Sunday, July 2, 2017

[Star Wars] Guardians of Peace, Episode 1: Ten Years Later

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

The galactic civil war is over. Despite continuing tensions, a tenuous peace exists between the EMPIRE and the NEW REPUBLIC.

A band of non-aligned sectors provides a buffer zone between the two galactic powers. Gangs of pirates, slavers, warlords, and other criminal organizations have taken to this neutral area to avoid Imperial and Republic attention.

The Jedi Order and the Antarian Rangers watch the neutral zone. Small in number, they have an outsized role in providing justice and security. Patrol squadrons and teams of Jedi maintain order and serve as the guardians of peace….

As the freighter Fortune of Greepo approached the icy planet Ilum, it passed a derelict Imperial cargo transfer station. The Fortune's comm system picked up an automated message repeating from the station, its words distorted with age and lack of maintenance. Co-pilot Denpoji Secura became a little excited by the message and started to check into it further, until his twin brother Renpoji reminded him that their mission wasn't to investigate the station. As Ren piloted the Fortune into Ilum's atmosphere, the ship began to experience some turbulence. The two Jedi passengers, Taanar Ryl and her padawan Nema Secura, held on tightly against the bouncing and shaking of the freighter. 

As Taanar clung to the arms of her seat, her thoughts went back to her meeting a few weeks earlier with her master, Niranye Repp, head of the New Jedi Order. That had been the day that Master Neri asked Taanar to take Nema as her first padawan, as well as to take on Nema's two cousins as her Antarian Ranger escort. Though the family relationship between the three young Twi'leks was cause for caution, Taanar agreed to try the twins out and see how they worked with their cousin. 

Then Neri handed her a data disk, explaining that it contained information about the location of the planet Ilum, which had been lost after the purge of the Jedi during the Clone Wars. Ilum was the source of the crystals that powered lightsabers, but the Empire had taken control of it and mined it for crystals to power the Death Star's planet-killer weapon. Neri asked Taanar to take the three Twi'leks and seek out Ilum to find out if there were any crystals left. The Jedi Order now numbered nearly 200 souls, and they would need more crystals for all the padawans to construct their own lightsabers soon.

While Taanar was thinking about this, Nema recalled being told by Jedi Master Kanan Jarrus that she would become Master Taanar Ryl's padawan, and that her cousins would be assigned as their Antarian Rangers. Master Kanan reminded her not to let her attachments blind her to the Force, and to let the Force guide her in her actions. Her twin cousins remembered standing before the leaders of the Ranger, Dash Creel and Lowarra, where they were told of their new assignment with Taanar and Nema, and introduced to R2-EF, the astromech droid nicknamed 'Effie' issued to them to take care of their ship, the Fortune of Greepo. As they left their audience with Dash and Lowarra, they thought they heard the mighty Wookiee warrior chuckling.

Below the Fortune, the four travelers could see signs of massive destruction left by the Imperial mining project. They headed for an island that appeared to have been left relatively intact. As the ship approached an area large enough to permit a landing, they observed that the planet's surface appeared cold and stormy. Ren brought them in for a rough landing that did some minor damage to their freighter, but Taanar told him, "Any landing that you and your ship survive is a good landing."

The four of them bundled up in all-weather cloaks and exited the ship, living it in the care of Effie, who had already gone to make repairs to the damage caused by the landing. It was windy and raining outside. They could hear the metallic pings of rapid cooling coming from the ship's outer hull. Taanar warned them to take care in the cold environment. She searched her feelings for a moment, then said, "This way," and set off for the location where they hoped to find crystals.

It took the small group about two hours of climbing to approach the destination Taanar had sensed. On the way, she noticed that Den's blue skin was becoming more and more gray. Ren realized that his twin had accidentally donned his unfamiliar cloak inside-out and helped him quickly turn it around so that it would provide more warmth. 

At last Taanar told her young companions, "We're here." They stood before a cave opening. When they stepped inside they could see numerous crystals glittering on the walls, ceiling, and floor. Taanar advised them to be cautious, as the presence of the crystals could cause them to experience things that no one else could perceive, and she didn't know if this would affect the twins, who were not Force-sensitive. Taanar and Nema immediately settled down to meditate and seek out crystals, but Taanar quickly realized that the twins were too excited and their emotions were preventing her from achieving a Force trance. Den also looked very chilled. She decided to send them both back to the ship so Den could warm up and his brother could look after him. 

