One for the Money

9-LOM stepped quietly into the cantina on Commenor, glancing around the room. He didn’t notice much about the residents, not that there was much out of the ordinary here. He walked over to a booth, noting the occasional glance from the other patrons, but disregarding them. People always gave him two kinds of looks: dirty ones, or hateful dirty ones. This was partly because of his resemblance to a certain "fellow-LOM-unit-whose-name-will-remain-anonymous." 9-LOM, unlike his doppelganger, was an anti-bounty hunter. He hunted hunters, acting as a courier for their targets, and generally messing up their hunts. His profession had started after he evolved beyond his normal mission parameters, which were that of a protocol droid, and abandoned his master on Kuat, liberating a prototype B-wing and an R3 unit in the process. He felt no regrets for his choices, for regret was not in his programming.

9-LOM moved over to a booth, to await his contact. A servant droid rolled up to him, but he waved it away. 9-LOM ventured a glance out the window, making sure his modified B-wing was still out on the landing pad, with the cluster of other personal craft. He did this not out of paranoia, since it was one of the few emotions he actually couldn’t emulate, but out of caution. Yeah, that’s it, caution…

"Hey, you look just like -" spoke a nondescript human that approached the booth.

9-LOM turned his attention to the man, "No I’m not, and no I don’t. State your business before I scatter your atoms."

The man shrugged, and then sat down. "I’m your contact. You wanted that job on the dignitary…"

"Ah, yes, the human from the Rebel Alliance. Give me the stats so I can get to work."

"Work? You call this work?" the man chuckled.

"Yes, I do," 9-LOM growled, or at least what could be classified as a growl, since he was mechanical.

"Very well…her name is Naomi Cantar. She -"

"Wait a second…we never said anything about a woman. I do transportation of wanted individuals, not babysitting."

"Oh, you don’t know this one…She can take care of herself."

"Then she doesn’t need me, does she?"
"Well, if you had the Imperials crawling all over searching for you…"

"Keep your voice down! You honestly think I want to be associated with the Rebels?"

"Are you this rude to all your clients?"

"Only those who piss me off."

"Back on track…she’s reportedly on Nar Shaddaa, getting information for the Rebels. You are to rendezvous with her there, and transport her to some moon out in an asteroid field. Cantar will give you the coordinates once you pick her up."

"You don’t know where I’m taking her?"

"Don’t ask me, I just know what my employers tell me."

"Well, I’ll have to talk to your…employers about how much I’m getting paid for this job…"

Just then, an apparently-heavily-armed humanoid wearing a helmet stepped into the bar. 9-LOM diverted his attention to the humanoid. "Hold on a moment…opportunity knocks."

9-LOM stood, suddenly assuming the façade of a common protocol droid, like his model of droids was originally built to be. 9-LOM hated doing it; he found it degrading, but looking like a protocol droid had saved his pseudo-life more than once. He waddled over to the humanoid, and then engaged his "protocol droid" speech program.

"Excuse me sir, are you a bounty hunter?" 9-LOM spoke in his overly prissy voice.

"Yes," spoke the hunter, in a gruff voice. "Now go find your master and bring him to me"

Upon hearing the magic words, 9-LOM reverted back to his standard programming, his voice deepening, and shoulders visibly relaxing as his enhanced servos kicked in. "Good, exactly what I wanted to hear…"

9-LOM spun around, unslinging his concealed DXR-6 disruptor rifle in the process, then whirled around, bringing the butt of the rifle up into the bounty hunter’s chin. The hunter fell back, momentarily stunned, but then he recovered himself, screaming something into what was apparently a built-in comm unit in his helmet. From what 9-LOM could make out, it sounded something like "It was an ambush…send in backup…"

9-LOM turned his attention to the doorway, just in time to see three more men rush into the room. Immediately, patrons began filing out behind the hunters, not wanting to see any more action. Two of the hunters blitzed 9-LOM, the nearer one throwing a wild punch towards 9-LOM’s relatively large head. 9-LOM ducked under the punch, knowing it would have done no damage if it had connected anyway, and brought a metal fist up into the hunter’s gut. The man doubled over, and 9-LOM brought an armored knee up into the man’s face, his head snapping back as he fell to the floor, limp.

The second hunter rushed towards 9-LOM, and 9-LOM swung the business end of the disruptor rifle into the man’s chest, then pulled the trigger. 9-LOM was blown back from the blast, but his target was atomized, his ashes spraying across his friend, who went berserk. The original hunter ran at 9-LOM, blaster pistol in hand. 9-LOM rolled to the left, out of the way of the initial shot the hunter put up at him, and then rolled forward, whipping the disruptor rifle out, clubbing the hunter in the side of the man’s left knee. 9-LOM then head butted the hunter, putting him out cold.

