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Rabbiddog
28 December 2005, 07:17 PM
First off I want to make it perfectly clear that this is in no way my work. I am transplanting this from the SWG forums because it is in archives and the creator\author looks as if he has quit playing and I have had no luck contacting him. I am posting this out of admiration and so the series can live on in another forum. The author went by the forum name of "FrankLee" on the SWG forums. If by some chance someone actually knows him can you please PM me. Thanks.

And now it is my plaesure to present FranLee's "The Dallet Series"


The Dallet Series

Part 1

“The Hard Way”


I tapped another stim-stick to my arm and rested my head back against the smelly headrest. It was beyond adjustment, permanently stuck a few inches too short to be of any real comfort.
"You need to steal better ships," she said. "This one stinks." My newest traveling companion was getting on my nerves already. One night I was too drunk to remember, one morning I was too hung over to want to remember, and one afternoon... I suppose in my recent history she's what I'd consider a long term relationship.
"I didn't want to steal this one. I had another one in mind," I informed her primly, while patting the pockets of my blast vest, looking for another stim-stick.
"Oh yeah, I remember. That would be the one that shot the POODOO out of us, right?"
I grunted. Women were great at sarcasm, and they didn't even need any drugs to get that way.
"Yeah, that one. Maybe if you'd kept your mouth shut, it would have gone off better." Truth be told, she didn't really fumble the operation, but it wouldn't hurt to have her think that.
"ME? I had him eating out of my hand!" She had, really. Like I said, it wasn't her fault. It was a harebrained scheme cooked up between bouts of stranger-sex and cheap booze. Add to that my infallibly bad luck, and you've got our present situation. As the stim kicked in (finally, damn cheap sticks), I thought back on the comedy that had been our 'plan'.

(Then)
"So I go in, distract him right at the ramp of his ship, and get him to leave?"
"Yeah, promise him your um, attention, and get him back in the starport. I'll slip aboard, slice his navicomp, and get out of there."
"Can you do that?"
"What do you mean can I do that? I sliced this rent-a-room, didn't I?"
"I thought you bashed it in with your shoulder." Oh yeah, I thought, I did. That would explain the bruise.
"Well, who do you think cut the security connection?"
"Hmph. So I lure him out, then what? I'm not sleeping with a Rodian."
"I don't blame you," I said. I don't think I've slept with any Rodians, but there are significant gaps in my memory.
"So, what then?"
"Then you make up an excuse to leave, catch a commuter shuttle to Balliztok and I'll pick you up there."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. Trust me."

It hadn't gone just like that.
The girl, I can't even remember her name, was pretty good at what she did. She had that Rodian away from his ship, and while he didn't leave the boarding ramp down for me, he left it in a low-security mode that let me get aboard pretty quickly. I sliced the navicomp easily and took off.
I probably should have familiarized myself with the terrain. Ground Control doesn't like it when you fly super-atmospheric to make a jump of a few miles. Apparently they're a whole lot more concerned with clearances and inspections and stuff like that than the places I normally frequent.
I had to travel at low-altitude, on a planet with a lot of mountains. Every time I got up just a mile or three above a range, some **edit** would radio me and give me a new vector. The commuter shuttle actually beat me to Balliztok. The girl was there waiting for me. So was the Rodian.

We left the shuttle (incidentally, called 'High Tide' for some obscure reason) on the tarmac, and went off gleefully to purchase some supplies. Our vacation was going to need some staples, and I was already running short of stim-sticks and booze. I was also low on pre-vent pills, and that's a major no-no with same-species relations.
The offended party started shooting at us as soon as we left the 'zone'.
There's a zone around most starports, where the police make active patrols, and make a big show of arresting tourists with the wrong documentation, rough up homeless folks, and generally civilize things. Right outside that zone is where the wheels of commerce actually turn, the good things really get bought, and the police stop caring what you do.
That's where the shooting started.

My luck, like the tide apparently, was in. Neither of us got hit, and we both made it back to the zone in relative health. Our collective health spiked for a moment when we realized that the High Tide was now rotated in its berth, having obviously been occupied by its rightful owner. This presented 2 problems. First and foremost, our vacation was going to be postponed indefinitely. Remember that right then, I hadn't actually spent much time talking to... what was her name again? Anyway, I was looking forward (then) to a few days of fun and frolic in our galaxy's hotspots, so certain portions of my psyche (and my physiology) were upset by this proposition. The second problem won out as a priority though, because it was life-threatening. If the Rodian was back on his ship, who'd been shooting at us?
It didn't take long to figure out; the little **edit** had paid someone to snuff us out, or wait us out then snuff us out. They were easy to spot just outside the zone, they were the ones grinning so damned much at my predicament. Attempts at negotiation were cut short by another hail of blaster fire, close enough to the starport to attract the attention of the police. The police weren't buying my 'lost tourist and his wife' routine either, after I forgot her name in their presence. I think secretly they might have had a few credits on which of us would survive the longest. At least they didn't grin openly.

In the end, an opportunity for escape presented itself. I have a feeling some of the Rodian's money helped it materialize. In retrospect, I should have learned by then never to trust my luck. Where the Rodian's vessel was a slight difficulty to enter illicitly, the second vessel I stole that day was just asking to be stolen. The boarding plank was lowered, and the pilot had made a big show of needing 'a few more things' for the long haul, right after he'd fueled up. As he bustled out, the girl and I couldn't believe our luck (and we shouldn't have) at the coincidence. The Rodian even gave us a sporting lead this time, letting us get beyond the system's patrols and out into the freespace where ships jump to and decelerate from hyperspace.
The navicomputer was tied into a droid brain controller for the ship, and proved to be difficult to slice. I succeeded in getting into the navigational controls about the same time the Rodian radioed us and opened fire. The woman didn't understand him too well, so she kept asking for a translation. I figured it was better she not know, so I lied and said he wanted to negotiate. I think when he slagged our only turret she figured out I was lying.
The navicomp was very upset with the jump I'd plotted. I hadn't really plotted it exactly... hyperspace jumps take a tremendous amount of calculation and adjustment. There's celestial bodies, each exerting a certain amount of gravity, and projecting mass shadows into hyperspace, and that kind of garbage. I did the equivalent of pointing its nose in the right direction and slapping it on its ass, right about the time that damned Rodian cooked most of the hyperdrive control circuits.




