He was going to die.
The still hot blaster was only three feet from his outstretched hand.
Heath Helstrom gritted his jaw; the muscles pulsed defiantly. The curtain of heat from the boiling lava below him swept his blonde hair back across his forehead. The durasteel grate underneath him bit into his muscled chest. All around him were the dead Sith Lord's henchmen.
"You will die, Helstrom."
A red armored death mask scowled down at him. The Sith lord held a blazing red lightsaber in one gloved hand; in the other he gripped a shock of platinum blonde hair. Connected to that hair was the princess that he had come to Betazius IV to rescue.
"Heath, save me!"
Reaching out his muscular arm (liberally beaded with sweat), Helstrom stretched for the weapon.
Helstrom looked up at the Sith, a question spreading over his stoic features.
Walthen Borr's head snapped forward, his reverie broken. His feet hit the floor.
His supervisor stood in front of him. The squat Rodian shook his bulbous head.
"Daydreaming again? If I come down here again, and you are staring out the window again, or playing games, or whatever it is that you do down here besides your job, you'll be scraping the streets!"
Slamming a green palm down on Borr's narrow desk, the alien hissed, his face twisting into the Rodian version of a smile.
"As it is," he purred," the Sector Head position has just been filled."
Walthen Borr smoothed his hands over his tight face as it rushed with blood.
That promotion was supposed to be mine.
His eyes followed the Rodian out of the cubicle, staring ice after the bug-eyed alien. Settling back in his creaking chair, Borr's gaze wandered around the claustrophobic workstation. He rubbed his thinning black scraggle of hair.
Blinking monitors surrounded him on three sides. The twenty displays scrolled, blinked, and flashed information incessantly. Information that meant nothing to an average human being.
Walthen let the air out of his lungs.
He was not quite an average human being.
He was Assistant Executive Acquisitions and Compliance Officer for the Generis, Faytch and Organa Accounting Firm.
"Expansion Region Division," he muttered to himself, as if he needed reminding. Ten years in this cubicle did nothing if not remind him of the existence of the precariously slippery corporate ladder.
And my exceedingly low position on it.
His eyes locked on the screen in front of him. The green monitor was the only one of the lot that displayed anything of importance to him at the moment.
Back to work.
He read again what he had been writing before his omnipresent supervisor had interrupted him. Nodding his head, he hunched forward over the keyboard, fingers poised. Thin digits trembled as Walthen tried to force his brain back into gear.
Sucking in a breath, he turned his head, looking out the window.
Out onto Coruscant.
From the 723rd floor of the Tagge East Tower, the cityscape stretched out below him. Lines of air speeders coasted through the maze of buildings to destinations unknown. Walthen shook his head.
Must be better than where I am going.
Forcing his head back to the screen in front of him, he sharpened his focus on the glowing words.
A picture of his character's outstretched form blinked into his mind.
"He reached for the weapon?"
His fingers vibrated. Images of his supervisor's bulging eyes raced through his head?fleeting images of his girlfriend.
"Focus. He reached for the weapon-"
"Hey Walty! I heard ole' Fredis flapping his snout at you!"
Walthen's hands rolled into white fists. Turning slowly, he looked at Jav Tamana from under his brow. The tall, lanky human smiled a gap-toothed grin, laughing to himself.
"What?" Walthen shot back.
Tamana's hands shot up defensively.
"Take it easy, little buddy, I just wanted to let you know we're doing lunch at Veroon's today. Sheesh?try to do a guy a favor?stang."
Walthen turned back to the screen.
Don?t call me little, you overstretched Yant weed.
Tamana disappeared, leaving Walthen's fingers hovering over the keyboard again. He became conscious of his own breathing. And his inability to write another word that made any sense. Beads of sweat began to roll down his temple.
His hands drooped onto the keys as he struggled to wring the creativity from his brain.
"He reached?for the weapon?"
"Data dump, please acknowledge."
Walthen clenched his eyelids until he saw white. He knew that the chunky delivery droid had floated up behind him, waiting for acknowledgement before dropping its bucket load of data chips for him to sort and catalog.
"Confirm, Borr two-two-seven," he gritted, his eyes remaining shut.
When he opened them, the droid had gone. In its place stood a two foot tall hoverbin full of data chips, waiting for him to upload into the central core.
Standing, he was stopped by a buzz from the comm. Punching the button on the desk, he spoke into the air.
A strained silence greeted his ears. His face flushed again; he looked down at the sender's identification.
"I mean, Walthen Borr, how may I help you?"
"Yes?Borr?we need to see you after shift, you don?t mind staying, right? In my office. That'd be great. Alright."
His boss's transmission flicked off before he could open his mouth.
Now Walthen could feel the blood in his head starting to build. Whirling on the crate, he settled in front of the monitor again. His finger hovering over the purge button, he shook his head, reading the words he had labored so hard to create.
Boring life. Soul-sucking job. Run down apartment. Now writer's block. Perfect.
"At least I still have my girl."
His finger hovered for another second.
He shook his head.
Pressing the save key, he shut down the screen, turning to the hover bin. The piles of data chips did bring one ray of hope into his otherwise bleak day.
Only two more hours to go.
"Don?t worry! I will save you!"
Leaping to his feet, Heath gripped the blaster. The thick weapon felt good in his strong hand. Pointing the pistol at the Sith, he aimed the barrel at the red death mask.
"Goodbye, Sith scum!"
The tendons in his hands tightened.
The barrel faltered. The princess' hands shot up.
In front of the Sith.
"Are you stupid? I don?t need saving. I came here to get away from you, you presumptuous sot!"
The barrel faltered further.
Heath's massive chest suddenly deflated. The Sith lord began to laugh, a deep, mechanical guffaw. The princess took a bold step forward.
"It looks like you are the one that needs saving," she continued. "How do you think I could love you? Look at yourself! You couldn?t save a sand slug!"
The princess stood on her toes, planting a firm kiss on the Sith's crimson mask. Heath swore he heard her whisper sweet nothings into Sith's audio receptor.
The princess turned to Heath, a wicked smile crossing her face.
"Now this?is a man."
Heath's knees turned to jelly.
A hundred pairs of footsteps echoed on the platform behind him. The princess laughed, her eyes narrowing.
"It looks like you're the one who needs saving, Helstrom."
How long Walthen had been staring at his hands, he had no idea.
He made himself blink, focusing on the window. It was dark; he was still at work.