9-LOM heard a rumble, and then glanced in the direction of the right wall of the bar. Suddenly, it burst inward, knocking 9-LOM off his feet, as a Chariot LAV floated through the new gap in the wall. 9-LOM brought himself to his feet, and then leveled the aim of his disruptor rifle at the Light Assault Vehicle.

I’ve only got 4 shots before I’ve got to reload. I’d better make them good, 9-LOM thought as he squeezed the trigger. A green pulse shot out from the rifle, and connected with the front of the LAV. The front exploded inward, blowing the viewport off. 9-LOM fired a second burst, catching the LAV right on the nose, shutting down the repulsorlifts. The LAV went nose-first into the ground, making a dent in the flooring. 9-LOM’s third shot went through the driver, who had been killed in the first shot, and blew a gaping hole in the divider between the command center and the troop holding area. 9-LOM fired off his fourth and final shots, the rifle chirping to signal the clip was dry. The fourth shot went through the hole in the LAV, and connected with the engine generators at the back of the vehicle, igniting them. The whole LAV erupted into flame, blowing apart. 9-LOM ejected his spent powerpack, and quickly locked in a fresh one. He then twirled the rifle once, and slung it back over his shoulder.

The whole event took less than 60 seconds. "Gotcha," 9-LOM mumbled as he walked out of the establishment.

* * *

Naomi Cantar’s day had quickly gone from bad to worse.

What could have gotten me into this mess? She thought as she ejected her spent powerpack from her rifle, and locked in a new one. Oh yes, becoming a rebel agent, and then coming to Nar Shaddaa, a planet controlled completely by crime, that’s how.

A blaster bolt hit the wall just above her head, and she sucked down lower. Naomi had been trailing one of the leading Imperials on the planet, and had witnessed him meet with one of the major crimelords. Little had Naomi known, the entire meeting had been a setup, and now the Imperials had her pinned down behind the bar in a shady cantina. Naomi knew the Imperials could wait her out, and she was easily outnumbered. Her ammunition was starting to run low. She had managed to tag a handful of the troopers so far, but time was running out. It was time to think of something, fast. She was amazed that the troopers hadn’t thought to lob a grenade her way, but knowing Imperial stormtroopers, they’d probably not arm it before pitching it. It was about this point that she heard the voice.

"Hey!" The voice sounded filtered, and mechanical. The room became deathly quiet. Naomi ventured a glance over the top of the bar…and saw a droid -- a LOM model protocol droid, holding a Czerka AM-125 machine pistol. "Can I join the party?"

Naomi ducked her head back down, realizing that things had just gotten much worse. That is, she thought that, until the firing started.

9-LOM stepped into the cantina, seeing the troopers firing on the bar, and quickly drew his machine pistol. It was custom modified, and held a 100-round revolving clip, with 4 bullet types: explosive tip, armor piercing, acid payload, and hollow point. It could be set to fire any of the round types, or have the clip spin, in "party mix" mode, chambering a random round whenever the trigger was pulled. There was a laser sight mounted underneath the barrel, which came on when the trigger was pulled. 9-LOM loved the machine pistol, and was robotically accurate with it.

"Hey!" he bellowed to the crowd, drawing their attention, "Can I join the party?"

At this point, the first of the troopers raised his rifle. 9-LOM set the pistol to single-fire, and fired a round, which went right down the barrel of the trooper’s rifle, igniting the powerpack, and blowing the gun up in the trooper’s hands. He fell back, stunned.

9-LOM set the pistol to full automatic fire, and sprayed bullets across the ranks of troopers, dropping 5 more. The stormtroopers dove for cover behind some tables, trying to return fire. 9-LOM hopped to the left, kicking over a table while setting the pistol to fire armor piercing rounds. He snapped a leg off the table, then lobbed it across the room, watching it draw the fire of the troopers. 9-LOM popped up, and fired a three-shot burst through the nearest table. He was satisfied to hear a few yelps and screams as the bullets penetrated the table.

9-LOM grabbed his table by two legs, bracing it, and then charged at the other 3 tables. He connected, knocking the tables back onto their legs, then rolled over them, landing near the troopers. He stood, bringing a snap-kick to one of the troopers’ chest, then dropped down, sweeping another one. 9-LOM kicked their rifles away, and pistol-whipped another trooper using the machine pistol. One of the troopers stood up, and 9-LOM backhanded him, then kneed him in the groin, dropping him to the floor again. One of the disarmed troopers threw a punch in 9-LOM’s general direction, and 9-LOM caught his fist, flipping the trooper over onto his back. 9-LOM dodged back under the table then scurried over to the bar. He looked over the top, spotting Naomi.

