Starchaser

Chapter 2

    A growling stomach woke Nakita from her sleep. For a moment she wondered where she was and then remembered all the events that had occurred the day before. The fear, the loss of her parents. Part of her didn't want to believe it, part of her couldn't believe it. The ground was hard and her back was stiff.

    She got up to stretch, her movement waking up Ryqik. He rolled on to his back and sat up before heaving himself up from the cold ground.

    "What do we do now?" Nakita asked.

    "I don't know, Kita. Find food, I guess."

    He took hold of Nakita's hand and they wondered out into the streets. It soon became clear that without any money they wouldn't get anything to eat and short of getting lucky and finding a lost wallet, they wouldn't get any money. Ryqik had forgotten to look for it in his grief and he didn't want to go back to the scene of his parents' death. Most people just ignored them, seeing that they weren't worth bothering about because they didn't have anything. Store owners shoed them away from their establishments because they didn't trust street urchins. No one gave them a sympathetic glance. Passers by didn't have anytime for them, or just didn't care and in a place like Nar Shaddaa being unnoticed was probably the best strategy they had for survival, because if you did call attention to yourself, that usually resulted in getting your brains splattered. They witnessed one such unlucky thief fall foul of that.

    By midday, neither of them could stand the hunger anymore and they perched on a ruined wall, watching, waiting, looking for a chance. One street vendor selling fried dewback ribs was getting alot of business. The problem was that the owner was a Gotal. But with all the sentients around, then surely one of them would get close enough to sneak something away without being noticed.

    A plan was already forming in Ryqik's mind and he quietly communicated it to Nakita. Nakita left the wall and pushed her way through the press of pedestrians until she was close to the stand. Ryqik went to the opposite end of the stand and accidentally on purpose bumped a vat of cooking oil as he pretended to trip up, spilling it all over a nearby Aqualish. The enraged Aqualish took a swing at him with his fist, which the lithe young Shistavanen was quick enough to dodge. The Aqualish's punch connected with a Trandoshan instead and a fight ensued.

    In the following confusion, Nakita pilfered two portions of dewback ribs and slunk away without being noticed. They met up a couple of blocks away.

    Ryqik grinned at her. "That was fun," he said.

    "Hey, smooth move back there," a male Bothan a little older than Nakita said, coming to a stop a half a metre away from them. "Name's Ziqi, expert thief. I've been trying to pull one over on Horns for months and not succeeded."

    "If you're such an expert, how come you've never succeeded?" Ryqik said. "Beat it, flea."

    "Ryqik, stop being horrible," Nakita said, turning to the Bothan. "I'm Nakita."

    "That's a nice name," Ziqi said. "I meant to congratulate you and not him anyway. Draws too much attention to himself, like a Wookiee at an Imp's cocktail party. Though, I've got some moves I could teach you."

    "Yeah, I bet you have," Ryqik snarled at him. "Let's go, Kita. Mother told us never to associate with street rats."

    "But we're street rats, now too, Ryqik. He could know things..."

    "He's only after our food, Kita. Come on." He grabbed hold of Nakita's arm and dragged her away.

    "Suit ya self, newbee! You won't last a week without my help!" Ziqi yelled after them.

    After a few minutes of searching, they found an abandoned apartment to eat in. The lower levels of Nar Shaddaa were honeycombed with old abandoned and forgotten hideaways that were the homes and refuges of street urchins. Ryqik found some old rags and blankets that he made into a comfortable seat and they settled down to eat their stolen meal. Yes, it had been fun but they both felt frightened and alone and both wished they could go home but knew that was impossible. Ryqik had not told her what he had found in their home. He told her the bodies of their parents had been taken away. There was no need to upset her unduly.

    After eating, Nakita went to sleep. Ryqik watched her breathing until he himself became tired and slept himself, wondering how they would get through tomorrow.

***

    Za looked out of the window to the giant mountains to the north. He could look at them for hours, losing himself in the rocky features. The tops were so high that they were constantly obscured by clouds. A deciduous forest grew at the base of the range and slowly turned into a coniferous forest the higher up in altitude you went. In the winter, the deciduous line was barren and devoid of colour but the coniferous line retained the green all year round. Then as it became too cold and dry for trees to grow, short stubby shrubs grew in cracks sheltered from the battering wind until even they couldn't find a foothold and the mountain became just bare rock and ice.

    Part of Za's Archetype training had been to climb the mountains and to survive without contact with the outside world for six months. Not all the trainees in his group had survived. Some fell victim to lose rocks and plummeted to their deaths, others starved from lack of food, (if you didn't catch anything, then you didn't eat.) and the cold was too much for some.