(Now)
"This place stinks." So she was back to that again.
"You said that. I think that guy set us up, I think he wanted us to steal this ship so the Rodian could shoot us." I mused.
"Gee genius, you think?" I gave her a flat look.
"What was his name, anyway?" I tried to deflect her ire, while I thought about our options.
"Spakta something. I think he was a bounty hunter."
"Lovely."
"You picked the ship."
"You could have told me! We were lifting a ride from a friggin bounty hunter? No wonder he was angry. I didn't think Rodians went in for us humans anyway."
"I'm multitalented," she mumbled sheepishly.
"Hah, don't I know it!" She hit me, rather hard, then locked herself in the fresher. From the noises she made, I gathered the room was misnamed.

We were in trouble. We came out of hyperspace rather abruptly. Sometimes you can get away with it, coming in at an angle at a mass shadow like that. The hyperdrive cuts out from some kind of strain (I couldn't explain the math anyway, so why bother) and you slow to space-normal speeds. If you come in too straight on the mass, you end up flattening the ship down to its theoretical density maximum, at which point it becomes incandescent for about a second before you return to the space that made you, all 100-billion particles going in random directions. If you come in too shallow, you either don't come out of the jump at all, or your course is so screwed up it takes your computer a month to re-plot it. We came in pretty flat, so we were ok in that department. The problem was, the navicomputer sucked, and the droid brain running the show was seriously put out by being stolen, shot at, and flung randomly through dangerous jumps. It took me 45 minutes to slice it to the point that it would consider calculating our location. It said that the calculation would take another hour (was that smugness I heard in its voice?) and that there were certain issues with the hyperdrive that would not let it escape the system anyway. Fantastic.
We were in escape pod range of a livable planet, but it had only the most rudimentary of civilizations on it; only one Imperial-installed automated starport for emergency landings. Our pods (and us, frankly) would stand out like a sore thumb on that planet. We'd cost this Spakta character about 45 minutes of trouble while he tracked us and then ionized us with his ships guns. Or maybe he'd enjoy himself and chase us on foot, but either way our odds sucked. I considered selling the woman to him, but who knows how the natives felt about that. I doubt she'd have caught a very fair price anyway, she was human after all.

Our ship had two escape pods. Escape pods are really poorly named. They should be called collection pods. You jettison something, usually yourself, into space when it becomes impossible to live in the craft that got you to the scene of the accident. Those little death boxes really just need a few hours of your atmosphere of choice and a recording device for posterity; everything else is overkill. You aren't going to survive more than a few hours of radiation, you aren't going to starve to death, and you certainly aren't going to come safely down on a gravity-normal planet if your 'rescue' crew doesn't get to you pretty quickly. What you will do, if you're conscious when you eject, is describe your miserable situation to the recorder, declare the disposition of your worldly wealth (in the off chance that your surviving relatives haven't stolen it already), and vent your atmosphere because you're screwed.
As I tried to size up which of the pods had the better recording device and how badly I'd lie to it (hey, posterity could use a few laughs), I started to get angry. It was probably from not having been able to re-supply with stimsticks. Having withdrawal symptoms while contemplating my own demise was not a thrilling prospect. In fact, coupled with the smell, the crappy atmosphere mix, and some kind of psychic funk coming from my companion in the fresher, I was getting pretty damnably aggravated. I cracked the seal on the first pod, and leaned in to inspect it. Apparently whichever bold soul had owned the ship before I appropriated it had decided that the escape pod could double as a chill unit for exotic foods. Maybe he had some kind of agreement with the atmospheric logic circuits, but since I didn't, I must have killed the softseal on the pod a while back. Either way, it smelled like all the lizards in the universe had gathered for some kind of culinary contest and used the pod as a vomitorium. I used the pod as a vomitorium too, and I actually think I improved its overall stink with my addition. I know I didn't help the smell in the control cabin.
"Other pod." I said to myself, sagely.

Escape pods can't really escape anything either. Sometimes they can 'escape' the crumbling wreckage of your last joyride, but that doesn't really count. Suitably motivated, you could 'escape' it yourself by taking a good stiff sprint towards a weakened bulkhead. Pods had very limited navigational thrust, and only the most rudimentary of navicomputers. Since they were primarily 'float and wait' or 'crash into the mass' kind of calculations, the computers didn't need to be very smart. They usually made pretty good voice recorders for the recently deceased. Either that, or they were pretty keen on telling the occupant that they lacked the thrust to assume a proper atmospheric entry angle, and that the occupant should take advantage of their superior voice recording capabilities because he she or it would be dead pretty soon.
I checked the second pod. No formerly food items, so it met my criteria for (limited) survivability. I ransacked the first aid kit and found that the same genius who'd stored exotic meals in the other pod had in fact included a dozen stim sticks in his medical supplies. I wondered briefly what he'd removed from the pack to make room for the drugs, but decided if it was something like yavinian snake anti-venom that I could live with the swap. I praised his innovative use of the first aid kit, and tapped a double-dose of liquid optimism.

While I leaned back against the wall, a glimmer of a plan started to form.

Rabbiddog
28 December 2005, 07:19 PM
Part 2

“Unexpected Goodbyes”


(Now)

