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Maximillian in Gold

Posted on Sun Nov 11th, 2018 @ 7:50pm by Rynseh Lahan & Zenarrah Sozo

Chapter: Chapter V: Unbound
Location: TRIO starship Descent, Nar Shaddaa
Timeline: Evening before "Preying on Mantis"
Tags: Jensaarai, Sith armor, Descent, Nar Shaddaa, Zen, Ryn, assassination

OLD:

From "In Search of Blood"...

"I'm sorry I attacked you," Rusasha apologized with deep regret in her heart. "I...didn't know you."

"You still don't," Zen said and took a deep breath of relief and joy. "But if you wish to come with me, I will teach you everything I know about the Living Force. Things I always wanted to show my daughter, but couldn't. Perhaps someday, with your help, we can find Zaracoda, and the three of us can serve the Force in ways never before seen. We can establish a new order together."

"A new...order?"

"Yes," Zen replied. "An order that puts family first above all things. We will never let anyone--no master, no politician, no dogma--ever divide us from our loyalty to the Force. We will follow its will and let it be our guide. We will fight with light in our hands, and bravely walk in the darkness with our hearts."

NEW:

Those words came back to haunt Zenarrah Sozo, the exiled Jedi Shadow and the mother of her wayward Nautolan daughter, Zaracoda. She had meant every word she said to Rusasha, felt a real Froce-inspired connection to the young Cathar woman, but couldn't bring herself to reveal all the details of that "new order" she spoke of entailed. She further regretted leaving Ru behind on Coruscant, and wished she had more time to help improve Ru's lightsaber dueling technique. However, she no longer had the standing or the place to openly disagree with Rynseh Lahan's decision to protect his only child, especially given the disgrace of Zen's self-imposed exile, and Ryn's promotion to a seat on the Jedi Council. She took solace in knowing that Ru would remain safe behind the Reborn Temple walls for the time being, and that she could return for the young lady after Coda was located and by her mother's side at long last.

For Zenarrah's "new order" to start to take shape, she required the equipment she personally fashioned with a heavily customized design intended to definitively mark her as the founder of her new fellowship of the Force. She had just come aboard the Descent from a heavy artificially-generated rain storm that was in danger of becoming acidic. As per in recent years, the Hutts had their occasional periods of neglecting critical investments on the maintenance of the chemical buffers that balanced the pH levels in Nar Shaddaa's weather control network. It was likely a sign of this generation's Hutt cartel lords exceeding the greed of their ancestors, although there was also a plethora of rumours on the streets of the old Smuggler's Moon that times were in fact getting tough financially on the cartels, and that business wasn't what it used to be in millennia past. Whatever the case was, Nar Shaddaa could implode on itself for all Zen cared after she concluded her business there. She sealed the ship's landing ramp behind her and found her way into her private quarters to set down what was easily upwards of sixty pounds worth of gear. That included her personal belongings and surveillance gadgets she kept hidden and locked in her nondescript studio apartment which had a clear view of the nightclub where Coda used to labour as a slave: Tayla Dorinn's Smoke n' Hots.

Prior to fetching that gear, Zen had already brought in a large biometrically locked case which contained the physical legacy she had worked patiently on to build in her free-time for the last four years. When she disarmed its anti-breach booby trap, unlocked it and threw open the reinforced high-tech lid, the dull golden light from within bathed her blue face in its enchanted shine sparked from the object's mystical infusion of pure Force energy. It was the pinnacle of all she had learned from her early years as a padawan and as a Jedi Temple Guard coupled with lessons from her more mature years as a Jedi Shadow. It took considerable financial investment which required a fair sum of doing particularly violent wetwork for various crime lords (including one unpleasant assassination job involving the car-bombing of a mother and her young son on behalf of a disgusting brute named Seven-Gill); loads of tireless and sometimes dangerous research; countless hours of dealmaking with shady merchants and smugglers whilst acquiring the necessary raw materials; and a great deal of trouble keeping its existence a secret from all of the galaxy. With a deep expression of satisfaction, she stood up, took a step back from the box, and began to undress. She would never wear the traditional robes and vestments of a Jedi ever again.




When the final piece of the golden battle armor was snugly locked in place, she felt a welcome nostalgic wave sweep over her. The feel of the suit of cortosis armor on her body had some anticipated heft to it, but it was noticeably lighter and more flexible than her old Temple Guard armor, yet was plated and tough enough to survive all but the most direct shots and vicious strikes from blasters and lightsabers.

It, however, had its flaws. While it theoretically offered some kinetic stabilization and protection from Force telekinesis (provided by mechanisms in the boots and breastplate), the cortosis weave could, however, be worn down with repeated energy blows, and it had yet to be fully tested in actual combat. It also did nothing to shield her head as she no time or additional resources to fashion a helmet with armored coverings for her long and numerous head tendrils.