    It had all been necessary to protect her, Mizet, the betrayer. Za himself had not escaped unscathed by the ordeal. His mate had been among those that had died. As he looked out at the mountains, he thought of her. Still, like most dangerous things, the mountains had held their own beauty, the views, clean stream water trickling down the mountain and the clear stars at night when above the cloud line.

    Soon, it would all the Uvena System would be his. All he had to do now was eliminate Mizet's son and then depose Rivik and the Imperial Governor.

    He turned from the window and took the private turbolift down into the basement where he practised his fighting techniques.

***

    He wasn't surprised to find Azet meditating in the basement. Azet was his right hand, when he needed subtlety instead of brute force to meet his ends. Kopek was good at bullying, threatening and cracking heads but sometimes the best weapon he needed was information about what his enemies were up to and Azet was the best way of getting that information.

    She had been a frightened sixteen year old when he and Za had found her, just after the fall of the Jedi Temple. She was just a Padawan at the time, being hunted by Palpatine's minions to eradicate all traces of the Jedi and any who might be a threat to his power. Za had saved her from all of that, seeing a way he could use her skills to his advantage. He'd given Kopek the task of finding forbidden Sith artefacts for her, so she could learn the ways of the Sith and get revenge on those who had killed and persecuted her friends.

    From her Jedi training, she knew the fighting techniques of lightsabre combat. Za and Kopek had taught her the techniques of the Archetypes and Azet blended the two together to form a style that was her own.

    However, it takes more than skill with a lightsabre coupled with hatred and anger and a desire for revenge to make a successful Sith or Dark Jedi. You needed patience and subtlety, an ability to deceive and manipulate while at the same time appearing honourable and the champion of good causes on the outside.

    That is what makes a Sith a dangerous foe, and enabled Palpatine to rise to power under the very noses of the Jedi Council. Deceiving a bunch of Imperials would be easy compared to that!

    Azet had been working to eliminate Za's rivals among the Archetypes. First, she searched for an indiscretion, such as a connection to smuggling, treason (working with the Rebels or plotting to depose Palpatine and put themselves in power.), anything dark or devious that would result in their fall. Sometimes she didn't find anything and when that occurred, she'd fabricate something or trick them into doing something illegal.

    So far, she'd never killed anyone directly, though her activities had caused the execution of many of Za's enemies. The only one he had been unable to touch was Rivik. Most thought she was just Za's lover and in a way they were right.

    After several long minutes, Azet rose gracefully from her cross-legged posture and turned her intense yellow eyed gaze upon him. She had jet black fur with silver tipped hairs on her face and hands. She was dressed in a tight top and short trousers that ended just below her knees, the way she always did when training.

    She regarded Za and bared her teeth at him playfully before using the Force to float a steel sword into her hands. Without saying a word, Za drew his. They circled each other for a moment before clashing their blades together, Za relying on the power of his muscles to win the fight.

    Azet fought with speed and manipulation, trying to lure Za into making a mistake that would cost him his life in a real fight situation. Za didn't fall for her deceptions easily. He had practiced with her, trained with her and knew most of her tricks by heart.

    Azet became a little frustrated as Za counteracted every single one of them, she was becoming predictable, it seemed and she hated that. She also knew that to lose her temper completely would be her downfall, in that she would take a stupid risk in her frustration and end up losing the fight. That was exactly what Za wanted her to do. Perhaps Za wouldn't have made a bad Sith, if he had been Force sensitive.

    She continued being predictable for a while, deflecting Za's blows, leading him into an over confidence that would be his undoing.

    Za's face was a mask of single minded determination, not revealing the joy that he felt inside. He was winning, or so he thought.

    He swung his sword at her, putting all his body and strength behind it, hoping to cast away or at least shatter the sword in her hand. Just before the swords connected, Azet stepped aside so that he would over balance and she gave him a little shove with the Force that sent him tumbling to the floor.

    She stepped on to his hand that was holding the sword, disarming him. He let out a groan of pain as the bones in his hand cracked but didn't break. She straddled him and nicked the surface of his skin with the tip of her sword, just deep enough so that it would bleed, but not heavily.

    "Do you yield, Za?" she whispered softly in his ear, half harshly, half seductively. She had him just where she wanted him. With the claw tips of her free hand, she tickled him behind the ears and they twitched in response to her touch.

    "You win, this time, Azet," Za yipped playfully.

    Azet bent her head and flicked her tongue out to taste Za's blood, growling softly. Azet used the Force to float both swords to the other side of the room, away from them. She slackened her hold on him and as she did so, Za suddenly pinned her to the floor.

    Force lightning crackled at the tips of Azet's fingers, an instinctive reaction to defend herself. She cut it off when she realised there was no threat, but not without giving Za a mild electric shock. She grinned at the pain creased on his face.