Stacks of data chips were piled around him; eager console slots awaited their information in the long, cooled room. Reaching for another chip, Walthen pushed it into the appropriate slot, briefly reviewing the display screens before encoding the data for storage. His eyes scanned the first few pages of information as each chip was accessed by the computer core.
Walthen Borr had gone to his boss's office after shift.
Requisition orders for Ord Veica.
What he had seen there he wouldn?t soon forget.
Bills of lading for Atrivis.
He had walked into the palatial office, an office too big for the barrel shaped man who occupied it.
Cargo manifests for the new mech factory on Kloribu'u.
His girlfriend had been sitting on the middle of his boss's desk.
Shrinkage reports for the textile storage plant on Kiallus.
His boss and his girlfriend had been seeing each other for three months. The happy pair of corporate climbers felt that notifying Walthen was the only considerate thing to do. Funny thing, it seemed like the new couple had actually believed their sincerity.
More requisition orders for Ord Veica.
Then his boss-in a very conciliatory tone-had offered him extra overtime opportunities.
For my trouble.
Walthen shook his head, pausing before sliding the next chip into the slot.
And I just walked out. I said yes and just walked out.
"Like everything is okay."
The data chip clicked into the slot.
He scanned the monochrome screen, his eyes buzzing over the information.
"Wait. This can?t be right."
He scanned the information again. An inventory for a convoy from Kuat Drive Yards to Atrivis. From the list of cargo, it looked to Walthen like the Empire was installing another garrison. Scanning the register, he placed his finger on the screen. Matching the number of pieces shipped to the number received, he stopped halfway down the list.
"Inertial power cores. Twenty shipped. Fifteen delivered."
Keying the console, Walthen delved into the rest of the information. Several more discrepancies caught his attention.
Sensor equipment. Military rations. Power packs for field rifles. All shipped, only some delivered.
Walthen Borr looked at his reflection in the screen.
Helstrom reached into his tunic, gripping the cold metal of a thermal detonator. Ripping it free, he flicked the switch forward, watching the lights blink. Slow at first, then faster. He tried to resist the urge to proclaim 'Ha!'
The Sith lord's henchmen froze in their tracks, looking to their master for guidance.
"Kill him, you fools!"
Heath Helstrom tossed the detonator, diving for the platform.
The explosion knocked the breath from his lungs as he hit the grated metal. A sheet of wind washed over him, then silence. He looked up.
The henchmen were gone. Either vaporized or blown off the platform into the magma below. Jaw pulsing, Heath Helstrom turned to the Sith lord. The princess was smiling next to him.
"Congratulations, you incredible moron. You just eliminated the backup team that was sent to help you!"
Helstrom's face went slack. He turned, looking at the charred platform behind him. The blood drained out of his face as he turned around.
"Now," the princess continued, smirking, "you realize your folly!"
Walthen Borr sat alone in his one room palace.
In the dark.
He had just turned off the Imperial HoloNet. The noise had hurt his ears, hurt his head. Twenty minutes prior he had placed a call to his boss. His ex-girlfriend had answered. Walthen had almost killed the connection then and there.
As if cutting the transmission would change my reality?and my place in it.
Walthen knew he shouldn?t have been surprised. But it wasn't the fact that his ex-love had answered the comm call, but why.
He breathed, feeling depression sink his chest.
She had been promoted over him. She had taken the position that he had been in line to receive.
But he had placed the call for a reason.
Getting to his feet in the darkness of his apartment, he went to the window, leaning against the cold pane. Outside, the lights of Coruscant wove an intricate tapestry of glittering motion. Several shuttles drifted past.
I wonder where they are coming from? Or going to.
He slammed his palm on the transparisteel, leaving a greasy print.
It didn?t really matter. If they were going to the city depths, or to Ord Veica, or to Tagge resort, it really didn?t matter.
Breathing out, he felt his insides sink.
At least they are going somewhere.
He had told his now-boss about the shipping discrepancies he had discovered, and about the possible military application of the contents of those missing shipments. She had nodded politely, interrupting him to tell him that he had probably discovered nothing. A sincere smile and patronizing remark later, the call was done.
Then she had hung up on his face.
Flopping down on his threadbare sofa, Walthen searched for the HoloNet remote.
He didn't know what hurt more, the fact that everyone thought he was a nobody, or the realization that he was starting to believe it as well. Walthen looked at his hands.
I got her the job in the first place.
At least he knew now why she had been interested in him.
Digging the remote out of the cushions, he pressed the power button. A flat hologram folded into existence, lighting up the dim corners of the close apartment. Leaning back, he let his eyes drift over the brilliant colors.
The droid reporter flashed on the screen.
"This just in. A division head at Generis, Faytch and Organa has uncovered a possible link between several Core companies and rebel terrorists. Both Kuat Drive Yards and the Atrivan company Hafvia-Onellin Partners have been named in the investigation."
The employee's picture flashed up in the hologram.
A terribly familiar picture.
His ex-girlfriend. The droid announcer continued.
"More at 2300, including a HoloNet exclusive interview. On to sports-"
Borr sat, mouth open, motionless.
His eye twitched.
Then his arm.
I can?t take anymore.
Heath pointed the blaster at the Sith Lord, squeezing the trigger.
The gun fizzled.
Then the power pack fell out. It bounced once on the platform, spinning into the roiling lava below.
The Sith stepped forward, raising his lightsaber. The crimson blade hummed as it sliced at Helstrom's head.
Heath leapt to the side, narrowly avoiding the strike.
Another narrow miss sizzled through the durasteel platform.
Rolling away, Heath jumped to his feet.
The princess leered behind the towering Sith, obviously under his insidious and assorted Force charms.
He would save her.
But not like this.
Heath pointed his finger at the Sith, standing tall.
"I will return, Sith, and when I do, you'll wish you'd never heard the name Heath Helstrom!"
Then he did the only thing an intergalactic hero could think of.
I can?t believe I am doing this.
Walthen Borr eased into the narrow seat, sitting on the hard restraint buckle. Looking up into the corridor, he struggled to pull the obstinate strap out from under him. Without looking like he had just sat on it.
"All passengers prepare for debark. Atrivis?via Chengle's Moon Resort and Casino. Please direct your attention to the front of the cabin for important safety instructions."
I can?t believe I am doing this.
Walthen had used up nearly his entire bank of accrued vacation hours to book this flight. No less than three times, he had nearly turned around. Once, leaving his one room apartment. Again at the 8th District airtaxi station. And not five minutes ago at the hatch of the sleek luxury liner he was now sitting in. He had possessed the money to fly first class, but had balked at the ticket counter.
He looked at the two empty seats next to him. Hopefully they would stay that way.