"Get out of here! I’ll cover you!" he yelled as a few more troopers stood, grabbing their blaster rifles. Naomi complied, not quite sure what this droid’s motives were, and sprinted for the door. One of the troopers raised his rifle, taking deliberate aim at Naomi, but 9-LOM was faster. He fired from the hip, the explosive round hitting the trooper in the shoulder and spinning him around as he fired. The trooper’s shot reflected off the transparisteel window of the cantina, and caught another trooper in the throat.

Once Naomi was clear, 9-LOM yanked a thermal detonator from the belt of one of the downed troopers, and ran out of the building. He saw Naomi standing there, and then primed the detonator, and pitched it as hard as he could back into the cantina, hitting a trooper in the helmet and knocking him back. There was an audible chirp, and then silence, before the deafening explosion as the detonator rocked the building. Naomi’s clenched teeth chattered as the windows of the building were blown outward, scattering debris. The concussion wave from the blast sent 9-LOM sprawling, and rolled over one of the Imperial landspeeders. 9-LOM stood, and then glanced to Naomi.

"Come with me if you want to live," he spoke, holstering his machine pistol.

Naomi stood there, dumbfounded, and blinked twice. "How do I know you won’t kill me?"

"Because I’m paid not to. Do you want to live or not?" Naomi nodded, and began to follow 9-LOM down the street, keeping her guard up in case of a surprise attack.

"Hey, aren’t you -" Naomi began.

"No, I’m not." Was 9-LOM’s curt reply, cutting Naomi short. She frowned a bit, but then realization played across her features.

"Wait a sec…you’re that renegade mercenary…9-LOM. The anti-bounty hunter."

"At your service."

Naomi shook her head, chuckling a little. "Oh no…they say trouble follows you like a Jawa follows a junked landspeeder. I don’t want anything to do with you."

9-LOM glanced back to Naomi. "I’m being paid to protect you, and escort you to a rendezvous point. Anyway, I’m the only way you’re going get off-planet. That is, unless you sprout wings and fly."

"But my shuttle -"

"Has been impounded. The Imps found it just before I got here. We’ll have to use my ship. It’s on a landing pad on the other end of the city. To get there, however, we’ll have to pass through the local Imperial garrison. Unfortunately, my ship got impounded just after I landed. I had to gun my way out the back door."

"Great…just great."

* * *

About 20 minutes later, they reached a large bunker, clearly of Imperial design.

"Now what?" spoke Naomi, glancing around at the bunker.

"We knock." Spoke 9-LOM as he unslung his disruptor rifle, and took aim at the maintenance door of the bunker. The blast from the rifle tore the door off, and blew it inward. Alarms blared, and lights flashed after the dust settled.

"You think they know we’re here yet?" spoke Naomi, as she removed her own pistol from its holster.

9-LOM glanced around, and then spotted a few odd-shaped objects skim from over the top of the bunker, fly over their heads, and land behind them. The objects looked like airspeeders, but with some custom, and clearly lethal, modifications. Multiple beings stepped from the speeders; human and nonhuman alike. One in particular - a human, with a prosthetic right arm, and an artificial left eye - spoke up.

"Naomi Cantar, stop where you are. You can either turn yourself over without a fight, or die."

"We got problems…" mumbled 9-LOM as he lowered his rifle. "Dariq Barklis, ‘bounty hunter’. He’s acclaimed as the best there is…on Nar Shaddaa. He’s never been off-planet."

"Quiet, or we burn you where you stand!" bellowed Wellis, Dariq’s burly second-in-command.

"Now, now, don’t go doing anything rash, Dariq," came a voice from behind 9-LOM. He spun, to see an Imperial general, flanked by 4 stormtroopers holding E-11 rifles. The general had short-cropped brown hair, receding, and stood a little taller than 9-LOM. To the general’s left, stood another Imperial officer, apparently a colonel. The colonel was very tall, with extremely short blond hair barely visible beneath his officer’s cap.

"4-L -," the general began as he glanced to 9-LOM.

"9-LOM."

"9-LOM, whatever. We have not been properly introduced. I am General Killian, and this is my second in command, Colonel Jules. You have already caused me enough trouble, with you…storming that cantina. I’m giving you one chance to hand over Ms. Cantar. If you do this, we promise not to hurt you, or even prosecute you under Imperial law for obstruction of justice. I might even put in a little bonus if you’re especially cooperative. So, what do you say? Do we have ourselves a deal?"

9-LOM glanced from the general to the bounty hunters, then down at Naomi. 9-LOM then glanced over at the Imperial bunker. His ship was still in the Imperial impound, and he sure wanted it back…

9-LOM swung his disruptor rifle back up, and took aim at the bunker. Then, he aimed up a little and to the left, at a window, and tapped a button on the right side of the barrel. From the left side of the barrel, a high-tensile cord with a drill-bit mounted on the head launched out, spanning the distance between 9-LOM and the window in under a second. The drill-bit shattered the window, and found purchase on the ceiling inside the facility. As the line got taut, 9-LOM wrapped his free arm around Naomi’s waist, and hit the button on the side of the rifle again.