I slipped into my e-suit and checked its seals. Being a responsible sort of guy, I double-tapped some more stim, knowing that it'd be awfully hard to do in zero-atmosphere. The seals seemed to hold, but the suit was tight in the shoulders and the groin. At least the canned air only smelled stale, and not like rotten food. I set her pod to 'ready' and went back up front to the recalcitrant navicomputer.
"Where are we?" I asked, but it must have been muffled by the visor. I knew it was wasting air, but I left it sealed. I liked the smell better.
"We are in the Dallet system. We are in unstable orbit around Dallet-2. Our orbit will decay to significant friction and entry at or about 221 hours from now."
"I'm not worried; we won't be here that long." We wouldn't. Well, I suppose it was a bit of a metaphysical question as to actually where we'd really be in about an hour, because I figured the girl and myself would be dead by then. Let the droid figure out the rest in the remaining 220 hours.
"Hyperdrive is not operational. We will be here."
"No, maybe you will but the girl and I are checking out."
"This vessel does not retain suitable maneuvering to negotiate a safe planetfall."
"I know, we'll try for it in the pods." I said, a bit smug.
"Shall I reprogram the pods? They are not properly programmed for re-entry. One of them is dangerously overridden..."
"No, they're fine," I said quickly. "In 5 minutes, I want you to vent the atmosphere of this ship."
"That is against my programming."
"Mine too, but you're going to do it."
"I cannot be compelled."
"Sure you can, I sliced the navigations, I can slice you."
The droid brain thought about that. For droids, a pause of 1 second must have been a tremendously lengthy consideration. It knew I had it over a barrel, I'd slice it if it didn't cooperate, and I wasn't that good, so I might mess up its personality.
"You cannot slice me." It didn't seem so sure of itself now.
"I sure can, I did it..."
"You cannot slice me in 4.8 minutes, to meet your deadline." That **edit** computer had a good point. Timing was more than tricky on this one, and I sure wasn't what we'd call fast, in my business.
"I... Crap. I could just blast a hole in here, and let out some air!"
"Your pod would launch, and you would be stuck on the ship."
"I can hack the pod, it'll stay." I said, smugly.
"Not in 4.1 minutes."
Crap, it was right. Again.
"What's your deal, computer? You just don't like me? I've been shot at, stunk up, underdosed, overdosed, stuffed into this crappy suit, and stranded around..."
"Dallet-2"
"Dallet-2. Stranded around Dallet-2. I've never even heard about this place, and I don't want to die here. So what's your problem? You're a droid, you're a ship-brain, let us go."
"I do not wish to die here either. I wish to make an agreement. You will not leave me behind." He was beginning to remind me of the woman. I was running out of time.
"Alright, fine. We'll catch back up to you when the rescue squad gets us, and tow you back."
"I do not trust you, human."
"Nobody trusts me, be original." Fantastic. I could picture the headlines already: Master Smuggler talked to death by Nervous Navicomp.
"I have depleted the atmospheric reserves in your pod. You have 6 hours to recouple to this ship, or you will run out of air."
"Fine, that works."
"Acceptable. I will vent atmosphere in 3 minutes."
"Hey droid," I said, feeling relief and dread at the same time, "put the extra air in the girl's pod."
"Already accomplished." It intoned, and it had a tinny air of finality.

(Before)

The escape pod didn't have a very bright computer. That was good, because I'm not a particularly bright guy, and when you consider the addition of the strain, the smell, and the primo stim-sticks I'd found in the first aid kit, I wasn't going to be fast-talking any Hutts. Actually, I figured right then I'd probably never see any Hutts ever again. Odds were, I wouldn't be seeing too much of anyone again. At least I wouldn't have to worry about the interest on my 'loans'. Still, I thought, it's a matter of professional pride; I shouldn't be having such a hard time slicing the droid brain on an escape pod.
*Bleep*
There, I now wasn't having such a hard time.
"Show me engine parameters," I said, leaning back to look up at the screen. Somewhere some Verpine has decided that all monitors should be at a standardized angle, to account for all the various space faring races. Just like standardized blast vests, standardized protein-bars, and standardized toiletries (I winced at the thought), standardized view screens suck too.
-Navigational thrusters: Full charge
-Navigational thrusters: 100 impulse-seconds of thrust available.
-Hyperspace thrust unavailable.
-Interplanetary (in system) navigation unavailable.
Hmm, I thought. Seemed pretty standard, but what I wanted to do wasn't standard.
"Display safety parameters assuming human passenger."
-Atmospheric mix: Human-optimum
-Atmospheric duration (0.9 atmospheres pressure, 8 respirations/minute 1L/respiration, single occupant): 96 hours
-Grav stress not to exceed 2 standard planetary gravities for more than 4 minutes.
-Beacon signal strength not to exceed -
"That's enough." I stopped the readout. It seemed pretty normal. I needed something a little less... safe, for my scheme.

"What did you do? This place smells even worse now!" She'd come out of the fresher, at least.
"Uh, nothing. This place stinks. You want me to open the windows and air it out some?" Guess I needed another stick, I was getting cranky again.
"Very funny. If we screw around long enough, Spakta will take care of the smell."
"I've been working on a plan, while you were powdering your nose."
"I wasn't powdering my nose," she said, offended. She had a nice nose. In fact, she had several good qualities, all of them visual in nature. It was listening to her that was not so much fun.
"Whatever, I've got a plan."
"Like what, we beg for mercy? We land and try to hide?"
"I don't think this guy's big on mercy." Nobody's big on mercy, unless they're into religion. Nobody's into religion, unless they're Jedi. Jedi are all crazy anyway.
"Rodians aren't big on anything."
"So that's why I'm not going down to the planet," I said. I wasn't. At no point was my plan to end up on a backwater trade outpost, waiting to be extradited or killed... or both.
"You? What about me."
"We, uh, we. That's why we're not going down to the planet." Woops, forgot to tell her about that part. Pods are built for one occupant.
"Don't be getting any ideas; you can't use me to bargain with. He doesn't want me."
"Oh? You guys looked like you were really hitting it off back there. I thought he liked you." Maybe he did, sometimes Rodians dig humans. What they like them for is a mystery to me.
"Everybody likes me," she said wearily, "We hit it off. But it didn't go so good when I had to leave. He wanted me to stay."
"So, tell him you needed to buy a pack of deathsticks and move on, what's the trouble?" I said that, wishing I'd done it myself back in the hotel about 6 hours ago.
"He didn't want me to go, so I told him his... thing was too small for humans."
I stared at her blankly. She had to be kidding.
"He got upset, but I got out."
"No way! You told a bounty hunter he had a small... " I left it dangling, I suppose somewhere between stim hits and pixie dust the proper noun lived in my mind, but like I said, I love the spice, and I pay the price.
"He scared me. I had to get out; it was the first thing I could think of." She wasn't apologizing exactly, more like angrily rationalizing.
"Great job, it's not every day you can make them chase you halfway across the galaxy. Apparently they're self-conscious. He'll probably use his biggest gun to shoot us now. Great."