His sweaty palms gripped a chunky datapad. Holding the unit to his lap, he stared at the blank screen. Before Walthen had left, he had uploaded the story he had been writing.
More like the collection of frazzled words he had patched together between frenzied cups of Genta juice and uploading sessions, when he should have been working.
Looking out the thick window, he tapped on the datapad.
A thick Twi'lek male flopped down in the seat next to him. It became evident in the span of a few seconds that the alien hadn?t bathed in quite some time.
Wrinkling his nose, Walthen felt his stomach roll as the liner's engines kicked in. The deck shuddered, then settled down to a contented hum. He blinked his eyes shut as Coruscant began to drop away below him.
Flipping on the datapad, he held his breath against the Twi?lek?s greasy stench. Touching a few buttons, he turned the pad away from the alien as the Atrivis information he had discovered played across the screen.
What in the Core am I doing?
Not only had he stolen the information from his employer, he was on an intersystem trip that cost him way too much to somewhere he'd never been.
Walthen shook his head.
The Empire had made a very large media item out of the troop contingent that they had sent to Atrivis. Not only would his ex-girlfriend-now-boss take the credit for his discovery, squads of unnamed bucket-heads were going to get acclaim for his discovery as well.
That's why I didn't turn around. Not at my door, not at the taxi stand, not at the gate. It's my turn.
Only he knew that the shipments were transferred at Chengle's resort. But he wouldn?t be the only one with that knowledge for long.
The Twi'lek was looking at him, sharp teeth bared. Tattooed head tails snaked around the alien?s neck.
Walthen shook his head, holding his breath as he looked at the robed Twi'lek.
A corpulent human dropped into the seat next to the Twi'lek, waving a Stimpipe in his hand. The man scanned the cabin, looking past the line of customers still looking for their seats.
The Twi'lek hissed at the sight of the human's pipe; his stale breath made Walthen gag.
Walthen Borr really had no idea what he was going to do when he got to the resort moon. He had pictures - fantasies - of maybe meeting a senator's daughter, a princess in need of rescue, or at least an attractive customs clerk. Solving this little mystery before the Empire's goon squad could gum up the works.
At this point, I'd settle for a half-decent Rodian waitress and a breath mask.
As he scanned the data again, a familiar fear clawing across his gut.
When he stepped off the liner at Chengle's, what was he going to do? What could he do?
He had only ever been off Coruscant once, and he had been an infant then. He had never even picked up a weapon, much less fired one.
The blue sky beaming in through the window faded into the blackness of space. The cabin comm buzzed.
"Welcome aboard! This is your Captain. We'll be cruising at point-one past lightspeed. Sit back and enjoy the trip."
Sudden nausea punched him. Reaching up for the window shade, he slammed it down, closing his eyes.
The Twi'lek and the human had started to bicker over the possibility of the Stimpipe being lit.
Great. I'll have to remember these two for my next piece. Stock characters.
The air quality was quickly dropping as the Twi'lek intensified his sweaty rant.
Jerking aside, Walthen dug into his pocket. His fingers closed over a slim plasma torch. Flicking the top, he held the white flame out as the human smiled, lighting his pipe.
The Twi'lek flushed.
A toothy smile spread across the man's face as he sat back, looking at the ceiling of the cabin and blowing smoke rings. The sweet smoke masked the Twi'lek's omnipresent odor.
The pair began to bicker again.
Six hours to Chengle's.
Walthen Borr turned his back, letting his head drop into the bulkhead. Closing his eyes, he sighed.
I can't believe I did this.
Heath's boots pounded the catwalk as it gave way to black volcanic rock.
The Sith was behind him.
A sheer cliff was in front of him, offering only one escape.
A single dark maw - a tunnel leading into the mountain.
Breaking stride, Heath looked back.
The Sith was gaining; his crimson lightsaber hummed at his side.
Heath Helstrom's breath caught in his throat.
The tunnel? Or the Sith?
He knew the answer the minute the question popped into his head.
Still he hesitated. The Sith neared. Within a handful of seconds, Heath would fall under the crimson blade.
Turning to the cliff face, Heath stutter-stepped. Doubt clawed at his chest.
He was afraid of the dark.
The Sith's blade came up.
Nearly tripping, he disappeared into the black mouth. Jagged rock bit his hands as he tried to navigate wide-eyed in the dark. The Sith's synthesized voice floated after him.
"Run, Heath Helstrom, run! You may have escaped me, but you cannot escape Death Mountain!"
Tripping, Heath regained his feet. A light became evident in the corridor ahead.
Within seconds, he had stopped, checking behind him.
Nothing. The Sith had not pursued.
Turning his head, Heath stopped.
Three corridors branched out in front of him from the main passage. Hesitating, he chose the left branch-the least dank of the three.
The Sith's laughter echoed after him.
Walthen was assaulted by noise the second he stepped of the shuttle. Bells, alarms, buzzers, and a constant wave of frantic conversation rolled into him.
"Welcome to Chengle's Moon and Resort!"
The wildly colorful hologram surrounded the line of passengers debarking into the moon's spaceport.
Walthen Borr's gut clenched.
Beyond the sea of people, through the strata of smoke, he could make out the multiple levels of the casino. Showgirls from several races - some he had never before seen-paraded through the crowd in colorful regalia, drawing all eyes.
His breathing became frantic as the crush of people seemed to close tighter around him. Pushing his way through the crowd, he collapsed against the wall near the restrooms.
The pungent odor wafting out of the open hatchways cleared his head. Walthen wiped a cold sweat from his head with the back of his sleeve. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, gathering his wits.
When he opened them, a Duro stood in front of him, its deep orange eyes contrasting with a blue-green head. The alien yammered something at him. Walthen blinked.
"Youa' wanna' good time?"
A female Duro.
He looked at her again as she slid next to him.
Looking down at the Duro's flamboyant dress, it became obvious what she wanted. Walthen's feet were moving before he spurted an answer.
The alien disappeared into the crowd. Walthen squinted through the haze of sweet smoke.
The five levels of the casino sprawled upwards; quick turbolifts ferried passengers up from the casino floor. Off to the left, an arched tunnel disappeared out of sight, probably leading to the many shops in the massive casino. To the right of the casino, another large bank of turbolifts stood, disgorging gamblers onto the casino floor from the expensive hotel above.
Walthen knew that if he stepped a single foot into the casino, his credits would literally fly out of his pocket. He was also smart enough to realize he had no business even walking through the high roller's hotel. That's why he had reserved the cheapest room possible.