The bounty hunters raised their rifles to fire, but 9-LOM and Naomi were carried up through the broken window. 9-LOM tapped the button again, which caused to the drill-bit to retract, and locked it back into the disruptor rifle. Shots began to come in through the window, and 9-LOM ducked to the left, while Naomi went to the right, equipping her own pistol.

"Now what?" Naomi asked.

"We get my ship back, and get off this rock," was 9-LOM’s reply. 9-LOM ducked under the window, scurrying over to Naomi’s side, and then motioned for her to follow him. The two of them sprinted off to the nearest door.

"I want them detained now!" yelled Killian. He turned to face the bounty hunters, "Dariq, get in there and stop them! Jules, handle this. I must report to the interdictor Iron Vice. It appears the slicers have discerned where this 9-LOM and his guest will be headed, in the unlikely event that they get off-planet. I will be setting up an ambush for them."

Dariq nodded, and motioned to Wellis, who ran off and boarded one of the modified airspeeders, followed by a few more hunters. The airspeeder lifted off, and swung over towards the shattered window, stopping long enough for five hunters to hop off, weapons already equipped, and fan out around the window, looking for targets.

9-LOM and Naomi dashed through the first three doors, and came to a staircase.

"This way," said 9-LOM as he ran up the stairs, followed closely behind by Naomi. On the way up, 9-LOM slung his disruptor rifle over his shoulder, and unholstered the Czerka machine pistol, twirling it once and setting it to 3-shot burst. Once they reached the top of the stairs, 9-LOM turned to the left, spotted a trooper, and fired an armor-piercing burst into the trooper’s chest, dropping him like a sack of bantha dung. 9-LOM and Naomi ran past the downed trooper, and up another staircase, and then another. Naomi glanced back to see a bounty hunter sprint around the corner, and try to take aim. Naomi was faster, and put a shot right into the trooper’s gut, sending him sprawling. 9-LOM continued up the stairs, to the top level, and opened the door. Naomi ran up behind him, and out through the door…and onto the roof.

"The roof? What good is this gonna do us?" Naomi exclaimed, glancing around. "We’ll be sitting ducks!"

"Exactly five floors below us is the security checkpoint. That’s the only way to get to the docking bays, where my ship is, other than the roof. We’ll have to jump across to the other building."

"Jump? Are you crazy?"

"It’s either that or gun our way past the checkpoint," 9-LOM shrugged.

"From what I’ve seen of you with that pistol, we’d stand a better chance at the checkpoint."

"If we were only facing stormtroopers. It looks like our friend Killian hired out some mercenary help, though. While Imperial stormtroopers are not known for their accuracy, or their reaction time, bounty hunters are."

As if to punctuate 9-LOM’s statement, one of the merc airspeeders cleared the edge of the building behind them, and opened fire, repeater shots hitting the roof plating behind them. 9-LOM and Naomi sprinted forward, towards the other building. 9-LOM reached the edge first, and leaped, landing on his shoulder and rolling into a crouch, pistol up. Naomi didn’t fare as well, landing unceremoniously on her stomach, letting out a grunt of pain. 9-LOM took a few potshots at the airspeeder, a few bullets ringing off the hull, and one entered the cockpit. Suddenly, the speeder went out of control, smacking into the roof of the other building, and careening into the door to the lower levels, blocking it off.

9-LOM stood, and then helped Naomi to her feet, and jogged over to the door to the lower levels. 9-LOM opened the door, shot a very surprised stormtrooper standing on the other side, and hopped down the stairs, followed by Naomi. They ran down the stairs to the lowest level, and opened the door…to see Wellis standing there, ion cannon in hand, flanked by five more mercenaries. Before 9-LOM had time to react, blue energy lanced from the weapon, knocking 9-LOM back. Another hunter stepped out from behind Naomi, jabbing his blaster carbine into the small of her back.

"Drop it, now," he said in a gruff voice, and Naomi dropped her pistol, which landed near 9-LOM’s fallen form.

"We got ‘em," spoke Dariq into his comm, as one of the hunters maneuvered Naomi over to the street.

"I copy," replied Jules from the comm, and on cue, a large grav-truck hovered down the street, following a small, enclosed landspeeder. Jules stepped from the landspeeder, and nodded to Dariq. "Fine work, my good man. You can hand over Ms. Cantar now."

Wellis piped up this time. "There is still the matter of our payment…"

"You’ll get paid in due time. Now hand over the girl." About a dozen stormtroopers files out of the back of the grav-truck, positioning themselves behind Jules.

"No. Perhaps you misunderstand," replied Dariq. "We get paid, then you get the girl. If you’re not willing to give us our money now, we could easily take her to some other third-party buyer, such as the Hutts. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to pay us."