She sat in silence for a while, while I finished up with the pods. Hers was easy, but it stank. Mine was harder, and I thought maybe I screwed something up, but since it wasn't a government job I didn't really have time to go back and check.
"Alright, into the pod," I said to her.
"No way, you take that one. It REEKS."
"Sorry honey, it's got the best seal, it's all yours." Their seals were fine, I thought, but I like to pretend to be chivalrous when I'm high.
"No way, you get the stinky one." She stood up and pointed, getting really angry with me. I suppose she was also angry about being put in it alone. I had dished out most of the rotting food into the airlock (which we wouldn't need anyway), but it still did reek. It probably always would, I thought.
She squeezed a little closer. I don't know whether she was trying to play the bully angle, or moving in to maybe sweet talk me a bit. She was really good at sweet talking. Too bad I didn't have time to check, but between the smell and my impending demise, I doubt I could have enjoyed it. I'll never know.
I did what came naturally. I slugged her. She went down in a heap.
I packed her into her pod. I felt the briefest twinge of remorse, locking her in there. I knew what I had planned for her, and it certainly wasn't all that honorable. Before I cycled the lock, I dug 3 twists of sedative out of my pocket. Taken separately, they'd keep her low and quiet for 8 hours. Taken together, they'd keep her that way for eternity. If things went south, I hoped she'd use them the right way.


(Now)

I punched out, later than I wanted. Arguing with the voice in the cockpit had taken too long. The explosive separation from the hull propelled me rather forcefully toward the planet. I burned 91 impulse-seconds of thrust in the same direction. Nine seconds of thrust left over. The warning lights from the pod computer blinked to life, warning that my approach vector was unacceptable. It really was. Coming into an atmosphere is a tricky business, and I never would have tried it stoned. You have to hit a sweet spot, where you come in just hot enough to cut, but shallow enough not to crash into the wall of atmosphere. In the business, we call those boundaries 'burn or bounce'. Too shallow, you zip off into space like a skipping stone. Too sharp, you provide some aboriginal people with an amazing light show for about 10 seconds, and maybe found a religion or two.
Luckily, I wasn't trying for entry, I just wanted to hitchhike.
Everybody knows the 'dead pod' trick. Sometimes you double up in another pod, sometimes you pay to fly off in another ship, but it's a smuggling tradition to dead-pod something down to the planet, making your hunter waste time checking the site out for survivors. Everybody knows the trick, and I figured Spakta wouldn't fall for it. Spakta seemed like a pretty sharp, pretty patient hunter, even if he did have a small wang. Hard to surprise one of those guys, but it can be done. Lots of stuff can be done when you're riding a stimstick and running out of atmosphere.

I rounded quarter-apogee at 3g before I passed out. If you sling yourself around a big enough mass, you can go pretty fast. I wasn't in it for speed exactly; I was in it for time. The problem was, planets like orbits. They like you to orbit too, at least long enough to slow you down and eat you. I couldn't do that, I needed to be gone for an hour or so, then come back... but I couldn't be in orbit. Orbit screams: "Shoot me" to a bounty hunter. I need something a bit more spectacular.

Orbital tourism has never appealed to me. When I'm on the job, I don't orbit unless I'm making a swap. I don't stop to look, I don't stop to ponder, I don't stop for anything. Make the buy, make the drop, make a buck, and hit dirt so you can spend it; that's my motto. I thought it was a good way to live. I'm sure it's a good way to die. While I sped around Dallet-2 though, I had plenty of time to gawk. Well, I had time before the g's caught up and I napped.
I'd been in space my whole life, one way or another. I'd never stopped to think that I didn't settle down because it pulled at me the way Dallet-2 was pulling at me, I only thought that some other planet was always offering just a bit more profit, just a bit slower bounties, or just a bit sweeter women. That was all bogus, all self-delusion. Space is big and beautiful, dark and deadly. It's gigantic and heartless, but it welcomes all travelers. All I wanted was to be out in space, one way or another. Fitting, I guess, since I was going to end up in it for a long, long time if things went pear-shaped.

I woke back up post-apogee at 1g or so, and things weren't so good.
All but two of the console lights had burned out when the view port had shattered. I didn't know why exactly the view port had shattered, but I suspected that part of the heat shielding had hit it, because that was gone too. Good thing I'd been in the suit, because the indicator said that the cabin had been without atmosphere for 37 minutes. Being unconscious, I'd used up less of the suit's air than normal, which was good. What wasn't good was the fact that I'd been sponging radiation for about half that time; the heat shield had been the majority of my radiation 'protection'. Maybe the suit kept some out, it kept smells out, right? One doom at a time.
I was still moving along pretty well, but dragging some negative delta-vees as I rotated past the half-circle limit of my slingshot. The brain on this pod wasn't that hot, but it had classical orbits figured, and I wasn't too worried about other gravity effects.
"Calculate intercept trajectory requirement for docking with... that." I said, and tapped a touch screen.
-Emergency Transmission Beacon disabled-
"Fine, I don't want to talk anyway, just figure out a docking vector."
-Insufficient thrust remains to dock safely.-
"Alright, how about unsafely?" I asked, getting worried. The cute little readout indicated we'd still be pulling 41 m/s by the time we intercepted our target, if we didn't correct.

Our target, incidentally, was the same vessel I'd tried to steal earlier in the day, the 'High Tide'. Of course Spakta hadn't bitten on the dead pod bait. I'd hedged my bet using the woman as bait too, but if he'd taken her maybe he'd have been satisfied and left. Either way, I could have (maybe) re-docked, tried for repairs or a landing, and left without her. Sure, it's a bit callous, but I'd be a bit _alive_ too, and when it all comes down to it, you'd do the same thing. If you were smart enough anyway. Didn't matter, Spakta didn't take the bait. I really didn't think he would have, but I like to play both sides. I hoped vaguely that she'd awakened to drop a little sedative and go back to sleep. She had plenty of air, but if my next trick didn't work the air wouldn't help.