What am I even doing here?
Scanning the raucous crowd, he saw that with only one exception - a passed out Gran - that everyone was having a good time. Everyone except him.
He shook his head, feeling his chest deflate as the air left his lungs.
"Stupid." He barely heard his insult over the casino's din.
I can?t afford this. I'll probably get Caridian Flu. I hate flying. I hate crowds. And to top it off, I've got writer's block!
Turning himself around, he hurried back to the shuttle gate. A glowing red hologram above the gate scrolled the shuttle's next flight times and destinations. The woman behind the counter was turned away from him; the clerk's shiny brown mane waved over her shoulders.
"Excuse me. Excuse me, when is the next flight to Corus-"
The attendant turned around. Walthen blinked.
She looked like his girlfriend.
"Excuse me?" she said, flipping her hair. "Coruscant? Flight departs in?fifteen minutes. Would you like a ticket?"
Ex-girlfriend. Someone that was no longer in his life. A life that he had let happen to him.
Passed over for a promotion.
Stuck in a job he no longer cared about.
Walthen's fists began to close of their own accord.
So this is angst.
His ex-girlfriend, now his boss, had taken credit for his discovery. She had already garnered a good amount of recognition, and would probably net herself another promotion before the Imperial commando team would even fire a shot.
She had taken it from him.
Walthen's jaw tightened.
He had let her. Just like he always had.
Walthen the Walkmat.
"Sir, do you want a return ticket to Coruscant?"
His eyes met the woman's for the first time. Deep, green eyes.
"I?don?t think so."
Walthen Borr turned around, his eyes playing over the casino. He had come here for a reason.
The Atrivis information.
Someone was stealing war materiel from the Imperial shipments. Someone who had relied on a bean-counter like himself being too apathetic to miss a few medkits here, a few power inducers there.
Picking through the crowd, he began making his way towards the arched tunnel that led out of the casino.
Now this is a plot.
Heath Helstrom felt his way along the dark, dank tunnel. Minutes or hours, he couldn?t tell, but a light began to warm the passage further up.
Within seconds he was stopped by a thick, rusted grate. The bars looked to be solid quadanium, crossed and welded together.
Beyond the grate, a wide room stretched out. In the center of the space sat a large, towering block of whirring machinery. Cables of all shapes and sizes ran from the machine into the walls and the ceiling.
And no doubt, beyond that, the secret entrance to the Sith's fortress.
"I'll have you yet, Sith!"
Heath gripped the bars with his thick fingers, bracing his legs against the wall. Inhaling until his lungs were full, he focused his eyes on the circular grate.
The cords of muscle in his arm jutted out, along with the vein in his neck. His powerful legs burned as Heath strained at the metal grating. A guttural grunt grew into a powerful yell.
His fingers screamed with pain. Hot fire coursed through his muscles. Rivulets of sweat streamed down his face.
His fingers gave; he fell to the stone floor, gasping for breath.
Heath Helstrom cursed the grate. So close! To be held back from completing his mission by five centimeters of metal?
"I mustn't give up. I cannot give up! I must save the princess."
Leaping onto the grate again, he attacked the obstacle with renewed vigor.
Within seconds he was right back on the floor again.
He stared at the obstinate barrier, impotence welling up in his throat.
Right now, the princess was with the Sith monster, under his twisted influence, performing who knew what manner of lascivious acts for his perverted tastes.
And Heath Helstrom, hero of the galaxy, couldn?t get through five centimeters of metal.
"Curse the Gods!"
Heath dropped his head. He was failing. If he retraced his steps, the Sith or his henchmen would be awaiting him. If he stayed in here, he would die. Even if he managed to escape, a hero was supposed to come home with the prize. Not fall a meter short and give up.
The grate fell out of the wall, landing unceremoniously next to his dejected frame.
Heath looked up. Looked at the open hole. Looked at the grate lying flat next to him.
Leaping to his feet, he squeezed through the hole.
He had a job to do. Heath advanced on the blocky power generator. If he was going to get the princess out alive, he would need confusion.
"Time to get in that machine!"
"Holowriter Hagall vin Yim wins best new writer of the year award, presented at the Writers and Scribes annual conference on Coruscant!"
Walthen Borr stood in front of the wide holoboard, his face a set of concrete displeasure, not hearing the rest of the HoloNet news.
He had been writing for ten years. Never once had he been recognized, complimented, published, or even looked at. The stack of rejection transmissions had grown so large that at one point, he was forced to upgrade the memory in his datapad.
Palming the pad in his sweaty hand, he turned away from the wall, looking out over the mall.
Humans and aliens from a hundred planets walked the two levels of the long concourse. The casino mall was lined with shops on both sides; clothiers, exotic foodstuffs, high-end trinkets, and every other way in the galaxy for Chengle to reclaim what he had paid out in winnings. The mall's main attraction was a thick, towering arch of pure fluid. The Alderaanian river water was held in stasis over the mall with repulsors, the crystal blue water silently circulating over the heads of the casino goers.
What a racket.
Walking down the polished tile promenade, Walthen dodged several Mon Cals before stopping in front of an open storefront. The greasy-sweet smell that wafted from the restaurant drew him closer to the Bith host standing outside. The alien's bulbous pink head turned towards him as he approached.
"How many today, sir?" the Bith chirped, looking him up and down once. Walthen felt his face turn red. His hands turned slick on his datapad.
"I?just me?actually I wanted to ask-"
"I assume you'll be dining," the Bith interrupted, scanning his clothing again," in the lounge."
"I wanted to ask you a question."
"Specials today, Calamarian waterflower, with just a touch of saline sauce. Also-"
"N-no, I wanted to ask you about the docks."
The Bith stopped, his large, folded lids blinking.
"Sir, I am the host for the finest eatery on Chengle's moon. Not an information kiosk."
The Bith did his best impression of a huff as he turned back to his podium, pretending to look busy.
Walthen froze, vacillating between asking again and walking away.
Like I always do.
"Listen, I just want to know where-"
"Sir! If you are not here to dine, please move along before I call security."
The Bith's last word drew a few stares. Walthen felt more blood rushing to his head. Stutter stepping backwards, he shook his head, turning away.
Maybe I should have stayed at home.
It was becoming obvious that either he was not a people person, or that Chengle's employees and patrons were the rudest collection of beings in the galaxy. The Bith host had been the seventh person he had approached for information about the location of the shipping docks. Borr turned.
Slammed from the side, he fell to one knee. His datapad went flying from his fingers, skittering across the floor.
"I'm so sorry!"
