where do I put him?" she asked.
"Back in the speeder," Renn muttered.
"Enough, Renn," Liana said as she came back into the hold. "We have a job to do."
"Yes, ma'am." He pushed past the girl and her unconscious burden toward the cockpit and sank into the co-pilot's seat. Now all they had to do was get off- world before the Sith blockade had a chance to fully organize. No trouble. He reached for buttons with an air of long-practiced pre-flight routine.
No trouble at all.
"Thank you, Captain. I don't want to be a bother about this," Kara said, again hefting her bundle. She wondered idly when he was going to actually wake up.
"Come, bring him." Liana smiled, baring pointed teeth, and set off down the ship's corridor. "I'm afraid Renn and I have become accustomed to having the ship's crew quarters to ourselves," she said, pressing a button. The door slid open on a sparse room with three bunks, two on one side of the room and the third opposite the door. Only one of the bunks showed any signs of use, and that only by some clothes strewn across it - Renn's, by the look of them. Liana helped Kara ease the strange man down onto one of the unused bunks.
Doing a quick headcount, Kara patted the pristine third bunk. "I guess this one's mine, then?"
Liana tilted her head in mild amusement. "If you wish to sleep in the men's dormitory, you are welcome to, but I think you may be more comfortable in the other room."
"Other room?" Kara asked. "I thought you said... I don't mean to pry but, um, aren't you and Renn, you know, together?"
Liana's tail twitched back and forth with almost deliberate slowness, and Kara wished she knew enough about the alien's mannerisms to understand the gesture. "We are only friends and partners," Liana said finally, not quite keeping the laugh from her voice.
Kara blushed. "Oh. Sorry."
"I suppose I can see where you might think that." The captain moved toward the door. "I can show you where you will be sleeping if you'd like. It's not far." Kara glanced nervously toward the man on the bed. Liana paused and followed her gaze. "Ah. I think he will be out for some time, but I will lock the door and set the droids to watch him."
"Droids?" she echoed. Embarrassed again, Kara realized that she'd never seen a mechanical being before. They hadn't needed one on the farm; it was just large enough for the three of them, after all. She knew what droids were, of course. She just didn't know how to react to them.
Liana seemed to misunderstand the girl's questioning. "We have two on board. They mostly assist with repairs and maintenance, although one of them does have some protocol programming for translation." She reached for her comm. "B4, could you come to the men's dormitory. We have a guest I'd like you to keep an eye on."
"Yes, Captain," came a smooth modulated voice. A moment later, a bipedal droid came around the corner. It stood perhaps five feet tall, and its arms extended a bit below what would be considered human norm, but its gait was measured and serene. "Captain Liana," the droid said, "I am afraid T5-E4 is about ready to inadvertently do harm to Master Renn in the name of streamlining the pre-flight checklist. Is this the 'guest' you referred to?"
Liana sighed and shook her head. "I'm going to lock the door. Please alert us when this man wakes up. Provide him with food and drink if he requests it, but do not release him from the dormitory."
"Yes, Captain," the droid reiterated, taking up a station outside the door as Liana closed and locked it behind herself and Kara. The ship began to rumble as repulsors and engines came online.
Along the curved corridor was another dormitory. Liana opened the door and waved Kara inside. "If you'll excuse me, I need to get to the cockpit. Please take either of the other bunks and make your comfortable, and let B4-K3 know if you need anything." With that, the feline alien was gone.
Alone at last, Kara dumped her small travel bag onto the bunk and plopped down next to it. She looked about the small room, taking in the odd knick-knacks around the only other used bunk. Her first time going into space, leaving the world, leaving her home.
She should be excited. But to Kara, it was just a reminder of why she was leaving, and of what she lost.
Renn was on the com with planetary traffic control when Liana slipped into the pilot's chair.
"Come on, Daj. I understand that everyone else wants to get going too," her partner was saying. "We can make it worth your while if you bump us to the top of the list."
The static-filled voice of the control officer sounded through the enclosed space. "Are you trying to bribe me, Renn?"
"Of course not, Daj. You know we're honest. I'm just trying to expedite things. Our cargo is urgent and time-sensitive. We need to lift off immediately."
"Why didn't you say it was urgent?" drawled the officer, Daj. "All right, I'll see what I can do, but you owe me, Renn." The comm clicked off. Renn flicked the switch on the control panel and sat back in his chair. The small astromech droid beeped something rude-sounding as it rolled past his chair and out into the corridor.