-Deceleration calculation complete. Insufficient maneuverability with safe deceleration.-
"Ok, what's safe docking speed?"
-0.5 m/s or less. Zero relative torque.-
"How slow can we go and still manage to hit it?" I asked, thinking about a tradeoff between accuracy and speed. When you start thinking of yourself as a projectile, you should consider changing your line of work.
-3.7 m/s with minor torque-
"3.7? That doesn't sound so bad. Will the lock survive the impact?"
-Airlock specifications unknown.-
"Uh, crap. How about us, will the pod survive the lock?"
-Fully shielded pod would have a 92% chance to suffer catastrophic collapse.-
"What about a pod without some shielding?" Nice, I thought. What about a pod that's already suffered decompression, genius? I needed another stim pretty badly.
-Structure collapse approaches certainty.-
"Well, in about 2 minutes we'll know for sure, eh?"
-Intercept in 1.7 minutes.-
"Are you equipped with self-preservation subroutines?"
-I have no self-preservation drive.-
"Damn, that's got to be nice."

I had been hoping Spakta was smart, and perhaps a bit insecure. Maybe the girl had been right about his... shortcomings. He'd ionized the crap out of our vessel before he boarded it. He probably scanned it 8 ways before he got close, and had his ship set to bolt if anything dicey happened. Besides the dead pod trick, smugglers are known for a variety of other nasty surprises. Sometimes they blew their own ships up; sometimes they rammed the competition and prayed for good luck. I was hoping to earn a few drinks off my little maneuver, which I was already calling the live-pod.
Spakta, probably having hunted and killed a bunch of us already, was playing it safe. He'd come up guns blazing, and utterly disabled us. I figured the droid brain had gone relatively painlessly in the first salvo; ionizing energy usually hit them pretty hard. After that, the High Tide had probably docked, Spakta had debarked, and then the ship had unlocked and automatically backed off to a safe distance. No sense leaving the occupants, if alive, with a means of escape. This Spakta fellow was pretty sharp. I wish I'd known how long he'd be on our piece of garbage, because then I'd have known if he was done looking yet.
I don't suppose I cared too much, whenever he wanted the ship he'd call it back, and that would be that. With any luck, I'd be 'intercepting' before then.

Luck is a funny thing. Funny like finding out you accidentally requested an alien body servant of the wrong gender. My luck has always had a sick sense of humor, so I shouldn't have been all that surprised at how things played out.

I keyed the sequence that told the computer in the pod to start decelerating and to aim us lock-on at the High Tide. I watched our relative velocity on the gauge once we straight lined for the ship.
5.9 m/s.
5.5.
5.1.
"We're getting pretty close, are we going to stop soon enough?"
-Calculation was based on an unsafe intercept. No stop was calculated.-
"Er, yeah, but I mean are we going to get down to... 3.7?"
-Earlier calculation may have been in error. New calculation shows intercept final speed at 4.8 m/s.-
"4.8? Holy Palpatine, can I survive that?"
-You would not have survived 3.7.-
"Well, doesn't that suck." I wished I could have at least died with a good high.

Ten seconds out, something funny happened. Spakta must have decided that he was done looking through our ship. I'm sure the smell helped decide him. Either way, he called his ship. The ship only needed to move a kilometer through space to reconnect, so it didn't start moving very fast.
Just a few meters a second, away from me. That's all it took.

-Docking complete. Intercept occurred at 1.4 m/s. Airlock integrity confirmed. Pod integrity compromised.-
"I love you, you stupid droid."

After that, it was all downhill. Even the small bump on the High Tide caused it some alarm, and it corrected to a halt. About the time it was signaling Spakta that the re-dock had been aborted, I was re-pressurizing the airlock. By the time Spakta figured out what had happened, and overrode the safety checks, I was in the cockpit. The smell was immensely better than my previous accommodations.
I started to slice the navicomp, but it was a little smarter than me. Ok, it was a lot smarter than me. I'm pretty sure it liked Spakta better than me too, because it started to acknowledge him and pick up the re-dock procedure, and I couldn't do a damn thing about it. Navigation was locked. This Spakta guy was pretty clever about that. Not so clever about the communications, but who'd bother with communications out here?
Communications was unlocked. The console looked so inviting, and so... clean. I could see the indicator from the girl's pod, transmitting the universal 'I'm about to die, please help' kind of message in basic and a few other languages. I ignored that. If she was dead already, she'd have all eternity to torment me in hell if I didn't get to work. I looked for another trace, the indicator that would show me the link between Spakta and the High Tide. It was easy, because Spakta was smart and insecure. The comm dish was set to receive a tight-beam, relatively weak signal from a single source. Spakta wanted it hard for someone to take over his ship remotely. He'd probably never planned for someone to just sit down in his comfortable chair and ignore him though.
"Comm: Disable incoming feed uh... B." I said aloud.
"Feed B is a secure channel. This channel is persistent and cannot be changed without approval. Speak security sequence." Spoke a simulated rich voice.
"Crap." Said I.
"That sequence is incorrect."
"Comm: Retarget receiver."
"Enter new receiver target."
"The other escape pod."
"Retarget complete. Feed B link lost." The voice didn't seem happy or sad about it, it just did it. It continued in a slightly different voice, probably because it was coming from the nav console instead now. "Maneuver aborted. Require local input."
"Nice. Now we're friends. Jettison that piece of crap attached to the airlock. Close with the other pod and maneuver for pickup."
"Acknowledged."
"Repressurization complete."
"Good, open the damned door then." I was antsy, I still didn't know if the girl had taken the quick way out or not. It's pretty hard to keep a stiff upper lip when you're staring at an eternity of space. Maybe she'd only taken one twist.

I'd almost forgotten about the smell. Almost. I'm sure it won't happen again, I still wake up dreaming about that smell sometimes.
When the door finally rotated out of the way, I got a look at her. She was pretty pale. Pale the way people get when they've been dead for a little while. Drugs do that. Hypoxia does that. Being dead does that. I bent to feel for a pulse...