    "Serves you right," she growled softly. She could feel his excitement mounting in his tense muscles and emotions as his muzzle came closer to hers. Za could feel the hurried beating of her pounding heart beneath him. Her eyes shone like twin suns set against the blackness of space as their fangs locked together. Za's comlink buzzed and he rose stiffly and angrily from the floor as he switched it on.

    "This had better be important!" he barked into the receiver.

    "Forgive me for disturbing you, but Governor Riyadah requests your presence immediately!" squeaked Laej, the greedy, overweight pile of blubber that consumed food like a Neimoidian accumulated credits who was the Governor Riyadah's Aide. When he wasn't stuffing his face, ogling females that wouldn't touch him with a barge pole or ridiculing Archetypes for their "incompetence" he was scuttling around like a scared womp rat. None of the Archetypes liked him and all would gladly blast his head off if the Governor didn't execute anyone for treason if they did.

    Azet retrieved Za's sword using the Force and Za caught it in the air before sheathing it.

    "I'm sorry, Azet. I have to go."

    Azet sighed as Za left and she headed for the quarters she shared with Za. After showering and changing into a silver gown, she entered the secret chamber that housed her Sith artefacts. Among them were ancient documents and a necklace set with a red lifestone that enhanced the Darkside's power.

    At times like this, she wished she had another to train, to share the secrets of the Force with. She wondered for the hundredth time why she didn't have a child by now, to train, to be with her when Za wasn't around. It wasn't for the lack of trying.

    Her hand curled around the most important and rare artefact of all, the Sith holocron, before going back into the bedroom.

    Outside, she could see the statue of the Emperor and loathed it. It was he who had caused her to be alone, he'd who had destroyed her friends, her home, her reason for caring about anything. She cursed Za for saving her, she should be dead along with the rest of the Jedi. At least then she would no longer know the pain of being alone, having to hide what you are, not showing others your true self and having to keep them away in case they found out what you were and betrayed you or worse, fear you and reject you. Even Za only kept her around for what he could get out of her and the only reason she stayed was because he was her only chance of no longer being alone and her best chance of getting revenge on the one who had made her this way.

    The statue was a daily reminder of her pain and loneliness and she wanted to turn it into dust the way it had turned her life to dust, but she would get more satisfaction of killing the real Palpatine and taking away the thing that mattered most to him. His power.

    She activated the holocron to learn the secrets of her foe, so that she could know how to defeat him.

***

    A strange scent caused Ryqik to rise from his sleep. He shook the fogginess from his head and woke Nakita. She yawned sleepily and sniffed the air.

    "Company," she said and Ryqik nodded.

    Their eyes quickly adjusted to the low light levels and they were in the process of sneaking past the group of drunken street thugs when Nakita tripped up and sent containers clattering to the floor. The two Shistavanens looked at each other with trepidation and froze, hoping the darkness and the intoxicants would work to their advantage.

    "What was that?"

    Light from a glow rod was pointed in their direction and they tried to make themselves as invisible as possible.

    "There's nothing there, you moron."

    "I tell you, I heard something-"

    The two thugs argued back and forth and traded insults until their leader silenced them.

    "There is something there, I can smell it."

    The leader, a Cathor male inched forward, pushing his minions aside. His light sensitive eyes picked out the shapes of the two young Shistavanens.

    He let out a laugh, a spitting, mewing sound. "Well, well, look what we have here. A pair of lost puppies."

    Ryqik placed himself protectively between his sister and the gang of thugs advancing on them. He realised too late that the abandoned hideout belonged to the street thugs. In the darkness, he saw the flash of light from one of the few remaining street lamps reflecting off a vibroblade as it was drawn and heard the soft, pulsating thrum of its activation. He could smell Nakita's fear and he feared more for her than for himself. He didn't want to lose her. She was his world.

    "You know what happens to stray puppies, don't you? They get put down," the Cathor continued and his companions laughed at their leader's sick joke.

    Ryqik got a good whiff of the Cathor's breath. It was laced heavily with alcohol and another substance he couldn't identify. It was that which was making them act this way and a sense of perverted enjoyment of seeing others suffer pain.

    Ryqik quickly realised that they weren't much older than himself, two, maybe three years older. Still, that didn't make them any less dangerous and even though it was alcohol mixed with something else that was making them act this way, Ryqik had no sympathy for them. He had been unable to prevent the death of his parents but he wasn't going to let them hurt Kita. He reached inside his pocket and emitted a low, throaty growl.

    "Oh, that's really scary, little mutt."

    Ryqik's fingers curled around the handle of his lightsabre. He brought it out and depressed the switch that activated it and the room was illuminated with a silver glow.

    Ryqik stepped forward and swung his lightsabre at the thug with the vibroblade, slicing him in two before he even realised what he was doing.

    The rest turned and fled, Ryqik switched off the lightsabre and turned to Nakita, a mixture of fear, relief and amazement on her face.