Nevertheless, she beamed with pride at her reflection in the full-length mirror on the wall. She particularly fancied the addition of the blood-red hooded cortosis mesh cape. Much of the idea came from documents she discovered many years ago in the Jedi Temple archives dating back to Old Republic times about a small group of ex-Jedi that followed a darker shade of the Force: the Jensaarai. While she didn't necessarily agree with every facet of their skewed borderline Sith ideology, she loved and adored their culture of armorcrafting, a skill she learned to value and consider a fine art whilst defending the Reborn Temple as part of the elite Guard.

Yet, even though she had only one suit for herself, she had ideas to make an even lighter, more advanced nanofiber design for her daughter based on existing experimental infiltration suits recently tested by TRIO operatives. Unfortunately, her resources had been exhausted, and her ambitious schematics, though still incomplete, required advanced state of the art fabrication equipment that was rare and far beyond her reach at the present time. "Be safe till I arrive, my child," she spoke at her reflection, feeling the determination radiating from every bone in her body. "Mother is coming. I will assure your future, or die trying."

That was when the anticipated encrypted call chimed from the cockpit...




"I can do as you ask," said the deep husky male voice on the other end of the call about halfway through the conversation. "Given the subject's notoriety and position in that sector...well, I fear it shall cost you extra."

"How much extra are you seeking?" Zen asked warily.

"Fifty thousand on top of my regular fee."

"Fifty thousand more?! So a hundred thousand alone isn't enough for one simple job?"

"Considering my record of success, yes, that is more than reasonable. Surely you, someone so intimately familiar with syndicate work, understands how much overhead goes into what we do. Now, should you protest that it is 'unfair' or 'outrageous', then I will terminate this call immediately. I have no patience for whiners and cheapskates. I take what I do very seriously."

"No, no need for that," Zen assured him. It was frustrating to have the commission go up just above her budget, but then she herself had done the same before as a freelancer as well. "I was told you were expensive, but more than fair. Are you familiar with a slicer known to hide on this moon called the Contrarian?"

"I know of him. Why?"

"I've recently made his...acquaintance. He provided me with the network location of a valuable private off-the-books datastore node that should be worth at least fifty thousand credits to you and your associates. I am forwarding its network address and a portion of the decryption keys to you right now. Just enough to gain access to a few tantalizing snippets of its contents. Consider that and your fifty thousand credits as down payment. When I have confirmation of the desired outcome, you will receive the remainder. If I'm satisfied, I would like to put you on retainer as well for future tasks. Do you accept?"

It only took a handful of seconds for the professional on the other end to consider the offer. "The datastore appears authentic. The men mentioned in this file have been a thorn in our side for years. I know at least ten people that would pay a fair sum for just this info alone. Very well, I accept your terms, but you will pay eighty thousand non-negotiable, and I keep the datastore. That is as generous as I am willing to be. I will not be so kind again."

"Good, I will forward the location and time of the meeting to you as soon as I have it." She pressed the button with a gloved finger sheathed in segmented gold on the comm panel to end the call.

Moments later, she heard a brief buzz sound from where the landing ramp was. It buzzed again, and once more for a third time. The buzz was a distinct denial of entry sound when someone outside the ship entered the wrong code to lower the ramp.

Zen stood at the head of the ramp and ignited her lightsaber just as the fourth attempt successfully unsealed and lowered it. She braced herself in a defensive Soresu stance anticipating a volley of blaster shots, flying daggers, a thermal detonator, or even a burly Gamorrean bum-rushing up the ramp with an oversized battleaxe.

"Don't shoot," said the new arrival with a grin and paws held up in mock surrender. "I'm just a poor mad beggar."

Zen breathed a sigh of relief and disengaged her weapon. "Like hell you are," she returned the warm expression with a friendly twinkle in her deep solid black eyes. "Those big stubby fingers of yours still can't press the code in the first time, huh? So how did you enjoy the mean streets of the Smuggler's Moon? Did the disguise keep you out of trouble?"

"I was accosted by just one would-be mugger," Rynseh replied as he came out of the rain and up into the ship. "I promptly gave him the scare of his life that I hope will set him straight." His eyes did a once-over of Zen's new golden gear. "What's this fancy getup for?"

"There's a good percentage of Nar Shaddaa that wants me dead," Zen explained her rehearsed half-truths. "I pulled this out of storage along with the rest of my things just in case. I'll likely not be returning to this rock anytime soon, if ever again, but it never hurts to be prepared."

"An original creation then?" Ryn asked. "It's certainly not standard Temple issue. And why gold? I thought you preferred muted colours and blending in."

"All custom made, yes. The gold is just an accidental effect from the interaction of the cortosis weave and the base frame materials I used." She left out the part about the suit being augmented with the Force.

"Cortosis?" Ryn narrowed his eyes at her as he headed for the cockpit. "That's a little...extreme. This...I have to be frank with you, I'm very disappointed. I think I now see why your saber technique has waned. You spent all your time placing your faith on a polished skin of gold when you should've focused more on the Force and your training."