(Later)

I keyed the panel, and opened a conventional communication channel back to what was now Spakta's ship. I got the droid. I tried to leave a message, but it wanted to talk.
"We had a deal. I wish to continue function. You must remove me from this vessel."
"Listen, that's going to be tricky because... well, that Spakta guy is on the ship now, and he's a pretty tough character..." I was feeling a little sheepish, but relatively secure in my shiny new cockpit, with my shiny new guns. It wasn't taking the edge off of my mood; every few seconds I remembered the escape pod.
"Your deal was recorded -" he played my voice back to me over the link. I sounded high. I guess I had been. I still had a stick left, so I used it.
"I know what I said, but things have changed."
"DAMN RIGHT," a new voice broke in. It was high pitched and angry, had to be Spakta. "You will get off of my ship right now, and pick me up!"
"Hey buddy, it's my ship now. And I'd have to pick you up first anyway. You got any money?"
He cursed a lot; he was pretty good at it. Probably came from a life of having a tiny tool. "Look, we can cut a deal human. I want the girl, maybe you can keep the ship, maybe even make some more money on the side. I've got plenty of money."
While I considered him, a weird kind of sensation came over me just then. You see, normally I don't feel too strongly one way or another... I go with whatever nets me the most cash, or drugs, or women, or whatever. I'd probably have taken his money, taken his ship, and maybe even sold him later on... normally. But normal went out the window like precious atmosphere when I opened her pod's hatch. Normal took a vacation when I stood there remembering who'd put her in the pod. I had put her in the pod. What happened out there, whatever she thought... I did that. Some things shouldn't have a price tag.
"I don't think you want the girl now Spakta." I could feel my tone going flat and dead, but I was already there. The stimstick couldn't touch this, I doubted anything could.
"Either way, I want off! You can't leave me here to die!"
"I sure as hell can. I did to her, and I liked her."
There was more cursing, then it got quiet. I liked quiet, it suited me just then. Something inside me had eaten up the stim and spit it out. Something bad. I scrambled the comm channel and reconnected, this time encrypted. I figured the computer would get it, and it did. I still waited a few minutes to see if Spakta would launch into another tirade. Hours ago, it would have been a bargaining tactic. It wasn't this time. I guess I felt like I owed the droid something.
"Look, droid brain, about our deal... this is going to be tough, but I think I can manage something-"
"That's no longer necessary." It cut me off.
"Huh? You don't want off?" I was confused. Confused was better than quiet, so I stayed with it.
"Your offer is appreciated, but you should move to a different orbit soon." I keyed up a new orbit, very high, just in case. High Tide responded without fanfare.
"Eh? Why, I can't get you off from there, maybe we can download something-"
"Not possible. Spakta has been working on the engines. They will be overloading-"
Bang. Just like that, the floating garbage heap that had brought me to Dallet-2 turned into a very bright light. Spakta was one vindictive Rodian. The vidscreens turned opaque for a while to compensate. Diagnostic sensors went off all over the cabin, but that was a good sign. It would have been worse if nothing had happened.
I keyed the query button on the console.
"Any damage?"
"Minor damage. Forward turbo laser disabled. Structure unaffected."
"Good."
"Escape pod was blastward. Escape pod was not accounted for in shielding. Escape pod has been destroyed."
"That's alright, she don't need it anymore."

Rabbiddog
28 December 2005, 07:21 PM
Part 3

“Lady Luck”

(Then)

I sealed the space side of the door, leaving me in the airlock proper. It reeked. I hoped to keep the smell out of the main ship, but really it wasn't a conscious thought so much as a habitual response. You learn early to manage air on a spaceship. If you don't manage well, you don't have to worry about it because you go to sleep and don't wake up. The thought of that never frightened me too much, because a painless, unconscious death always seemed the way to go. I guess it was the way to go if you weren't the guy cleaning up afterwards. I had only checked in on her before for a second, and it looked like I was going to be running cleanup on this one.
As I stood there staring at the escape pod, the stink didn't exactly go away, but it became a lot less important.
I listened for a while. I wasn't in a hurry, really. I settled down on my heels and waited for the gas scrubbers to finish a cycle. It was hard to hear over them, and if she was breathing, I wanted to hear it first. I didn't want to touch her and break the spell. It was like quantum hyperspace experiments; until I proved it one way or the other, she was both alive and dead. When you jumped into hyperspace, you were kinda in both places at once. But the second I touched her, she'd be just one thing forever. I didn't want to be the one that made her that way, but it was my fault either way.
I had knocked her out.
I stuffed her in that reeking little pod.
I used her as bait, like a piece of bantha-haunch.
I gave her enough drugs to let her kill herself.
I left her out there to die.
Whatever she ended up, I'd already made her that way. She was pale and her eyelids were blue. She hadn't moved since the door swung open. My hands shook, badly. I always had steady hands, even when I was high. It was not a good sign.
The scrubber cycled, and the air stopped moving. It was like the ship was holding its breath. I know I was.
I heard something. A breath maybe. I saw her chest rising and falling, slowly, almost imperceptibly. I started breathing again. The scrubber cycled again, trying vainly to clean some of the fetid air out of the lock. I dragged her out of the pod, but she didn't seem to notice; she stayed unconscious the whole time. I got her to what I guess was the lounge, and set her up on the table.
I patted her down, and found what I'd been looking for. One twist of sedative, with the end bitten roughly off. Looking closely, I could see some of the drug staining her lips. She must have been too 'dosed to get the last hit down. One shot would have numbed her. Two should have put her out for a day; three would have put her out forever. She'd hit two, but hesitated too long on the third. Had it to her lips, I guess, when she passed out. I didn't blame her. I don't know what I'd have done in the same situation.
Funny thing is, I've sold folks enough to kill themselves before. Hell, one time I sold a Wookie enough to kill himself, then went to collect the balance and found him dead. I took what he owed me and a little extra for the trouble. Trust me; enough product to kill a Wookie is a serious dosage. Selling it twice was pure profit. That didn't bother me, or at least it hadn't. Out there orbiting Dallet-2 however, things changed a little bit. There was me, the perpetual scoundrel, drunk, and addict. There was the girl, trying like hell to get away from someone or something long enough to figure out who she was. There was Spakta, the bitter (and now dead) Rodian Bounty Hunter. That was it, unless you counted the smarmy droid I'd managed to get atomized. I used one third of the sentient life around me to kill the other third, and almost gotten myself killed in the process. The girl probably knew, too. She'd trusted me enough to get her out there, and I made a tool out of her. I killed her, or I would have if she'd been ten seconds faster. Emperor's Balls, the _droid_ had more class than I did. At least the droid warned me, and died with a shred of dignity.
I didn't exactly die in orbit around Dallet-2. But I was born there though, if you catch my meaning.