    He smiled at her, warm and friendly and she threw her arms around him for the second time in two days, cried out her fear. When her trembling ceased, Ryqik took her hand in his and led her out into the night.

    "We'd better get out of here, Kita."

***

    Azet deactivated the Sith holocron and returned it to the secret chamber. As she was resealing the entrance, Za entered, in a bad mood. "What did they want?"

    "Darkfyre and Mallibai are still sore about the loss of the Stormtrooper squad. As they couldn't find Kopek to give him an earful, they decided to target me instead-"

    "I could get rid of him for you, if he is such an annoyance."

    "Kopek is too valuable. Besides, I need to keep your true existence quiet until the time is right."

    "You are tense, Za. I can relax you a little."

    "That would be good..."

***

    Azet made her way through the dark forest. Everything seemed larger, more real than it was, but there was also a dreamlike surrealness to her surroundings. Through the trees, she could see a pale, silver light. She made her way towards it and as things were with dreams, she suddenly found herself at the edge of a clearing, even though when she'd first seen the light it had seemed several metres away.

    In the middle sat a large male Shistavanen with his shirtless back towards her, staring at the blade of a silver lightsabre. Through his fur, she could see the knotted muscles made powerful by a lifetime of constant fighting though he looked to be only in his early twenties.

    There was something familiar about him and the name of a Jedi she once knew came to mind. Shirak. But it wasn't Shirak. Shirak had never wielded a silver blade. His had been green and he would have aged now, if he was still alive. This one was young, just starting out on his life's journey but even so, he had the look of one who had known more suffering than many sentients three times his age.

    The vision faded and Azet was falling through the darkness of space. A star loomed dangerously close before her and she was being pulled into its fiery maw by its gravity.

    Azet felt hot, hotter than she had ever felt in her life before...

***

    Azet sat bolt upright in bed, almost disturbing the sleeping Za at her side. Her mouth felt dry and caused her to let out a small cough, but that didn't help. She pulled back the covers and swung her legs out of bed before reaching for the velvet robe that hung on the door of the wardrobe. She slipped it on and tied the sash at the her waist before walking bare foot into the kitchen to get a glass of water.

    She didn't feel like going back to bed and decided to take a stroll in one of the walled gardens. The palace was over five hundred years old and displayed much of the original designs, art work and culture that defined the Shistavanen people before the Empire had arrived. Much of it was centred around the hunt but they were also a curious species, wanting to explore and find new places just for the excitement of being somewhere that no others of their species had ever been before. The palace was the only thing left of those times but even that was over shadowed by the statue of Palpatine. He didn't need to be present physically for the inhabitants of the palace to know his presence. The statue did that much pretty well for him.

    Her claws clicked on the stone as she padded her way down the corridor to the steps that led out into her favourite garden. She came to the large hardwood door that opened out into the gardens and paused for a moment before opening it.

    Her nose was assaulted by the scent of night blooming flowers and the night insects buzzed and hummed in the foliage. Much of the vegetation was native to the planet. The Shistavanens didn't believe in choking up their environment with things that didn't belong there. Much like the Imperial Occupation and the statue of Palpatine. A non-native plant would compete ruthlessly with the native species and if left unchecked would eventually cause the extinction of native plants and the diversity of wildlife would diminish because of it. That was what was happening to the Shistavanens at the moment. They were in a war where their way of life was being choked out by invaders and would eventually die out or worse, exist in a cage, like the last specimen of an endangered species and slowly dying alone because they couldn't fulfil what they were meant to.

    As Azet made her way through the starlit garden, she heard voices. She recongnised them as Rivik and Nidet. She peered through the screen of carnivorous starflowers and saw the silhouettes of the two Archetypes.

    "Lyet was our best hope for freedom. Now she is gone-" Rivik was saying.

    Nidet took Rivik's larger paw in hers. "We will find a way. We need to find Shirak," she mentioned the name of the Shistavanen Jedi that had been Lyet's twin brother. He had disappeared and no one knew if he was dead or alive, or even if he was still a Jedi.

    "No. The Jedi are gone. If we are to fight Palpatine, it must be us and us alone, because we can't rely on anyone else."

    "That was the way Senator Mizet thought," Nidet pointed to the statue of Palpatine, which was just visible over the garden wall, seemingly glaring down on the disloyal traitors like an angry god regarding blasphemers. "And that's what happened! We just aren't powerful enough."

    "I will speak to Za and the-"

    "Speak to Za?! He just wants to take power for himself! Why do you think he had Lyet killed anyway?"

    "Ok. I'll not speak to Za. There are others who will want to taste freedom. We'll finish what Mizet began and if we are destroyed in the process, then it is better than living under the shadow of that," he indicated the statue. If Nidet had interrupted him like that in front of other Archetypes, he would not have even considered her view.