"Is he a friend?" Liana asked. She didn't know most of the contacts Renn had made over the years, only that he seemed to know at least one person in every starport they'd visited.
"Sort of." Renn frowned, staring out the viewport at the open docking bay doors. "He's a good man. I usually buy him a few rounds when we're here." He sighed. "So now we hurry up and wait...."
Liana watched her partner with a careful eye. She knew more or less what he was thinking just by his expression. He was probably wondering how easy - or how crazy - it would be to just take off without waiting for clearance. That she'd invited the girl aboard without consulting him was probably also a sore point, though he wouldn't bring it up. Renn would trust her judgment, even if he didn't like her decisions. That, too, was something she knew from their long association.
"Wanderer, this is Derra IV traffic control. You're cleared for lift." A pause. "Hey, be careful out there, Renn. I don't know what the Sith are after, but they're pretty insistent that it's here."
Renn's hand found the com control again. "Thanks, Daj. You're a life saver."
Liana reached for her pilot's console, and the ship lifted gracefully from the ground before speeding out through the open doors. The ship rattled a bit as they cleared the atmosphere and emerged into the star-speckled blackness of space.
Thrusting himself up from the warm embrace of his bed, Kirennan Venaar felt the thrill of the hunter's call sounding in his blood.
Their prey was attempting to fly the coming storm.
He stabbed a concealed comlink button in the bedchamber's darkness with perfect accuracy. A young bridge officer's query answered his silent summons. "Lord Venaar? How may we serve you?"
"A ship," he began hurriedly. "A ship is launching from the planet below, from the western region, near our landing point, is it not?"
A few moments passed. "Yes, My Lord. A light freighter."
"Intercept that ship at once! Launch every droid fighter we have ready!"
"Yes, My Lord!" the officer responded. "A flight is already in the area and we will reinforce them at once."
"Do not lose that ship. Everything depends on taking it intact," he commanded, and broke the connection.
'Soon, Bladedancer's kin,' he thought with a smile. 'Soon we can truly begin.'
The sudden bounce of the ship threw Kara from her bunk, spilling her onto the deck.
Picking herself up, she barely had time to wonder what was going on when another extreme maneuver of the ship threw her against the bulkhead. Stumbling through the hatchway, she haltingly made her way to the bridge of the freighter, going more by instinct than anything.
"What's going on?" she asked of Renn and Liana, who were both frantically working their consoles.
"Sit down and strap in," Renn snapped, not even looking up from his display. "We're under attack." She obediently sank into one of the chairs in the rear of the cockpit, fumbling with the unfamiliar set of safety straps before finally securing them over her chest.
The ship rattled again. "Six fighters. I don't think they're manned," Renn said. "Their movements are too precise. Hold on, I'm going to try something."
From what Kara could tell, Liana was the one flying the ship. She couldn't understand what Renn was doing - maybe manning weapons?
"Let's see how you like this," the man muttered, his hands flying across the board in front of him.
The ship swerved to avoid a laser barrage from a trio of small metallic fighters that swept across the view port in front of them. More lasers flashed from somewhere behind them, a near miss that rocked the small craft, and the other three fighters swept into view. "Hurry," Liana said.
In front of them, Kara could see both sets of fighters making wide turns to head straight back toward them. She braced herself, but the impact of a fresh laser barrage never came. When they fired, it was not at the Wanderer, but at one another.
Before she could ask what had just happened, Renn spoke up again. "They're scrambling more fighters. We need to get out of here now."
"Already working on it," Liana replied. Her hands flew across the consoles. The starfield before them seemed to stretch and distort as the ship jumped into hyperspace.
The jolt of acceleration passing, Kara looked about in confusion and grave doubt. "Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"More often since we met you," Renn added, unstrapping himself from the co- pilot's chair. "I don't know who you annoyed, girl, but they're serious about getting you."
"Renn," Liana said warningly. The woman was slumped back in the pilot's chair, looking drained and exasperated.
"Why did the fighters attack each other?" Kara asked.
Renn stretched. "I hacked into the transmissions from their control ship and convinced them that we were friendly and that the other fighters were hostile."
She blinked, trying to process the information. "Is that hard?"
"Not for me."
"So underhanded sneakiness comes naturally to you, is that it?" she asked with a happy smile. She wasn't trying to return his barb, but she wanted him to know she wasn't going to take his ego either.
Before Renn could respond, Liana's comlink beeped. "Captain," B4's voice sounded, "the 'guest' is awake, and he appears to be in a rather foul mood."
-End, Chapter Two