It took all Zen had to quash the offense she took to Ryn's scolding. Her fists balled up for a few seconds, but she kept her face and tone perfectly stoic. "Yes...perhaps you're right. Still, if Thane and Bomoor turn hostile when we find them, it would be wise to prepare however we can to deal with them."

"There is merit to your words," Ryn reluctantly agreed. "I anticipate a clash with them as well. I am also hoping they come peacefully with us. They've made clear their resentment for the Order, but if they're not completely lost to the Dark, we met yet have them see reason. Perhaps I may even be able to recruit them, train them to their full potential. I can convince Quellus to overlook their transgressions if they agree to serve under my command."

"I'm sure you can," Zen said with a disinterested tone as she folded her arms at her chest, looking over the Jedi Master's shoulders as he sat down at the Descent's controls and prepared the ship for takeoff, "but let's focus on the journey before reaching the destination. Did the harbormaster of Larunda Spaceport agree to meet with you?"

"He did, thankfully enough," Ryn said as his golden-clad companion gingerly sat down in the co-pilot's chair, the armor making virtually no noticeable creaking or grinding metallic noise whatsoever while shifting to a seated position; it was almost as if she were still in plain clothes. He could see the pride written all over her face. Zen's head and chin were held higher than usual, and even without pupils or irises, he could see a strange kind of smile in those big onyx Nautolan eyes. "I'll let you know when he informs me of the location; I'm going to need you as backup in case anything happens. He says he has the surveillance footage of the Red Raptor from the night your daughter escaped slavery. The footage even has her boarding the ship the night it left Nar Shaddaa. There was also a human male and an Ithorian seen that night as well matching the descriptions of our former knights."

Zen stared at him, her mouth agape at the news. "Then that means...?"

"We've got them," Ryn affirmed with a nod as the Descent's ramp sealed shut again and lifted off. "We're on the trail. Zaracoda is indeed with them. The harbormaster will provide the footage and projected flight path based on the hyperspace trajectory they departed on. We'll just have to follow their flight path and repeat the process from port to port until we find them. It's possible they left Zara behind somewhere along the way. We might find her before locating the Raptor. How were things on your end besides making yourself look like an ancient queen dressed for war?"

Zen's first instinct was to flash the big hairless Cathar man a scowl, but she instead found something to like from his backhanded compliment and shrugged it off. "I had to call in the last of my favours. If there is a way to trace their communications through the galactic holonet, I have a few people that are going to find it. Tell me, why is the harbormaster so willing to cooperate with us? No one on this moon trusts the Jedi, let alone the Republic."

"He had a daughter who fell in love with a dashing young smuggler and disappeared some years back, never to be seen or heard from again," Ryn explained. "And before his family fell on hard times and came here, he was a veteran of the Second Outer Rim Conflict on our side. We never served together, but he heard of me and what the 71st did. He even briefly met Master Thurius at one point."

"Small galaxy," Zen said.

"Indeed," Ryn remarked with a long, slow exhale as the rainstorm lashed at the cockpit's window as they sped through the urban neon-lit skyways of the Hutt-controlled moon. The post-traumatic stress from the mental scars of the war were starting to creep back into his surface-level thoughts. His mind was drifting, the dark violent memories insidiously consuming his focus, clouding his judgment.

Suddenly, collision warning klaxons were blaring from the navigation panel as the ship jerked hard to starboard, the controls out of his hands.

"Where did you go, Rynseh Lahan?!" Zen shouted at him having taken command. "You nearly smashed us into that building!"

"I..." Ryn hesitated to answer, confused, as if coming out of a bad dream.

"Don't say it," Zen cut in angrily. "You've had several turns to judge me, belittle me, and speak ill of my skills and dedication to the Force. Not anymore. Your carelessness nearly got us killed. You, sir, just forfeited the high ground. I will fly us to the safehouse since you are clearly in no condition. In the meantime, go to bed."

"What?!" Ryn protested with an almost lion-like roar. "How dare you tell me to--"

"Go. To. Bed," Zen sternly reinforced her order, unflinchingly holding her ground whilst keeping her eyes on the traffic ahead.

It was Rynseh's turn to ball up his fists, but all the years of his Jedi training inhibited him from lashing out, especially since Zenarrah was correct; he was exhausted, hadn't slept or ate well in two days, and had no business flying a starship, especially one as sleek, advanced, and touchy with the controls as the Descent. He quietly stormed out and begrudgingly did as he was told.

Zen sealed the cockpit shut behind him and took a few deep, angry breaths. Her patience with the older Jedi Master had come to an end. She didn't care what it would take to dig up the additional credits. She was going to add a second subject to the job.

She was determined to finish what she failed to accomplish over three years ago on Balmorra...


TBC in "Sniper's Run"

 

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