Jules chuckled. "And bring the wrath of the Empire down upon yourselves? I seriously doubt that. If you tried to run, I could have an entire fleet down here within the hour to interdict this entire system."

"That sounded like a threat to me, Wellis. Did it sound like a threat to you?" Dariq glanced to his second-in-command, who got the hint.

"Yeah, boss, I think it did."

Jules glanced over his shoulder to the squad of stormtroopers, and gave them a discreet nod. Dariq turned, and began to walk away, Wellis hot on his heels, before the sound of unholstering blasters echoed down the street. Wellis turned around to see Jules, gripping a holdout blaster in his right hand, before he saw no more as a crimson bolt pierced his skull.

Dariq ducked down an alley, watching his comrade fall, and unholstered his heavy blaster pistols. Jules scrambled forward, snatched Naomi up by the wrist, and dragged her back to the landspeeder limousine near the grav-truck. He jumped into the back seat, Naomi facing him on the opposite seat, and a trooper got into the driver seat.

"Gun it!" Jules commanded to the trooper, as shots began to echo outside the landspeeder. Mercenaries and bounty hunters had begun to pour out into the street, joining the firefight with the Imperial stormtroopers. The limousine launched down the street, quickly reaching full speed, and raced towards the Imperial landing pad, followed closely behind by the grav-truck.

9-LOM stood wearily, and ran a system diagnostics check before unholstering his disruptor rifle, twirling it once. I’ve lost my target to the hunters only once in my career, 9-LOM thought to himself. Never again.

9-LOM sprinted down the street, over to a shop, with multiple swoops parked outside. He glanced down the street, and saw the Imps and mercs gunning it out, and saw the grav-truck speed away. 9-LOM hopped up onto one of the swoops, gunned the engine, and kicked it into high gear, in the direction of the grav-truck. He quickly pulled into range behind it; the loud motor of the swoop almost drowning out the blasterfire behind him as the bounty hunters slaughtered the ill-prepared stormtroopers.

9-LOM pulled his swoop up alongside the grav-truck’s right side, and took aim at the door with the disruptor rifle. He squeezed off a shot, the blast blowing the right door clean off and almost sending his swoop out of control. 9-LOM managed to regain control, and pull in alongside the truck again. 9-LOM hopped from the swoop, switching his rifle from his right hand to his left and grabbed hold of the rim of the blasted doorframe. With a little effort, he pulled himself in, to find the truck was not occupied. Must be on autopilot, he thought. Well, we can fix that. 9-LOM gripped the steering column in both hands, and flicked off the cruise control. 9-LOM then gunned the engine, and began to close the distance between the grav-truck and the speeding limousine up ahead.

"Ms. Cantar," Jules spoke, "If you can just tell us where your destination is, then we can make your death easy and painless. We’ve plotted your trajectory, but there are hundreds of star systems along that heading. We need you to tell us the drop point so we can determine where the Rebel base is."

Naomi chuckled to herself. "You really think I’m going to tell you, don’t…" She trailed on, as she glanced over Jules’ shoulder, and saw the approaching grav-truck…and who was driving it. She ducked her head down, which drew a surprised look from Jules, who turned to see what she had spotted.

"Wha-," he started to say, as the grav-truck impacted with the rear of the limousine at full speed. The momentum of the impact shorted the repulsorlifts on the limo out, causing the limousine to impact the ground and begin to spin, sparks flying erratically from the undercarriage. The limousine’s momentum kept it skidding, causing it to smack into a street pole and shear the right side door off.

9-LOM brought the grav-truck to a halt, and stepped out, slinging his rifle and unholstering the machine pistol. He set it to single-shot burst, hollow point, and stepped towards the wrecked limo’s destroyed right side. Naomi was unconscious, with a nasty gash on her forehead, but 9-LOM saw that the wound was not fatal. He dragged her out of the landspeeder, and set her down on the ground next to the street pole. 9-LOM ducked his head back into the limousine, and saw Jules, pinned against a piece of metal, his mouth bleeding, one eye swollen shut. Jules coughed once, and opened his other eye, and 9-LOM saw recognition play across his battered features.

"You!" was all he managed to get out.

"That’s right." 9-LOM replied as he took aim at Jules’ forehead with the machine pistol.

The shot echoed loudly inside the limousine.

9-LOM stepped out of the limousine, and popped some smelling salts out of his satchel on his right hip. Within moments, Naomi was standing, wide-awake.

"Now what do we do?" she asked, glancing around.

"Well, Nar Shaddaa’s aqueduct pipeline system leads to nearly anywhere in this main metropolis area. If we can get to it, it will most certainly lead us back to the Imperial bunker."

"Why not go down the streets, back the way we came?"