The woman helped Borr to his feet.
The first thing that caught his eye was the tension in her forehead. He identified the lines immediately because that was the way he looked every morning before he left for work.
"I'm sorry," she repeated, bending to retrieve his datapad. Her short, round head of black hair contrasted with her pale skin. Deep brown eyes stared back at him. He opened his mouth.
"Are you okay?" she interrupted.
Not a single word made it from his brain to his tongue.
Say something, stupid.
She held his arm, looking quickly over her shoulder.
"I'm?Pleau. You staying here?"
Walthen nodded. She checked over her shoulder again, sliding close to him.
The blood shot to his head, rouging his cheeks.
Come to Chengle's?where the women flow like wine?
All he could do was pull his room key out of his pocket, showing her the number. She smiled.
"Maybe I'll see you later." Kissing him on the cheek, she smiled one more time before sliding past him. His face buzzed with adrenalin.
Wow. I knew this vacation was a good idea.
He turned, trying to think of something that would sweep her off her feet. A set of properly uttered words that would make her think twice about Walthen Borr. An elegant soliloquy that only the mind of a writer could conjure.
The woman was gone. The sea of tourists had swallowed her whole. Walthen scanned the crowd, trying to pick out her shiny black crown.
He was knocked from his feet again, harder this time. His pad went flying, this time bouncing off the carpeted wall, almost into the restrooms. Catching himself on the railing, he turned around, a grin spreading on his face.
A grin that dissolved as he faced his assailant.
Four Imperial stormtroopers marched past, their white skull helmets scanning the crowd. They were followed by an olive-clad Imperial officer. Small eyes and a narrow, scowling mouth scanned Walthen Borr briefly before the team moved past.
I knew this vacation was a bad idea.
Picking up his thoroughly scratched datapad, he shook it.
No loose parts. At least I still have my story.
For what it was worth.
A group of boisterous Gran sauntered past, slurping on containers of greasy tentacles and leering at all things female with their three eyes.
Walthen slid his room key back into his pants pocket.
His fingers hit something hard and sharp. Picking the object out of his pocket, he turned a data chip over in his fingers.
"This isn't mine."
The maroon clearplas chip glinted in the casino's overhead lights as he turned it over again.
"Where did you come from?"
One way to find out.
Sliding the chip into the port of his datapad, he keyed the power. Walthen moved over to the wall, looking down at the pad.
Schematics. Invoices. More schematics.
The green wire frame images looked like floor plans. Paging through the data, he immediately recognized the missing items from the invoices that he had discovered back on Coruscant.
His sweat turned cold as he realized what he was looking at.
Stolen Imperial documents.
Everything clicked into place.
Walthen Borr almost threw up.
Quickly scanning the crowd behind him, Walthen spotted the white helmets of the Imperial troops, moving away from him.
Powering down the pad, he jogged for the turbolifts.
I have to get back to my room.
His quivering stomach turned his legs leaden as he boarded the empty lift. What seemed like an eternity later, he stepped out onto his floor. Running down the hallway, he slid his keycard in the door, falling into his room. He dropped his datapad on the bed. Pacing, he stared at the pad, then at the bathroom.
Pleau was being chased by the Empire.
She didn't look like a terrorist.
He looked at the pad, then back at the bathroom. His stomach rolled.
She had planted stolen Imperial information on him.
Now he was being chased by the Empire.
I'm the protagonist.
He ran into the bathroom; his quivering stomach resumed where it had left off.
Heath Helstrom stared over the edge of the precipice.
Cargo crates of all shapes and sizes rose from the darkness, ascending on an invisible repulsor field. The wide shaft above him was dotted with lights, giving him a hazy view of the top of the tunnel far above.
He had rigged the generator to explode. A simple switch of a few circuits, and the power buffers were on their way to overload. Soon, the cavern would be engulfed, and the Sith's palace would be plunged into darkness.
"Now for you, Sith," he hissed, staring up the shaft. Helstrom's feet tingled with vertigo as he watched the cargo crates emerge from the darkness below. It was a dead end. The only way to move forward was up the shaft.
Helstrom turned from the edge, staring back down the narrow corridor. His fingers twitched.
Not only was he afraid of the dark, Heath Helstrom, Savior of the Galaxy and soon-to-be vanquisher of the Sith, was afraid of heights.
A crystal clear image of the princess coalesced in his mind's eye. Right now, who knew what tortures the Sith was inflicting upon her?
Whirling, he let out a war whoop, charging for the edge.
His feet cleared the drop.
Heath sailed through the air.
And missed his target completely.
His eyes widened as he fell past the cargo crate into the darkness. His strangled cry died out on the walls.
Crates continued flowing up the shaft.
Three small containers rose past the corridor landing, then a medium sized box.
Heath Helstrom rose out of the darkness, splayed over a diamond-shaped container.
His knuckles were white on the edges, his face ashen.
But he held as the crate rose up the shaft, passing the landing.
"Here I come, Sith?and nothing can stop me now!"
As soon as the last word passed his mouth, he remembered the power generator. He had set it to overload.
Heath peered over the container into the depths of the shaft.
The question was?when?
Walthen Borr looked at the turbolift panel, swallowing the taste of fried N'Quib tentacles.
Sporf?those things almost taste better the second time around.
His fingers hovered over the panel; the door slid shut, leaving him in silence. In Walthen's other hand, he held his datapad. Shaking his head, he pressed the button that would take him three floors down. The turbolift started to hum as it sped him to his destination.
Trying to relax his quivering stomach, Walthen closed his eyes.
He couldn't stay in his room. Not only had the smell begun to wear on his already weak stomach, but Pleau knew his room number. Two distinct possibilities had hastened his departure from the tiny, overpriced suite.
If the Imperial soldiers caught the woman and interrogated her, Walthen's location would be the first thing out of her mouth.
Or worse yet, Pleau would show up at his door personally.
Walthen wiped his sweating palms on his pants.
And what then?
The lift beeped; the door slid open.
Crimson light streamed into the lift. Walthen squinted to read the sign.
He tapped the button again. The door slid shut. Perhaps two floors up would be where he wanted to go.
And what if Pleau showed up at his door?
Walthen frowned as any grandiose seduction scheme simply melted out of his head. He knew what would happen. His heart would start beating out of his chest, his hands would sweat, and he'd say something really stupid.
Walthen had larger space slugs to sauté at the moment, however.
He shook his head.
Why didn?t I just turn over the chip to the Imperial officer then and there?
His answer took all of a nanosecond to realize.
