Star Wars: The Void Crusade
By Matthew Snee
2,000 years after the Battle of Yavin, the Jedi and the Sith have all but disappeared from the galaxy, taking their endless war with them, replaced by the Five Houses, independent clans of Force-users that maintain a fragile peace throughout the Republic.
Life in the galaxy goes on, and through the years sentient beings are born, live, and die, their stories forgotten except upon the unreadable atoms of time.
But one day along the Mid Rim of the galaxy, in the remote system of Fengdulax – known best for being unknown – bounty hunter Fimm Zobra meets an old client...
The great sea of stars beckons us all. From the shores of planets, to the cold vacuity of the heavens, adventure and sorrow wait from sun to sun – infinity expands across all horizons: this galaxy is endless.
But I am concerned with a single ship --a small frigate, really -- zipping through the charged particles and fragile plasma of space until it reaches the foreign atmospheres of Fengdulax, a small system on the perilous reaches of the Mid Rim of the galaxy. The ship plummets and jets until it is tugged gently into the gravity well of the moon Ooro, which spins around the hideous gas planet Fengdulax V.
I am the ship's pilot.
The ship and I float through the upper skies of Ooro certain and calm, piercing the purple clouds and acidic rain, engines blasting smoothly, and my hands cool on the controls. Cleared for landing, we descend upon the moon’s city, gliding through miles of computer-regulated air and vector pulses.
The ship settles into a gentle landing on a raised platform on the outskirts of the city, where the buildings are stubby compared with the rest of the undulating avenues. Other craft buzz around the jagged architecture. From inside the cockpit, I can see all is shrouded in pattering rain and low cloud.
I steady my breath and grab my blaster. After a moment, the airlock bursts open and I step out, hooded, and accompanied by CD-7, my female droid, who steps across the rain puddles on thin, nervous legs of braided, blinking metal. "Terrible weather, sir," the droid says in its electronic but feminine voice. "And no welcoming party."
I nod but say nothing. I look up at the sky where Fengdulax V looms across everything, its magnetic groan roaring as it rotates, an object of almost obscene size. As a matter of habit, the I brush my fingers against the butt of my blaster, holstered to my belt, but I do not draw it.
I can feel someone, or something, is watching me.
If they are, they see a hulking, imposing old bounty hunter in a green hazard suit and black cloak, human -- perhaps fifty years old, with cybernetic enhancements. My face is obscured, but doubtless my watcher knows who I am.
We make our way across the platform to the standing elevator, which is ancient, dilapidated, but still functional, in a rattling, shaking kind of way. The two of us ride down a floor and are dispatched into a large lobby ripe with abandonment. The ceilings are tall; the place is alien. It’s dark too, but deceptively so: I can tell with my implants that the place is bathed in ultraviolet light, naked to the human eye. It's a clue both to our location and who we've come to see.
There is a fetid smell in the air: alien, infernally recognizable, as no other creature has such a stench. This is intermingled with other exotic perfumes and fuels, and an overwhelming sense of… something –
Something is dying here.
And if my cybernetics couldn't tell me this, my soul would. I can feel it in the Force.
The front desk is empty. There is no one in the lobby at all, and a holographic painting that obviously once hung majestic on the near wall now droops from one corner, its neon light flickering. Rubbish is strewn across the floor.
“Where is everyone?” the droid asks in a frightened voice. I do not answer, stepping toward the hall behind the desk. Smoke oozes through the air; some sort of burning plant of some sort, or oil. The place is damp with organics, and warm. We step beneath a skylight which a hazy blue light seeps through, illuminating us suddenly. Then it's back to the shadows, where we belong. There is a wide archway, leading to the main throne room, which is barren, but for a bulbous shape at the back, in the darkest area.
The shape is alive, huffing, its wormlike body twitching, and as the droid and I come in front of it, I can see through the darkness it is nothing but a Hutt, which I expected -- an enormous gastropod with eyes, mouth, nostrils, shoulders, and pudgy little arms and hands. Its eyes shine, but the rest of it is cloaked. It draws in a deep, rasping breath, and then speaks Huttese, a low, guttural language of swollen vowels and cynical consonants.
“Bounty hunter! I have heard legends of your cruelty throughout the Outer Rim.” The Hutt seems like a she, though the Hutts are a hermaphroditic race. In fact, my sensors tell me she was recently pregnant, and the vile thing is probably nursing a larva in its blood sack. She breathes heavily after these words utter from her mouth, and her tongue sticks out of her lips. Her voice is huge – but weak.
She is dying.
I reply back, in perfect Huttese, in my unassuming but wicked voice: "So I have heard legends of yours."
The Hutt’s eyes light up. “Take back your hood, so I might see your face.”
I do so, pulling back the fabric to reveal my true cyborg visage, bald but for strips of red hair, face scarred and freckled, skin covered in cybernetics, computers regulating me, enhancing me, supporting me. I am otherwise human though, with a pale light to my skin, confident eyebrows, a stump of a nose, and a small but certain mouth. I have been told my brown eyes are hard.
“Zobra…” the Hutt says, smiling. “Fimm Zobra.”
“Hello Madame Hutt,” I respond, bowing both sarcastically and seriously. “My Paaxta.”
“I haven’t seen you in many revolutions now,” Paaxta the Huttsays. “I never thought I would grow so found of a human. But despite yourself, you are trustworthy and dependable to a god like me.”
Hutts think they are gods in comparison to humans. They live for thousands of years, while we only have this brief flash.
“Those are kind words,” I say. "Are they going to cost me?”
Paaxta the Klutt lets out a booming laughter. “Always thinking about money, Zobra. You never change.”
“I change,” I argue. I can hear the servos in CD-7's neck as it nods in agreement.
“I suppose you do,” says Paaxta. “Everything changes. The galaxy is breaking: can you feel it?”
“I feel it,” I say. Life has been getting stranger. My implants can't tell but I can. Still, I peer into the Hutt's countenance, trying to fathom her motivations. My fingers almost brush against my blaster again.
“I break too,” says the Hutt. “I’m dying.”
“I can tell,” I say, remorse for real. "Why did you ask me here?”
“Because I wanted to see you before I died.”
“That’s bantha fodder,” I mutter. But I know Hutts can fall in love with humans. I've seen it before, heard the stories, watched the holograms.
"I have one last job for you, Zobra," she says, changing the subject, her voice getting weaker and heavier with each word.
"Who is it? Who do you want me to kill?"