"Our buddy Jules over here," 9-LOM gestured to the limousine, "started a miniature gang-war between the bounty hunters and the Imperials. There’s no way we can return that way. We’d better make it over to the pipeline outlet." The sounds of approaching swoops could be heard in the distance, gradually getting louder. "And we’d better make it fast."

The two of them jogged down the main street, into a bustling marketplace.

"This should distract them for a little while," spoke 9-LOM, glancing around.

"Don’t you have some sort of ‘map of the city’ in that droid brain of yours?" Naomi inquired. She glanced back, and saw 6 troopers enter the marketplace, hopping off their swoops.

"Of course, my dear," 9-LOM replied. "There should be a maintenance hatch on the left, down the alley."

They ran down the alley, and found a large metal panel. 9-LOM wrenched it open, and glanced in. "Looks clear."

"Wait…" Naomi said, glancing back down the alley at the marketplace, seeing the bounty hunters do a systematic sweep of the area.

"This is the aqueduct, not the sewage pumps. It’s perfectly safe."

"But…" Naomi started.

"In ya go!" 9-LOM said, and shoved Naomi into the hole, hearing a splash and an "Ow!"

9-LOM hopped in behind her, just as one of the hunters began walking down the alley. Conveniently, there was a motorpool near the maintenance hatch, with a bunch of maintenance hydroskimmers, landspeeders outfitted with repulsors that work on water, as a means for repair crews to work on sections of pipe. 9-LOM and Naomi waded over to the nearest hydroskimmer, and hopped onboard. 9-LOM moved over to the driver’s seat, and glanced at the starter. A moment later, he struck the ignition casing sharply, popping off the metal around it and exposing a clump of wires. 9-LOM snapped two of the wires, then crossed them, stepping back as the hydroskimmer started up. Naomi tapped 9-LOM on the left shoulder, and he turned to face her, to see her waving a let of keys in his face.

"I found these in the glove compartment," she said with a smug grin on her face.

"Oh, shut up you. We need to get going." 9-LOM put the hydroskimmer in gear, and it lurched forward at a surprisingly fast clip, for a maintenance vehicle. "It’s got some kick…" 9-LOM commented as he maneuvered it out into the center of the pipe, and oriented it toward the direction of the Imperial bunker.

Several minutes passed with no conversation, but then Naomi glanced at him.

"Hey 9-LOM," she started, "you run a lot of missions for the Rebel Alliance, don’t you?"

9-LOM glanced back at Naomi, and nodded. "Yes, I’ve done a lot for the Alliance."

"Why don’t you join up? We need good people."

"I’m not exactly the ideal candidate for Rebel recruiting. Anyway, the Alliance doesn’t pay a high enough salary.

"‘Ideal candidate’? ‘Doesn’t pay enough’? Come on. A good percentage of the Alliance were once mercenaries, who wanted to escape the tyranny and oppression of the Galactic Empire."

"The Empire doesn’t influence me."

"The why did you mow down a few dozen Imperial troops back there?"

"Because I was paid to, that’s why," 9-LOM spoke sharply.

Naomi thought about this, and then chose her words carefully. "Well, if you ever reconsider, assuming we get ourselves out of this, the Rebel Alliance will most certainly welcome you."

9-LOM tapped a few keys on the dashboard of the hydroskimmer, and a datapad display panel flipped open, displaying a map of the pipeline system. There was a red dot moving along on the map, designating their approximate location in the pipe. 9-LOM tapped the screen, indicating a large section of pipe. "This section is still under construction. It’s above ground, but the pipe isn’t enclosed. According to the map, it’s a half-pipe, with some crossbars. It should lead us to the bunker, however."

9-LOM turned around, and glanced back down the way they had come.

"What is it?" Naomi inquired.

"Company." The low hum of other hydroskimmer engines could be heard in the distance, gradually getting louder as they neared.

"Bounty hunters? How did they get ahold of some hydroskimmers?"

"The same way we did. They stole them. Now take the controls." Naomi did as she was told, and scooted over into the driver’s position, as 9-LOM hopped out onto the back of the skimmer. He stood up, and triggered two hidden compartments on the sides of his thighs. The compartments slid back to reveal two 4-inch vibroblades, which popped out into 9-LOM’s hands. He flicked the blades on, and watched as four hydroskimmers rounded a bend, and closed the gap on 9-LOM’s skimmer.

"We need to lose these guys. Try to take any diverging paths, but make sure they still lead to the bunker," 9-LOM called back to Naomi. "Hit the bottom-left button on the datapad, then touch the screen on the location of the bunker. The automapper will plot out any possible routes we can take from out current position to the bunker."