The lift beeped. The door slid open. Starting, he blinked as the noise of a smaller casino assaulted him. This wide room only lacked one aspect of the main casino. The air was free of the layers of smoke on the upper levels.
Shaking his head again, Walthen scanned the turbolift pad, dropping his hand lower on the panel. Pressing the button, he watched the door slide shut again.
I'm a sucker for a woman.
That's why the illegal information he had been passed wasn't in the hands of the Imperial authorities right now. But now it was too late. Frowning, he looked down at his shoes.
That's how his one-time girlfriend had maneuvered into the job at his company. She had seen his weakness.
The lift beeped again; the door slid back.
Heavy, moisture laden air wafted into the lift. Through the hot fog, Walthen glimpsed the spa receptionist. The girl glanced up, preparing a smile.
Walthen jammed the lift button again, looking away. The door closed, giving him respite.
Now, his only hope of redemption would be to locate and identify the source of the missing Imperial equipment. That would give some credence with the Imperial authorities.
Two floors up, the door opened. A double blast door faced the lift, sealed. A single guard, leaning on the wall, looked up with little concern. The human looked back down at his boots, inhaling on the thin cigar in his lips. A slim pistol rested in a holster on his belt.
Stepping out of the lift, Walthen felt his chest tighten as the door slid shut behind him.
"Can I help you?"
"Uh yes, what deck is this?"
"Sub-eight," replied the guard, his bloodshot eyes traveling over the ceiling lamps. He rounded his lips, puffing out a single smoke ring.
"Good," Walthen announced. "It's about time. How long were you people going to let me wander around this pit before I finally figured out where I am supposed to be?"
"Who are you?"
Walthen puffed up his chest.
"I," he decreed, "am the Head Examiner General from GFO."
The guard blinked, straightening up. Walthen continued.
"And I am here to audit this installation's records in accordance with the wishes of His Majesty, the Emperor."
The guard's face drained of color. Coughing, he looked at his stained uniform, dull boots, sagging trousers. Coughing again, the guard backed up, trying to straighten his slipshod appearance.
Walthen stepped forward, fighting the urge to flee-or throw up again.
Looking into the taller man's face, he reached up.
"And you," he said, plucking the cigar from the guard's face, "are going to help me."
Walthen?s adrenalin threatened to burst from the top of his head as the guard shrank back.
"I?I don't have you on the manifest."
Walthen's eyebrows flicked up.
"You don?t have me on the manifest?"
Walthen dared another step forward; the guard slid back.
"How do you think the Emperor will feel when I report that I have wasted the Empire's time and money traveling to this barely legal outpost only to be denied by?what is your name?"
The guard's lips tripped on his reply.
Walthen motioned towards the looming blast doors.
The guard stuttered, jerking towards the door. Tapping the access pad, he stepped back, looking down at the floor.
The door hissed open; the clang echoed in the short hallway.
Walthen stepped through onto a circular platform; the grated durasteel clanged under his boots.
The long room stretched out of sight; bright glowlamps chased away all shadows. Workers buzzed on the warehouse floor thirty feet below him, moving repulsor palates of cargo to and from the massive mag shields that lined the walls.
Tapping his datapad, Walthen scanned the warehouse floor.
"Where is Block A, Section 23?"
"Down the stairs, take a left, another left, past the break room, then two rights. No wait, take a right after the first left, then past?no no. A left, then a left, then-"
The guard raised a finger.
"It's over there?see where the lift is going through the shield? Right behind that."
Walthen nodded, descending the steps to the warehouse floor. He became aware the guard was still watching him, turning around.
"Your cooperation," he said, tapping the pad, "will be noted."
The guard relaxed.
So did Walthen.
Thank you, Heath Helstrom.
Walthen disappeared into the swarm of workers and moving freight, datapad in hand.
A pair of brown eyes followed him into the organized chaos.
Heath Helstrom did just that. His eyes widened as he froze.
The long hallway echoed the droid's command back to his ears. At the end of the tapestried corridor beckoned the engraved double doors of the Sith's inner sanctum.
Turning, Heath's brain worked furiously.
A spherical droid floated three meters from him. The head-sized droid bristled with weaponry; a caustic red video sensor zoomed in on his face.
Heath felt the blood rushing to his head. Heard the droid's weapons charging. Feeling the growing futility of his situation, he scanned the hallway for anything he could use as a weapon. Besides the lush tapestries on the wall, nothing caught his attention. The droid would shoot soon.
"Identify yourself immediately."
As soon as the droid deduced that he wasn't supposed to be in the Sith's palace, Heath would be a charred corpse. The hovering automaton most likely did not have the neural processing ability to be bought?not that Heath had anything to bribe the droid with.
He looked down at his shoes, closing his eyes. Any second, the droid would fire.
A flash of his misadventures on Betazius IV blinked through his head. The princess. The thermal detonator. The grate. The generator and the shaft.
Muscle had gotten him this far.
Heath Helstrom had his answer.
He looked up, sucking in the stale air.
"I am Queen Javalinda of Hyacinth, third heir to the fortunes of the Mon Calamari fishing dynasty."
The droid paused.
"I am the third Duke of Dunder, resident procrastinator and wandering village idiot!"
Heath's brain raced. Pounded. Hurt with the effort.
"I am the Emperor of the universe, on loan from the moons of Graxo for an Alderaanian facial scrub."
"Identity not?confirmed. Restate identification."
"I, VatnoThat, am a Sith chef, baking only what I cannot see, smell, taste or attach to my hyperdrive!"
The droid faltered. Its weapons powered down as it redirected more energy to its processing core. Helstrom sucked in another frantic breath, feeling his heart thumping against the inside of his chest.
"I am the speeder through the white asteroids in the kitchen of the galaxy."
The droid's synthesized voice became a stutter; its spherical body began to drift to the ground. Heath stepped forward, staring down at the failing droid.
"I think, therefore? you are a Nubian goat cheese blintz!"
Heath smelled smoke.
The droid's casing clattered to the tile floor. Sparks erupted in a quick spray. Another spurt, then the smoking hulk was silent.
Heath fell to his knees, holding his head, bathed in sweat. Collapsing to the smooth floor, he struggled for breath.
Another obstacle like that, and his mission to rescue the princess would be a failure.
Pulling himself to his feet, he stared at the thick set of double doors guarding the end of the corridor.
He advanced on the door.
Walthen Borr eased past the repulsorsled, nodding to the storage tech pushing the floating palate.
The blocks of freight towered above Walthen?s head. The stacked cargo loomed on all sides. He had to be close to his destination.