    Nidet nodded. He was right. They must fight back, even if doing so meant they met the same fate as Mizet herself. To do nothing would mean the Empire would win anyway. Nidet rose up on her claws and kissed his muzzle before turning to go back into the palace.

    Rivik watched her go and followed a few moments later. He yelped in pain when he stubbed his toe on something hard. The moon appeared from behind a cloud and he looked down to see what had hurt his foot. It was a fragment of stone. He bent to pick it up and held it in his paws. On closer inspection, he found that it was part of the lightsabre handle from the destroyed statue of Raqak. Rivik smiled to himself. The Jedi might be gone but their legacy still lived on. It felt like even now, the Jedi guardian was still there in spirit, still looking out for them.

    Azet watched Rivik disappear up the steps and into the palace. She was confused. A Jedi her people needed, not a Sith. But a Sith is the only thing powerful enough to defeat a Sith. If it was otherwise, then why where the Jedi extinct?

    A fluttering movement caught her eye. It was a moth, attracted to the starflowers by their scent, a promise of sweet nectar. But as soon as the moth landed, the petals contracted around it and Azet watched in morbid fascination as the trapped creature died and the digestion process begun.

    Azet smiled to herself. The sight pleased her.

***

    Cyhen was having her ears assaulted again by Extreme Mynock Infestation as she sauntered over to the bar in the Swooper's Inferno. She spotted Lakah Vete, her best friend, over at the bar. She pushed her way through the other beings, a mixture of Shistavanens and other races.

    “Hey Lupa,” Lakah smiled at her friend.

    Cyhen told her about her encounter with Kopek as she waited for the Twi’lek bar tender to finish serving a group of Gotals.

     “An Archetype? Are you mad?!” Lakah exclaimed. Cyhen gestured her to be quiet as they were drawing unwanted attention from the other patrons.

    “What’ll it be?” the female Twi’lek asked.

    “Corellian ale,” Cyhen ordered her drink from the bartender and when it arrived, the two wolfwomen found a darkened alcove where they could continue the conversation away from eavesdroppers.

    “Lupa, you know that Archetypes are working for the Imps now. After our little manoeuvre over at Tornaq V -”

    “Don’t you think I know that, Lark? Of course I do! But I think Kopek is different to the others.”

    “Kopek - I’ve heard of him before -” Lakah said, lapping at her Corellian ale. “Isn’t he the one with the metal arm and the fake eye?”

    “Yes -”Cyhen said, catching her friend’s concerned look.

    “And you took him to your place?”

    Cyhen could see where this was going. “He saved my life, Lakah and it was the least I could do.”

    “Look, Lupa, if I were you, I’d get a new address. There are rumours flying around about this guy. They think he assassinated Korta Sarc, the old Alpha Premier because he was still loyal to the Senator Mizet. There was never enough proof, so he got off the charge. There are other things too, disappearances of other Archetypes, mainly, but no one knows if he had anything to do with them for certain. You should stay away from him.”

    “But these are just rumours, right?”

    “The first one isn’t,” Lakah said. “I never told you why I left the Archetypes and joined up with Byak did I?”

    “Not that I can recall,” Cyhen replied.

    “I was trained from a child, as all Archetypes are. My father was one before me and he worked on the case of Korta Sarc’s death. He suspected Kopek had killed him all along and came close to uncovering the truth, but he himself was killed before he could reveal the truth and all evidence he had was destroyed with him. That was why I left. I couldn’t work with an organisation that murdered it’s own people and then kept the murderer from getting what he deserved,” Lakah gave Cyhen an intense gaze. “Stay away from him, Cyhen.”

    Cyhen became a little angry. Why would her friend deny her happiness? “Lark, do you know what it’s been like since I lost Byak?”

    “Lupa, I know you don’t want to be on your own, but if you wait -”

    “I’m sick of waiting, Lark. You have Kannec, so you have no idea what it is like for me.”

    “Well, if I can’t persuade you to ditch this guy, promise me that you’ll be careful. I don’t want to see you hurt again, Lupa.”

    Cyhen saw that it was useless for them to fight over some guy and she might not even see Kopek again, anyway. “I promise, Lakah.”

    Lakah cracked an amused smile to relieve the tension. “Look at us, worried over some Archetype when we’ve kicked the asses of the Blood hawks!”

    “Ironic, or what?” Cyhen took a long draught of her ale. “So, Lark, what’s been going on with you? And what‘s Kannec been up too?”

    “Oh, my dog’s at one of those Swoop races, on Corellia this time. He won his last couple of races and we almost have enough to get out of racing and smuggling altogether. I’ve got a run to do to this planet called Alaris Prime.”

    “Hope that goes well. When do you go?”

    “Oh, in a couple of days. I’m mostly carrying food and med supplies.”