(Now)

I'm a drug dealer, among other things. I know my art. A doctor couldn't have brought her around quicker. He might have been able to do it without the side effects though.
"This..." she moved a hand weakly to her head. "Hurts. A lot." Well, she could talk, that's a sign of health.
"You were asleep for a long time. Give it a few minutes. Drink this." I handed her a shot of brandy while I spoke, diluted with some water. She got a sip down before she brought it back up.
"Booze? You idiot. Get me some water." She didn't seem happy about the booze. I would have liked the booze. I would have thought it was a kind gesture. I would have been grateful to my benefactor.
"Ok." I said. I can figure out when I'm being an idiot.
"What happened? Did you get Spakta?"
"Yeah, I lured him onto the ship, and then blew it up. I got on his ship and recovered you." Not that the recovery was my primary objective, but in my defense, the new me was still being born and some adjustment needed to occur. My hands were shaking worse, and I was chilled. Apparently being reborn wasn't healthy.
"You blew the ship up? How?"
"Overcharged the engines. Droid helped me." That was a bald lie. Spakta blew up the engines. The droid didn't do a thing except warn me, while I was busy screwing him over. Spakta had serious guts and a mean streak. I had half of that.
"Wow. So we're back on the High Tide?"
"Yeah, and you're safe now." I smiled. Ah, nobility. Perhaps I'd be rewarded.
"Safe. Gee, thanks. I'm sure you slugged me to keep me safe. And gave me the drugs to calm me down." Uh oh. So maybe she was a little more on the ball than I'd thought. Damn, I thought, she's got to have one hell of a ringing hangover too, and she put that together damn fast. Quick talking her was obviously not going to work. Lying was obviously not going to work. What did I have left? By the Great Black Hole... all I had left was the truth. That's one scary prospect.
"I figured us both for dead. I left you a way out. It would have been better than Spakta." That was the truth, Spakta would have been pretty brutal.
"You used me. I was bait."
"Yes I did. Yes you were." I found the dignity to look ashamed. My face wasn't used to it, it kept twitching.
"I almost killed myself, you **edit**. I thought I was going to drift forever..." she started crying. I can only imagine what it would have been like, staring out into the big empty nothing of space, knowing you were going to be a permanent resident. She could have had hours, maybe even days on the pod if she'd rationed food, water, and air. She'd decided, almost, against it. People don't make those decisions lightly. I don't imagine they like being forced to make them either. What the hell was I supposed to say to her? Yes, I would have sold you to Spakta to stay alive? Yes, I would have sent your pod into the sun if I thought it would have bought me another hour? Yes, I would have done all these things.
Listen, I got a good look at something out there as I rounded the bright side of Dallet-2. Two somethings, actually, and they were both making me sick. And they were both probably going to kill me. The first was the sun. Big and bright, it cooked the living crap out of me. I lost my rad shielding somewhere around the apogee of my slingshot. The second was myself. Finding out you're a heartless **edit** isn't so cool, but realizing that inanimate objects are capable of possessing more decency than you... that's harrowing.
I just stared at her. Almost unconsciously, I tapped another stim. I'd been hitting them pretty hard. I kept staring, and she stared right back. Still crying, kinda. There was something cold and hard behind her eyes. I deserved every bit of it, I'm sure, but it was still chilling. I started to shake. The stim wasn't helping.
"I... You know what I am," I said, "I'm sorry. I almost got you killed." It felt awfully weird to be ashamed. It felt uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.
She sat up, never breaking eye contact.
"You're a soulless **edit**."
"I was. I'm different now." Palpatine's Ass, I felt terrible. Something more than guilt was chewing me up.
"You're different now? Right. How?" Indignation, she had it in spades.
How was I different? I'd seen myself. I'd seen the sun. Oh no, the sun. My stomach lurched, I felt the nausea coming.
"I'm different for the same reason you're different than when you were in the pod. I'm dying."
I remember throwing up, almost. It seemed like a long way down to the floor, and for a little bit of it I was worried I'd beat the vomit to the floor and that it'd rain down on me once I got there. I know, in retrospect, that doesn't make any sense.

(Later)

Stars are important. No stars, no life. Simple as that. Stars are a gigantic nuclear reaction, releasing energy on a scale that boggles the mind. Even the sober mind. That energy comes out in almost every shape and flavor. Some long, luxurious wavelengths, some short, hyper ones. Most of them we can't even see, our eyes were never equipped to witness their awesome power. Energy is the root of everything, really. It's almost blasphemous (if you're a religious kind of crazy) to think of observing the whole of it at once. We, sentients, were never really designed to be looking at lots of the pretty non-colors that stars make. Our collective atmospheres absorb, deflect, and deny most of the bad ones. Gamma rays, X-rays. The kind of stuff that punches through buildings, it's got a lot of energy in it. Energy is life, when it all comes down to it. It feeds the plants that feed the fish that feed the bigger fish... and so forth, unless you're a Mon Calmari, then you'd need some other nouns. Energy starts it all. For me though, energy was about to finish it all.
I had spent somewhere less than an hour sunbathing without my rad shielding. The sensors in my pod had been cooked, and I took that as a bad sign. I had the equivalent of a sunburn on every part of my body, including my internal organs. That kind of thing usually killed you. Spacers know that. We learn about maintaining our atmosphere and our shielding before we ever learn about navigation, or hyperspace. Radiation sickness is an unflattering way to join the Force. There are drugs, of course, to minimize the effect. If you caught a small enough dose, if you were healthy enough, if you were lucky as sin, the drugs were to try to help your body survive a massive slough of newly-dead tissue and genetic damage. If you caught a large dose, were already sickly, or had bad luck, your crew just gave you a couple twists of sedative and showed you how to work the airlock controls with one hand. From the inside.