When the twins arrived back at the Fortune, Den had a cup of hot sib and quickly felt better. The brothers thought they would return to the cave, but just as they were about to leave they noticed a message indicator on the ship's console. There was no message, only a carrier signal playing intermittently. Ren began trying to tune in to the signal, but Den called on Effie's help as the droid was much better at that type of activity. Effie was able to locate the source of the signal along the coast of the island about three kilometers from where the Fortune had landed. During their approach to the island Ren had seen that there was no place along that part of the coastline that could accommodate the ship, so the brothers decided to walk to the source of the signal to investigate.Den had Effie record a message for the Jedi in case they returned while the brothers were gone.

As Den and Ren approached the location from which the signal emanated, they heard sounds that resembled some sort of animal growling and gnawing on something. The noises reminded them of the sounds of the ubiquitous wamp rats. A moment later they saw that they were correct; they found a wamp rat gnawing on what appeared to be a humanoid corpse. The rat spotted them and attacked. The twins drew their blasters and Den put a smoking hole through the rat's body, but not before it bit both of them. They also shot a second wamp rat that appeared, and it fled after being injured. 

With the rats gone, the twins could examine the body the first rat had been chewing on. The remains appeared to being wearing some sort of uniform. The signal the ship had picked up was coming from a damaged comm unit on the body. 

After the twins left, Taanar was able to achieve a Force trance. In a little while she felt a crystal calling to her, and she rose to seek it, telling Nema to continue meditating. Finding the crystal took her deeper into the cave, where she located it high up on a wall. She was able to climb up and remove the crystal easily. As she reached out for it, the crystal leaped into her hand. Then she climbed down and headed back to the entrance to rejoin Nema. 

Nema was less successful at achieving a trance. She could faintly hear a crystal, but she couldn't tell where its call came from. Suddenly she heard the sound of a lightsaber being ignited. She opened her eyes to see a young man about her own age, wearing a uniform and wielding a lightsaber with a white blade. He said, "You're here to kill me! You killed my master!" and swung his blade at her but his swing went wide. Nema attempted to use the Force to disarm him but her effort was unsuccessful. She tried talking to him, telling him that she had only just arrived and had no reason to harm him or his master, but he wouldn't listen. He slashed at her again and this time connected with her arm.

As Taanar headed back to the cave entrance, she discovered what appeared to be a recently-occupied campsite. She hurried her steps, arriving just in time to see Nema trying to hold off the young man, whose uniform Taanar recognized as belonging to the Imperial Knights, the Force-user organization established by Imperial Crown Prince Luke Skywalker.
"Lower your sabers," she commanded. Both of them complied immediately. "I knew it!" the youth cried, "You're here to kill me!" He raised his saber again. Taanar reached out with the Force and snatched his lightsaber out of his hand before he could attack again. "We haven't killed anyone. The Jedi are peacekeepers," she replied. "What are you doing here, cadet?" 

Den and Ren realized that the uniform worn by the corpse they had found was that of an Imperial Knight. They decided that they should take the body back to their ship. Ren picked it up and carried it. While they were making their way back to the Fortune, Taanar and Nema learned that the young man's name was Teemo Phalan. He had come to Ilum with his fellow cadet Vima Montari and their master, Commander Drason, but they had been attacked by pirates. Commander Drason had gone out to deal with the pirates while telling Teemo and Vima to remain in hiding in the cave, but after he failed to return Vima had gone to search for him. Teemo had followed her and had seen her captured by the pirates, who had also stolen the Imperial shuttle that had brought them to Ilum. Taanar assured him that she and her companions would do what they could to rescue Vima and led him to their ship.

They arrived at the ship at the same time that the brothers returned with the body, which Teemo identified as that of Commander Drason. It seemed that his lightsaber had been taken by either the pirates or the wamp rats. Once the commander's body had been placed in the ship's cold storage and everyone's injuries had been treated, Taanar recommended they leave their current location in case the pirates returned. Teemo had already explained that he had seen more than a dozen of them and some of them had possessed heavy weapons. The little group of Jedi and Antarian Rangers wouldn't be enough to take on such a force. The Fortune took off from the island and they decided to check the derelict space station in case the pirates were using it as a base of operations.