    “Ah, no weapons, then?”

    Lakah laughed, “After our last venture together, it would be best to keep a low profile, I think.”

    “Wise decision, Lakah.”

***

    Cyhen Hes made her way through the darkness of Terhan's night after leaving the Swooper's Inferno. The narrow alley ways flanked on either side by tall buildings seemed more oppressive than usual. Perhaps it was the conversation she'd had with Lakah that had brought this on, or the fact that she'd been attacked the night before. Maybe it was just the quietness caused by few people being around. Whatever it was, Cyhen was feeling more jumpy than normal.

    A clatter behind her made her jump. She turned round and saw a pair of glowing eyes in the gloom. Just a vulpae, she thought. Vulpaes were small fox-like creatures the size of a cat. They had become increasingly common in urban areas, looking for food.

    The streets became wider has she neared the Terhan Spaceport and her flat, giving an almost clear view of the night sky above. The more prominent stars were showing themselves but the lights of the city obscured the light from most stars. It was nothing compared to the view that could be seen from the mountains.

    The sound of whirring servomotors and the sharp metallic scent of metal combined with the male pheromones announced Kopek's presence before she saw him as she came up to the building that housed her flat.

    "What do you want?" Cyhen asked, her voice sounding more annoyed than she'd intended.

    "I saved your life and spent the night in your place and now you tell me to bugger off?" Kopek asked, stepping out of the shadows into the glow of the street lamp.

    He suddenly seemed a lot more dangerous than the night before. Perhaps Lakah was right about him...

    "I didn't think you'd become my stalker," Cyhen retorted, her hand moving to her blaster holstered at her hip.

    Kopek threw up his hands to show that he wasn't armed. "I just wanted to drop by to see if you're ok."

    "Well, now you see that I am, so now you can leave," Cyhen said, trying to brush past him. Kopek blocked her with is flesh arm.

    "What's brought all this on?" Kopek asked, fearing that like all other females, she was rejecting him.

    "It's late, Kopek. I'm tired. Besides, I don't really want to see anyone right now."

    "That's not the impression you gave me last night," Kopek tilted her chin up with his mechanical hand, moving his face slightly so that she saw more of his good eye than his prosthetic one. "In fact, you invited me..."

    Cyhen thought for a moment or two. Brushing him off now wouldn't exactly be fair, now would it? Everything Lakah had told her had just been speculation, right?

    "Tell you what. meet me at the Drunken Ronto tomorrow night, about a hour after sunset?" Cyhen compromised.

    "Sound's good. Bring a change of clothes with you."

    Cyhen looked at him, puzzled. "Why?"

    Kopek flashed her a smile. "Wait and see."

***

    Azet entered Za's office. Za turned around from looking out of the window. "What is so interesting out there, Za?" Azet asked.

    "Just memories...," he replied.

    Azet nodded her understanding. She knew how memories could be your demons. "I received your message. What is it, Za?" She walked over to him, stopping only half a metre from him. She had the impulse to embrace him, but not here.

    "My brother is up to something, Azet. He's been too mysterious recently. I want to know if he is moving against me. He has always been loyal, but in these troubled times you can't trust even your own blood - half blood, should I say."

    "You want me to keep him under surveillance, Za?"

    "Just trail him for tonight. See where he goes, who he meets with. Perhaps with your skills, we'll uncover what he's up too."

    "We can't let him be a threat to us."

    "Still, Azet, he has proved useful in the past. It would be unfortunate if you would have to eliminate him, but if the job needed to be done, then so be it."

***

    Kopek's stomach gave a lurch and he checked the time on his chronometer again. It was half a hour after Cyhen was supposed to meet him and he was beginning to think that that he'd been shown up. I knew I should have said I'd meet her at her place...

    He downed the the last of his Lomin ale and considered to go over to her place to see if anything was amiss when he saw her enter the cantina. She pushed herself through the throng to his table in the most remote corner that Kopek could find. He studied her, taking in her in the formal black dress that she wore. She flashed him a grin. "Took me ages to find this out. I've not worn it since that time Byak, the others and I made off with the takings from Saphire's Casino."

    "Sounds quite a story, but you'd best keep it to yourself, I might have to haul you in for theft."

    "Oh, it's not as bad as it sounds. The casino was run by a crook anyway. We just relieved her of her illegitimate earnings. I gave some of my cut to charity."

    "That's ok, then, I think. You do look good in it. Suppose I'd be missing something lovely if I did haul you in. I was beginning to think that you wouldn't show, Cyhen."

    "Oh, just a crisis I had to sort out. A friend of mine was injured in an accident. He's okay, but it will take him a long time to recover - and a lot of credits. His lupa had been over."

    "If you want to go home and be with your friend, then that's okay. We can always do this another time."