The woman, she's a better person than I am. After our first meeting, which was largely about sex and drugs, I wouldn't have called her 'classy' by any stretch. But in terms of humanity, strength of character and sheer fortitude, she's got me beat. Let me tell you what I would have done, if she'd gotten microwave and I'd been the one responsible for her care. I'd have gotten her good and drunk, and explained things to her. I'd have shot her one dose of the spaceburn drugs, and seen if they did anything. If she didn't turn around, I'd have overdosed her on H4B and given her to space, breathing or not. Wouldn't have been mercy exactly either, just convenience. Now let me tell you what she did.
She dragged her hungover body, much abused by the cramped pod and my drugs, off the galley table. She hauled my sorry ass up on to it, and got me rolled over so I didn't choke to death on my own vomit. She got me stripped and tied me down, and gave me three courses of anti-rad. Three's significant, I guess, because it's the same dosage I'd given her of sedative. Three courses might have killed me, if I'd been healthy. It also might have killed me anyway, if she'd just stood back and watched. She didn't just stand back and watch. She kept icing me down to help kill the fever. She kept applying bacta-bandages when my skin started to come off. She was no slouch, and she worked like a dog to keep me alive. I don't know why.

I was in and out for a while. Later on I'd find out it was ten days. I was more out than in, even when I was pretty well healed.
"Where are we?"
"For the millionth time, we’re above Dallet-2." She seemed tired. I didn't remember her name. There were some big holes in my memory regarding how I ended up in a ship's berth above some place called Dallet-2, too. I got filled in on most of those.
"Who are you again?" I asked, I guess it was kind of insulting. It turned out to be about the fortieth time I'd asked.
"Petra. Your nurse. Your partner in crime. Remember?"
"Petra, yeah. Dallet. Damn, I remember." Remembering you're a scumbag isn't all that much fun.
"So, who are you this time?"
"Huh?" I was the patient here; I should have been asking the questions. That was a weird one too.
"You've given me like 5 names over the past three days. You figured out which one you want to be yet?"
Now that, that was one damned good question. Who the hell was I?
"I guess you can just call me Dallet."
"The name suits you. You gonna lounge all day, or get us home?" Of course I was going to get us home. Home. Wherever that was.
"Petra, I'm sorry about that pod bit." I was, really. It was only just beginning to sink in, that she'd been keeping me alive. She gave me the weirdest look. Not mean exactly, but not nice. Just... hard. Like she was holding out hope that I had an ounce of human integrity, but she knew damned well I didn't.
"I know, Dallet. You've been saying it in your sleep for a week."

I got up to the cockpit, still naked. I wasn't hiding anything from her; she'd seen me in a pretty dismal state already. Walking was unusually difficult. I was weak as a newborn baby (a human baby, some species are born mean, and ready to eat their siblings). I was also (I'd find out later) 40 lbs lighter than I had been just two weeks before. I hadn't had all that much extra skin to spare, but the sickness demanded a price. Muscles could be rebuilt. Felt weird then though.
"What's our position, computer?"
"Two planetary diameters above Dallet-2. Geostationary."
"Good, " I said, "What’s our status?"
'Largely nominal. One weapon damaged requiring extravehicular repair."
"That'll keep; I'm not going outside again."
"It would be inadvisable, considering your condition."
Great, I thought. The computer knows my 'condition'. At least I didn't have Rodian hardware; they seemed to be the brunt of jokes. At least I still _had_ hardware, radiation poisoning can do some terrible things.
"Petra told you about that?"
"She required dosage assistance."
"Ah. Thanks for the help." I could be magnanimous; it was a machine after all.
"You are welcome. She needed help tailoring the dosage to you while you were being detoxified."
"Yeah, thanks. Er, huh? Detoxed?" Detoxified... a word an addict never likes to hear!
"You were quite addicted to drugs."
"I still am!"
"Not physically, you are not. Your system has been flushed. You have been sober for more than a week."
"Ugh. I can fix that. Wonder where my stims went..."
"I kept telemetry data on them until they entered the atmosphere."
"She didn't!"
"She did, the airlock."
Oh, that heartless **edit**. I swear I heard her chuckling. Wonder when she decided to toss them... before or after she decided I'd live.
"Computer, prepare a hyperspace jump. We're going to Corellia. Use the station as your basis point."
"Acknowledged. Will need to adjust orbit to bring the station on the planet into view."
"Nah, it should be..." It should have been right there, right below us, it wasn't. Either we weren't above Dallet-2 anymore, or we weren't above the same spot anymore. Not too troubling, I guess. This computer seemed to be a lot smarter than the last one. He'd let me know.
"Why did Petra move us? I had us right above the station."
"Petra did not order the move." The computer answered without inflection. The station rolled lazily past the horizon to come to rest below us.
"Why'd we move then?"
"I received new navigational data from the planet."
"Oh? What the hell, the station? What'd they want?"
"Not the station. A remote transmitter."
My blood ran cold, and I sat down hard. If I'd had more energy, my hands would have been shaking again. I hit the cabin-call button on the console.
"Petra," I said calmly, "strap in. We're leaving."
"Computer?"
"Yes?"
"When did you receive the new navigational instructions?"
"Ninety-one minutes ago."
"Ah. And how's that hyperspace plot coming?"
"Nearly complete, sir."
"Good. And what were your instructions before? The remote ones I mean."
"I was to move to stationary orbit and await pod re-dock. ETA 2 hours."
"What pod?"
"Why, my pod sir."
"Crap. Make that hyperspace jump."
"Acknowledged."

(In hyperspace)

"How do you know it was him?" She asked, but she didn't seem as nervous as when I first told her. She was handling it a hell of a lot better than me.
"Has to be; only he would know the codes." I said, and it was the truth.
"But you said you blew him up!" There was that, yes.
"I exaggerated."
"Huh?"
"I thought he blew himself up."
"You told me you overcharged the engines!"
"Well, he did. I thought."
"You are really not very good at this lifestyle, you know that?"
"Yes. Thank you." What more could be said?
"Geez. I wonder where he learned that trick, it was pretty clever. Blow up the ship to cover your ejection."
"Hah!" I said triumphantly. "He livepodded me, he just did it a lot slower. I taught him that trick."
She gave me a withering glare.
"Hey, what's your worry Petra, we escaped. He's stuck on Dallet, probably has no way of making hyperspace. We'll hop around a bit, and lay low."
"Maybe."
"No maybe about it, we'll disguise ourselves. We don't look anything like we did."
"That's for damned sure." She grabbed my hand when she said it, and it was almost comforting.