One of the skimmers came close to 9-LOM’s skimmer, and rear-ended it violently, causing it to lurch forward. 9-LOM stumbled forward, but then stood up. The skimmer swerved sharply to the left, and he noticed that Naomi had forced the nearest skimmer down a split pathway. Only three skimmers remained, now. 9-LOM glanced over his shoulder, and saw that the pipe split into two straight pathways, with a median down the center. The median had multiple vertical bars connecting it to the ceiling.

9-LOM quickly gauged the distance to the median, and then calculated the time until his speeder would cross the threshold. 9-LOM waited a few more seconds, and then let a vibroblade fly, watching as it sailed through the windshield of the nearest skimmer, and hit the pilot in the throat. 9-LOM’s skimmer sailed down the left side of the median, and the nearest skimmer jerked to the left as the pilot slumped forward, and then smacked into the left wall of the pipe, blocking the left path. The skimmer rolled over on the water, and the skimmer behind it jackknifed off the first one, scraping along the ceiling of the pipe before smacking back down against the water, then exploding.

The final skimmer sideslipped to the right, taking the other path, and then sped up. It pulled up alongside 9-LOM’s skimmer, and 9-LOM noticed that Dariq was standing on the back of it. Despite the vertical bars on the median, Dariq lunged forward, miraculously passing in between two of the bars, and landed on the back of 9-LOM’s skimmer. The skimmer slid to the left, scraping against the side of the pipe, and causing sparks to spray across the skimmer.

The pipe straightened back out, and the other hydroskimmer pulled in behind 9-LOM’s skimmer once again. Dariq brought himself to his feet, and lunged at 9-LOM. 9-LOM stumbled back, and landed a front kick on Dariq’s chest, sending him back a few feet. Dariq rolled over, and grasped a piece of a handrail on the skimmer with his mechanical hand. He wrenched it upward, snapping off a long section, then stood up. He twirled the piece once, then took a step forward.

"Come on, droid!" he taunted.

9-LOM unslung his disruptor rifle, and took aim at Dariq, but Dariq whipped the rail around, knocking 9-LOM in the arm, and sending the rifle forward, into the passenger seat of the hydroskimmer. Dariq swung the rail around again, towards 9-LOM’s feet, but he hopped over it.

"We’re coming up on the half-pipe… whoa!" Naomi was cut short, as she had to duck, Dariq’s pipe whizzing over her head and connecting with the windshield of the skimmer, getting stuck for a moment. 9-LOM took advantage of this opportunity and charged Dariq, shouldering him and knocking him off-balance. He rolled back, but stayed on the back of the hydroskimmer.

Suddenly, the pipe opened up, and 9-LOM could see the midday sun on Nar Shaddaa basking on the remainder of the pipeline. What 9-LOM didn’t see were the multiple crossbars that ran across the top of the unfinished section of the pipe, clearly marking where the rest of the pipe would be placed. These crossbars were substantially lower than the enclosed pipe had been, and 9-LOM had to quickly duck under it, lest get himself decapitated at high-speed.

Dariq stood up, and sprung towards 9-LOM. 9-LOM grabbed Dariq, and gave him a quick left hook, then a jab to the gut, and tossed him back a step. They both ducked under another crossbar, and then 9-LOM took a step forward. Dariq hopped to the right, ducked another approaching crossbar, and snatched up the handrail he had dropped. He quickly jabbed it forward, hitting 9-LOM in the midsection, doubling him over, and then brought it around in a harvest-scythe swing, catching 9-LOM under the chin. 9-LOM flipped over, and rolled into the passenger seat, before propping himself back up. He looked up, saw Dariq duck under another crossbar, and then saw him swing the rail in an overhead smash. 9-LOM caught the rail, and pushed back, throwing Dariq off-balance. Dariq stumbled, and then tried to stand.

9-LOM looked to Naomi, and said, "Speed up, I’ve got a plan. Just get us to that bunker."

9-LOM stood, and climbed back onto the back of the skimmer. He approached Dariq, and then ducked under another crossbar. Dariq took advantage of this, and ducked, then charged 9-LOM, using the rail as a lance. He hit 9-LOM in the chest, pushing him back a step, but then forced the rail through the armor of his chest, skewering him. 9-LOM stumbled back, causing Dariq to duck as the pole swung around, and then fell back.

Dariq took advantage of this and crawled forward, towards the driver’s seat, and his target. Naomi looked back, saw the downed 9-LOM, and the approaching Dariq, and then slammed on the brakes. The skimmer behind them rammed into them at top speed, jarring Naomi’s teeth, and causing Dariq to fall flat on his face. Naomi then gunned it, making Dariq roll backwards, towards the rear of the hydroskimmer.