    "She's on her way over to see him now. Besides, I wasn't exactly nice to you last night . A have a means to contact her on developments in my bag."

    "Would you like a drink and then we can get out of here. There is that surprise I promised you."

    "A drink would be good," Cyhen chose a fruity alcoholic cocktail - much more lady-like than the Corellian ale she always chose to drink when in the company of Lakah. As Kopek went over to the bar, a female Shistavanen entered wearing baggy trousers and a dark jacket - it was difficult to tell whether it was black, brown or dark blue in the darkness of the cantina.

    While she waited for Kopek to return, Cyhen checked the credits in her purse. Kopek returned a few moments later with a Lomin ale and Cyhen's cocktail.

    "How much was it?"

    "I'm quite happy to pay for it."

    "I always pay my own way, Kopek."

    "If you insist. It was a couple of credits."

    Cyhen handed him the two credit chips and glanced over at the female Shistavanen that had entered while Kopek was at the bar. She wasn't paying them any attention, but Cyhen was still a little suspicious.

    "I said, is anything wrong?" Kopek asked.

    Cyhen turned her attention back to Kopek. "Everything is fine..."

***

    Azet fingered her comlink and brought it up to her mouth. She used the glass holding her drink to one side of her face and discreetly spoke into her comlink.

    “Are you there, Za?”

    Za answered promptly, “Yes?”

    “Made contact with the target at the Drunken Ronto cantina. Look’s like he’s entertaining a lupa. Golden fur, about one point seven metres in height. Seems to match description of a suspected rebel.”

    “A Reb suspect? Can you catch anything of what they’re saying?”

    “No. To noisy, but meeting doesn’t seem to be dodgy. Seems like fraternisation. Wait a sec, they’re finishing drinks and leaving. Would you like me to follow them?”

    “Kopek with a lupa - intriguing. Situation needs monitoring to see if it’s what it appears to be. I’d leave ‘em to it, Azz, get out and come home.”

    “Will do. See you in a little while.” Azet thumbed the comlink off and made to leave for the Senator’s Palace, leaving her drink behind, untouched.

***

    “You got a Surosub X-36? Nice,” Cyhen said. A few blocks away from the Drunken Ronto, Kopek had parked his X-36 Surosub Landspeeder. He only ever used it for long trips into the mountains and forests that surrounded Terhan. The X-36 was an open top speeder, a newer model than the X-35 Landspeeder. It still retained the sporty appearance and had a metallic blue paint job. It only processed two seats, one for the driver and one for a passenger.

    “I was thinking we’d go for a trip outta this depressing place. I have a small cabin at the base of the mountains. There’s one advantage to being an Archetype is that it pays well.”

    Cyhen wasn’t overly impressed by Kopek’s show of extravagance when much of Uvena III and the other habitable planets of the system had been stripped of its wealth by the Imperial Occupation: in many ways, however, they were luckier that some other alien worlds that had become so heavily polluted and much of their wild places destroyed to render the planet almost uninhabitable. It was probably because the Empire had found other ways to exploit the Shistavanens, as enslaved ship engineers and scout to find Rebel Bases.

    “I know what you’re thinking, but most of the Archetypes don’t want the Imperials around either,” Kopek said, noting the look of her face and body language.

    “But you just tolerate them anyway - “

    “You think I like what I am? Being an Archetype made me into this you see before me now,” he indicated his metal arm and false eye. “Besides, the Archetypes are only waiting for the Imperials to become weak, then they will be gone. If we fought against them now, there would just be another Uvenan Massacre.”

    He had a point, Cyhen had to admit. “Come on, let’s go. We were supposed to be enjoying ourselves, remember?”

    Kopek cracked a rare smile. “Damn right. You need help getting in?”

    “I’m fine, Kopek,” Cyhen said, swinging gracefully into the passenger’s seat.

    Kopek leaped into the driver’s seat, some what more ungracefully than Cyhen, inserted the electronic security key, started up the engines and blasted off into the night.

***

    The lights of Terhan twinkled like constellations behind them in the distance as the mountains loomed up before them. The front headlights of the land speeder illuminated the ground in front of them. Soon a dark shape against the darker background began to appear before them.

    “That’s my cabin up ahead,” Kopek informed her.

    As the shape got bigger, Cyhen began to appreciate its size: when he said small, she had been expecting a prefab shelter-sized place, not a medium sized bungalow. It had only one floor with a sloping roof and looked to be built out of local gritstone. It had a bay at the side to accommodate the Landspeeder.

    Kopek slowed the vehicle down and brought it to a halt just outside the bay. He jumped out of the Landspeeder and walked around to the passenger side to help Cyhen out of the vehicle.

    “Did you bring a change of clothes?” Kopek asked as they walked along the gritstone path to the door.

    “Yes.”