I feel like an Ord Veican mouse.
A faded letter A was painted on the permacrete at his feet. Block A. Walthen's pulse increased. Looking behind him, he started down the row.
Pretending to scan his datapad, he walked down the row of stacked palates, trading nods with a few other workers.
Walthen ran directly into the worker who had been standing in front of him. Both spilled to the floor; Walthen's pad skittered across the smooth floor.
Way to keep a low profile.
"Listen, I'm s?you!"
Pleau smiled at him from under her black sheen of hair. She was dressed in a worker's coverall. Walthen opened his mouth.
"What are you doing?here?"
Ignoring the question, she grabbed his arms, relief spreading across her face.
"I am so glad I found you! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
His abject fear overshadowed any spark of joy her words brought as she continued.
"I went to your room, no one answered, and I?didn?t even get your name."
Walthen backed up a step, releasing himself from her grip.
"I?didn?t give it to you."
Ignoring his flat response, she breathed.
"I?feel so stupid asking you this?have you seen my data chip? Small, reddish? I think I dropped it somewhere on the casino floor when we ran into each other."
You mean the one with the stolen Imperial plans on it?
"I?don't think?so," he said, trying to determine if her baggy clothes concealed any sort of weapon. She stepped closer to him.
"Are you sure? It's really very important that I get it back."
"I'll bet it is."
Did I just say that out loud?
"W-what do you mean?"
"Oh come on, Pleau, if that is even your real name. I saw what was on that chip. I saw the stormtroopers on the upper levels looking for you. I know you are planning to assault an Imperial installation."
"And another thing, Pleau, if you think your feminine charms are going to hold sway over me, you've got another thing coming! I came here to verify that these military supplies are being ferreted out from under the Empire's nose, and that's just what I am going to do! And unless you want the Imperial authorities here in thirty seconds, I'd suggest you forget about your little plan!"
Wow?I didn?t stutter.
Pleau stepped back. A comma of black hair fell down over her face.
"Are you high on StimTar? You think," she stifled a laugh, "you think I'm-"
Her chuckle grew to a laugh, quickly mutating into an uncontrolled cacophony of snorts.
Composing herself, she brought herself upright.
"I've?I've been called a lot of things in my time, but never?never that." She wiped her eyes, sighing.
Walthen's face betrayed his confusion.
"I'm an artist."
"You don?t believe me?"
"Not in the slightest. What about the plans?" he spurted, jamming the datapad in her face.
"Plans for an Imperial sub-governor's condominium on Atrivis."
"Right?and what about the missing supplies? Power packs?"
"If you check the plans, I designed his dwelling with a shooting range. The guy is a gun freak."
"Military ration packs?"
"What can I say," she replied, "the man likes military food. Now that?s strange in anyone?s book."
Walthen's eyes narrowed.
"This Imperial is?lazy," she whispered, looking around. "He doesn't want to get off his Imperial?rear to see who's at the door."
Walthen stepped back, his face a mask of incredulity.
"Power cores?I suppose you have a reason for those as well."
An embarrassed smile crossed her face.
"I?those are to power?the head."
"Navy-speak for the bathroom. If you check further down the list of supplies you are chasing, you'll find a shipment of sewer pipes as well. Do you think an average Imperial officer knows how to install a toilet main?"
Walthen began to entertain the thought that she might have been prepared for his line of questioning.
"What about the soldiers on the casino floor? They were looking for someone, and I'll bet it was you."
"Was there an Imperial officer with them?"
"Just imperious looking enough to pass for an officer, but not quite intelligent enough looking to make it all the way to Moff?"
"He's my client. And you're right, he was looking for me. I was supposed to meet him six hours ago to finalize plans."
Walthen shook his head, tightening his grip on the pad.
"This is all just too convenient?Pleau."
"Short for Terrak'inavatrilkpleau."
Walthen blinked. Smiling, Pleau chuckled.
"Pleau kinda flows a little better, huh?"
Shaking his head, Walthen held up the datapad, scanning down the list. Everything was exactly as she had said. Upon closer examination of the floor plan, it became very clear that Walthen Borr was looking at a residence, not an Imperial garrison.
His face rouged.
He had come here for nothing.
"Can I have my chip back now?"
Walthen's hands drooped; the datapad fell. Clicking the power off, he pulled the datacard out of the slot, considering the maroon clearplas chip. His arm stuttered as it rose in her direction.
This can?t be right.
"How did you know where I'd be?"
I have you now, Rebel.
"My client knows where his own supplies are. He paid for them!"
Pleau snatched the chip out of his hand, her façade of tolerance suddenly abraded.
Walthen let his eyes fall. Rather, he couldn?t make his gaze meet hers.
"Listen, Pleau, I-"
"It's okay. I have to go, I have to meet my client. Unlike you, I am not an accountant on vacation."
She smiled, disappearing around the corner.
"Walthen!" he called." Walthen Borr?my name."
Pleau was gone.
Walthen Borr looked around.
He was standing in a dirty freight warehouse on Chengle's Moon, ten levels below the main casino, who-knew-how-many sectors from Coruscant.
For no good reason.
Like everything in my life.
"Go home, Borr."
He turned, making his way back through the warehouse. Five minutes later, he was walking towards the ticket counter on the main level. Several shuttles beckoned outside the wide transparisteel, attached to their docking tubes.
Walthen Borr didn?t want to think. He just wanted a ticket back home.
What a stupid idea this was.
Wanted to get back to his small apartment, small job.
"One ticket to Coruscant."
Datapad in hand, he stepped away from the counter, taking one last look at the barely organized chaos that was Chengle's.
Then he disappeared into the boarding tunnel.
Heath Helstrom just stared at the sight his eyes wouldn?t let him believe.
He had leapt valiantly into the room, armed with nothing more than righteous indignation and his newly discovered rapier wit.
What he had seen over thirty seconds ago had stopped him in his tracks.
The princess had been-and was still-standing, one leg raised, the heel planted.
The Sith was on his knees, his dark helmet pressed against the floor. A crimson strip of leather had been tied around his voice synthesizer, as well as his spike-gloved hands. The princess' heel pushed him down further. A muffled protest emerged from his helmet. Heath opened his mouth.
"Save me? Looks like I took care of that."
"But what? You don?t get to be the daughter of a king without learning how to protect yourself. Did you honestly think that I'd let this?this?Sith do as he pleased with me?"
For the first time, Heath saw the thick blaster in her hand. She scowled at the Sith, pressing him harder with her thin heels.