Effie was able to use the Imperial shuttle's locator beacon to find it on the station. It appeared that the pirates' own ship wasn't present and most of the pirates were away, leaving only a skeleton crew on the station. The party decided that they should try to land secretly in one of the other bays and Ren would sneak into the bay where the shuttle was stored to do some reconnaissance. Den was able to land the Fortune without drawing anyone's attention. Ren then crept into the landing bay that held the Imperial shuttle. He was able to activate some of the station's security cameras and overheard two of the pirates arguing. One of them had apparently fallen asleep on watch, which was what had allowed his twin to land the freighter unnoticed. 

On the Fortune, Nema asked Teemo if he could use the Force to contact Vima, but he told her that he wasn't able to do that. While Ren continued searching the landing bay area, he opened a door that made enough noise to attract the attention of the pirates. The rest of the group hurried into the landing bay, but Teemo stumbled on his way down the ramp, causing more noise. Several pirates rushed out of the shuttle, including two human men and a Klaatoonian. The two humans stayed near the shuttle hatch, while the Klaatoonian ran toward the prow of the ship. One of the pirates fired at Den but missed. The twins returned fire, but the men had taken cover behind a piece of equipment.

Two more pirates ran out of the shuttle. One of them, a female Weequay, leaped on top of the shuttle and Den shot her with his heavy blaster. Ren followed up with a shot and the Weequay fell bonelessly from the top of the shuttle, clearly dead. Den and Nema took cover in a side chamber, where Ren joined them. Teemo ran toward the shuttle, shouting, "Where is she?"

Taanar ran toward the two human men, using the Force to send the first man flying back into his comrade and both of them hit the wall behind them. One of the men fired his blaster at her while he lay on the floor but failed to hit her. Teemo tried unsuccesfully to attack the Klaatoonian. Ren's blaster failed and he had to take a moment to insert a new battery pack. Nema took a chance and ran out of the small side room, firing her blaster at one of the men Taanar had knocked down. Taanar meanwhile used her control of the Force to lift a heavy cargo container that one of the men had taken cover behind, robbing him of his hiding place. She meant to hit the other man with the container, but missed her aim. The man she had tried to target shot her. The man who had been crouching by the container ran to the other side of the shuttle.

Teemo had been fighting the Klatoonian in front of the shuttle, but he collapsed. Nema ran to pull him to safety. Den also dropped after being shot, but his brother shot the man who had shot Den. Taanar ran around to the shuttle hatch, pausing to stun the man who had run to the other side of the ship. Taanar activated her lightsaber and prepared to enter the shuttle to search for Vima, while Nema treated Den's wounds and Ren shot the Klatoonian. 

Sadly, the shuttle proved to be empty. There was no sign of Vima. Taanar revived the man she had stunned to question him. He proved to the one who had piloted the shuttle back to the station from Ilum. He told her that Min, the leader of the pirate gang, had been given a contract to kidnap Force users who came to Ilum and sell them into slavery, though he didn't know who had paid for this. He also said that the pirates' ship, the Wind Shadow, had gone somewhere but he didn't know where, though he expected it to return soon. The ship had taken Vima. Taanar realized that the pirates were part of the Shadow Wing organization, and the Wind Shadow was their flagship. Her group didn't have the resources to combat them, or to rescue Vima from them. 

Though Teemo was disappointed, he accepted that he wouldn't be able to rescue his fellow cadet. He planned to take the shuttle back to Coruscant to report what had happened. The others helped him transfer Commander Drason's remains to the shuttle, and Effie programmed the hyperspace jump coordinates for him. Taanar assured him that they would be investigating the slavery ring further and would share any information they learned with the Imperial Knights. 

As the Fortune of Greepo prepared to jump away from the cargo station, they witnessed the return of the Wind Shadow. The Fortune set course for Ord Mantel to hand over their prisoner, the pilot who had been the only survivor of their encounter with the Shadow Wing. 

Next: Episode 2, "From the Shadows"

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