    “Good. You can change in the ‘fresher once we get inside,” Kopek keyed in the security code that allowed them entry to the building and flashed a grin at her. “Promise I won’t look.”

    Once inside, Cyhen was shocked to discover he had a droid, as most Shistavanens didn’t use them, except for the Astromechs that were used in star fighters.

    “The droid takes care of the place when I’m away. If I didn’t have one, the place would easily get over run with vermin when I’m on business.”

    The cabin was a lot more homely than Cyhen’s flat in Terhan, with wooden panelling on the floor, doors, cupboards, table and worktops. In the sitting room that was entered via the front door, was a dark green sofa, a computer system, fire place and a landscape holo of the mountain range outside. Other than that, there were no personal items in the room.

    “The ‘freshet’s behind the first door on the right down that corridor,” Kopek informed her. As Cyhen made her way down the corridor, she noticed a door to her left and one down at the far end of the corridor. She guessed that the one at the far end was a bedroom.

    The walls of the corridor were adorned with yet more landscape pictures, one of which she recognised as the Alces Canyon. Kopek, it seemed, had a fondness of natural landscapes. Perhaps that was why he chose to have a home at the foot of the mountain.

    Cyhen entered the ‘fresher and put her bag down on the table and pulled the shoulder straps down of her dress, peeling it off until it was a dark pile of fabric at her feet that she stepped out of. She picked it up and draped it over the back of a chair before rummaging through her bag for the brown t-shirt and black trousers that she had put in there before she came out.

    Once she had changed, Cyhen headed back to the sitting room. Kopek was stood waiting for her and had changed into camouflage trousers and shirt.

    “Good. Are you ready then?” he asked her.

    “Ready for what?” Cyhen asked, narrowing her blue eyes.

     “Hunting, of course,” Kopek replied.

    “That’s the surprise you talked about,” Cyhen said.

***

    It was a crisp night, Cyhen noticed, as they wondered along the trails in the nearby woodland. Through the gaps between the branches of the canopy above, the stars could clearly be seen, much sharper and more numerous than what could been seen in the capital. Shistavanens are naturally night time creatures, able to see much better in the dark than humans because of the Tapeum Lucidum, a reflective layer of cells at the back of their eyes. When light caught this layer, the eyes would glow an eerie green.

    “When was the last time you hunted?” asked Kopek.

    “I’ve not been out in the wilds for a long time and so haven’t had the opportunity to hunt.,” Cyhen replied. After the death of her uncle, she’d not been back to the wilderness that surrounded the capital of Terhan.

    “I usually come out here alone. Sometimes you even forget about the Imperial Occupation. It’s even better when you share it with someone.”

    Cyhen, who was in front, bent back the flexible stems of a large bush that overgrew onto the path. “Well, you have someone with you now,” she said, waiting until Kopek had got hold of the stems before letting go.

    After a while, Kopek said, “We’d better shut up and get on with hunting…”

    Cyhen smiled, turned and gave him a friendly shove. “You’re the one making all the noise.”

    “Me? You make more noise than a herd of elaphus.”

    “You’ve scared away all the elaphus, now there’s no reason to hunt.”

    “In that case, we might as well go back inside…” he grinned at her recklessly. “…and amuse ourselves in other ways, but that would mean we‘d have to forfeit supper.”

    “Come to think of it, I am hungry,” Cyhen said, half serious, half teasing.

    Kopek gave her a look of mock disappointment. He sniffed the air, hoping to pick up the welcome scent of prey. He gripped Cyhen’s shoulder in his hand as an indication to keep still. His mechanical eye picked up infra red, and as a result allowed him to see the body heat of animals and people in the darkness. At the moment, however, it was only picking up Cyhen.

    The breeze was almost still this deep in the forest, which had an advantage in that any rustling of the undergrowth could indicate the presence of an animal, but unfortunately, that caused a problem with the carriage of scent in the forest and was one of the primary senses of Shistavanens.

    They were silent as they trudged further into the forest, Kopek’s real eye picking up the lithe salute of Cyhen in the darkness. Up ahead, Kopek could hear the bubbling  of a shallow but  fast moving water course. He reached in front of him to grip Cyhen’s arm and indicated that he wanted to lead for a while. The reason for this was that animals usually congregated around water to drink and in the darkness, he would detect the animal first with his mechanical eye. They continued carefully until the stream was in view. With it’s head bent down to drink the water, stood a deer-like creature with its back to them. Kopek, indicated for Cyhen to stay where she was as he crept up on the unsuspecting creature. He went slowly, inching his way up as close as he could before he struck out with his mechanical arm at the creature’s neck. It struggled and Cyhen rushed up to help him. She dodged a kick but Kopek tightened his vice-like grip on the animal’s neck, snapping the vertebrae, the hunt successful.