"Now, if you don?t mind, I have some unfinished business to attend to."
The princess motioned to the door.
Heath Helstrom deflated.
"I'd really rather you didn?t see this," she said, pointing the weapon at the Sith's head. "Go on."
Blinking, Heath turned. Stopped, then started for the open door. Walking through the doorframe, he turned around one more time.
"Close the door," the princess said, her tone sweet.
Heath did just that. He closed the double door, hearing the soft click of the hinges.
A single shot rang out.
Heath Helstrom, protector of the galaxy, had failed.
This time he moved the buckle before sitting on it.
What's the difference?
Plopping down in the seat, Walthen Borr looked around the cramped space liner. Less than seven hours ago, he had sat in an identical seat, next to an identical window. For all he knew, he could be leaving on the same ship he came in on.
Flopping his datapad into his lap, he looked at the dark screen.
The deck under his feet began to hum. The liner would be departing soon.
What a waste.
He hadn't even gambled once. Looking out the window, he laid his head on the cool pane.
The seat moved as someone sat down next to him.
The last thing he needed compounding his melodrama was another fat, greasy, smelly Twi'lek sitting next to him. Sucking in a slow breath, he turned his head to see what fate had inflicted upon him.
A pleasant looking woman sat next to him, smiling politely. Her shoulder length brown hair complemented cool green eyes.
Certainly not the stuff his fantasies were made of.
"Hi. My name's Walthen."
"Fenia. Fenia Havis. Nice to meet you."
But then again, his fantasies never worked out quite the way he planned.
"You going back to Coruscant too?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "Have to get back to work."
"Me too." Then he added politely, "What do you do?"
"Really?" she cooed "What firm?"
"-Faytch, Organa!" they finished together. Walthen turned to face her fully.
"Seven-twenty-three," he almost yelled.
"Wow." Fenia blushed. "What are the odds? I come halfway across the galaxy to meet someone who has been a few hundred meters away from me!"
Walthen nodded. A flash of Pleau's bobbed black hair flashed into his head. One of the last things she had said to him nibbled at the base of his brain.
Unlike you, I am not an accountant on vacation.
Walthen sat up bolt straight.
He had never told Pleau that he was an accountant. He had never even told her his name.
Artist? I don?t think so.
Walthen gripped the armrests, pushing up.
"Leaving so soon?"
Walthen Borr looked down at Fenia Havis.
Suddenly he wanted very badly to smack his own face. He knew, all at once, why his life had never been as good as the stories he had tried to write.
What am I thinking?
Easing himself back into his seat, he stared ahead. The flight announcements blared through the cabin.
"Not at all." He smiled, looking at her face, holding her gaze for a quick, spine buzzing second. A Rodian flight attendant leaned over the row of seats.
"Can I getta' you anything?"
"Uh, yeah. Mandalore martini."
Walthen grabbed her green arm as she started to shuffle away.
"Two...please," he added, returning Fenia's smile
Powering up his datapad, he let his fingers play over the keys. His seat-mate peered over his shoulder.
"You're a writer?"
He nodded, smiling, never taking his eyes from the screen.
"Me too," Fenia Havis whispered.
Walthen Borr did a terrible job of hiding his grin.
He had a story to finish.
It was the last thing Heath Helstrom had expected to hear coming from behind the thick double doors. Leaning closer to the door, he narrowed his eyes.
The Sith's synthesized peal was overtaken by the shrill female howling.
They were laughing.
Heath backed up, staring ice at the thick double doors.
They were laughing at him.
A stab of humiliation stuck his chest. Turning from the door, he looked down. The only other thing in the long hallway was the remains of the guard droid. The smoking silent mass lay defeated on the polished tile.
Shuffling over to the pile of parts, Heath sheepishly tapped the droid with a toe.
He had risked his life racing over five sectors of space, millions of light years, to rescue the princess.
The Sith's henchmen couldn?t stop Heath Helstrom. Death Mountain hadn?t taken him. Nor the Sith's droid guard.
But he hadn?t expected this.
Kneeling, he examined the remains of the droid. The ruined plating covered no less than three exposed blaster barrels. The automaton had been prepared for a full physical assault, not intellectual warfare.
"Was I unprepared?"
This was just the final test.
Picking up the remains of the droid, he rose.
He had come too far.
"I have a princess to save."
He gripped the thick handle of the door.
"Like it or not."
He ripped the door open.
If the Sith's mask could have worn surprise, it did. The princess' eyes were agog.
Heath stepped into the room, dropping the droid on the floor with a clunk.
"There's your guard."
The Sith stepped forward, flipping his saber to life in one smooth motion.
The Sith advanced. The princess cackled behind him.
Heath cast around the room for a weapon. The only thing close enough was the remains of the spent droid.
He reached for the weapon.
Hurling the droid at the Sith, he watched as the dark Jedi sheared the missile in two. The droid exploded, throwing the Sith into the wall. He slid to the floor, motionless.
The princess blinked.
Obviously, the Sith's influence over her had ceased. She stepped forward, sticking a finger in his face.
"What took you so long? Doesn't my father think that his princess is important enough to send his entire army after?"
"And another thing, do you know how long I was held hostage? And this?freak, I don?t even want to tell you what kind of entertainment he's into!"
"I don?t care! All I want now is a hot bath and a seven course banquet des-"
Heath slapped her face. The smack echoed in the high-ceilinged room.
Her surprise thickened the air around them as the sound of his hand meeting her cheek died on the walls.
The princess' lip quivered. An angry tear raced down her face.
Heath looked her in the face. For the first time, he saw her for what she really was.
A little girl.
"You have a choice, princess. Stay quiet and get rescued..."
Her eyebrows perked up, waiting for the other option.
The lights fluttered, then blinked out, leaving them in darkness.
The generator had blown.
Heath turned around, striding out the door.
"Let's go home."
Blinking, the old man rubbed his bloodshot eyes. Staring at the datapad for another second, he smoothed over his wrinkled face, peering into the darkness of the living room. The single light from the hallway made it difficult to tell if a slight smile ticked his lips.
His crooked finger hovered over the power button a moment before switching it off.
A groan, and he stood, letting the feeling trickle back into his legs.
With a weak stretch, he turned, hobbling towards the door. His hand touched a low shelf on the way out. Then he was gone.
A small statue stood on the dusty shelf, glittering in the hallway light. The transparisteel spike was the only item in the collection of trophies that was free of dust.
A small plaque shone out from the base of the statue.
Writers and Scribes - Coruscant
Best New Writer of the Year
The hallway light clicked off.
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