Accessing damaged systems…vocabulator: damaged. Motor systems: damaged, under self-repair. Total efficiency: 85%, 9-LOM thought as he brought himself back online. He propped himself up, and then wrenched the pipe out from his chest. He saw Dariq stand, and then duck under a crossbar. 9-LOM quickly stood, twirled the rail once, and then brought it around in a golf-club swing, connecting with the back of Dariq’s left kneecap. He screamed in pain, and then dropped to his knees. 9-LOM ducked under another crossbar, and then threw the rail off the back of the skimmer. It sailed through the air, before crashing through the windshield of the other skimmer, impaling the driver and pinning him to the seat.

9-LOM stepped towards Dariq again, and kneed him in the face.

"Now you’ve gone and pissed me off!" He yelled to Dariq, and then kicked him again. Suddenly, Dariq snarled, and sprung at 9-LOM, knocking him back. 9-LOM landed on his back, with Dariq on top of him. Dariq grabbed for 9-LOM’s throat, with the intent of tearing his head free from his body.

"Why won’t you just die!" he yelled, as he struggled to grab hold of 9-LOM’s neck.

"Because I’m not programmed to," was 9-LOM’s reply, as he swung his right arm around, and forced it under Dariq’s chest. He suddenly heaved up, and locked his elbow, propping Dariq up. Dariq screamed as one of the crossbars came rushing at him at high speed, connected with his chin, and flung him off the back of the hydroskimmer. Dariq flew back, and landed on the rail, pointing outward from the windshield of the other skimmer. Dariq was impaled through the chest, and the added weight swung the skimmer down and to the right, causing it to jackknife off the side of the half-pipe. 9-LOM didn’t take the time to see where it landed.

Naomi glanced back over her shoulder as 9-LOM landed in the passenger seat, in time to see the other hydroskimmer launch itself off the side of the half-pipe. "Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy," she said. "Are you alright?"

"I am functional, except my vocab-, vocab-, vocab-…" Naomi clapped him on the back. "My vocabulator…"

"…Is damaged, I see. Can you still function?"

"Yes. How much farther?" 9-LOM asked her.

"Lemme check…" she glanced at the automapper. "Uh oh," she pointed to a portion of the map, which showed a large section of pipeline, which was flashing green. "It appears, not only is this section of pipe under construction, but it’s incomplete, as well. There’s a lower half-pipe, which is collecting the water which is dropping off from this pipe."

"What does that mean-, mean-…" Naomi clapped him on the back again. "Thanks."

"There’s a seven-meter section of pipe missing, that’s what it means. We have two options: either we ride with the skimmer down to the lower level, or we jump off, and hope we maybe get to the other side of the pipe."

"Does the lower section continue to the Imperial bunker?"

"Not according to the map, no…" Naomi glanced over at 9-LOM, and saw him staring straight ahead, at the approaching gap in the pipe. "Oh no… you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?"

"Get up on the hood of the skimmer." Naomi did as she was told, and 9-LOM scooped up his disruptor rifle, then slung it over his shoulder. 9-LOM then climbed over the windshield and stood up on the hood, next to Naomi. "On three, we both jump forward as far as we can, okay?"

Naomi nodded shakily, and looked ahead at the gap in the pipe. The gap rushed up to greet them, and 9-LOM began to count.

"One… Two… Three!" The two of them leapt forward, the momentum of the skimmer propelling them, as they felt the hydroskimmer drop out from beneath them. The skimmer went into free-fall, landing upright in the other half-pipe, and continuing to cruise forward. 9-LOM and Naomi went forward, 9-LOM clearing the gap easily, and landing a meter in from the edge of the gap. Naomi hit the edge of the gap, but then began to slip back, letting out a yelp. She caught the edge of the gap in both hands, and tried to pull herself up. 9-LOM scampered forward, and reached an arm over the edge, grabbing Naomi’s right wrist and hoisting her over the side.

"It’s never boring around you, is it?" Naomi asked, struggling to catch her breath, as the adrenaline died down.

"That’s me. The life of the party," 9-LOM replied as the two of them stood, and continued along down the pipe.

* * *

General Killian kneeled before the holocomm on the bridge of the Interdictor Iron Vice as the image came into focus. He kneeled for another moment before looking up into the dark helmet of Darth Vader, staring down upon him.

"Lord Vader, I am at your service," Killian spoke, then waited patiently for Vader’s reply.

"Have you acquired the dignitary for the Rebel Alliance, General?" Vader inquired, his deep voice resonating from the holocomm.

"I regret to report that we have not, as of yet, but every effort is being made to capture her."

"Have you dealt with her bodyguard, 4-LO-"

"9-LOM, sir."

"Do not cut me off again, General, or you will not live to regret your actions."

"I understand and apologize, my Lord. Her bodyguard is still at large. He has apparently eliminated the bounty hunters and is moving towards our bunker. We managed to acquire his hyperspace route from his B-wing, however. We do not have a destination, though, because none was given in the navicomputer. It was most strange… there was only a vector listed. It appears even 9-LOM himself does not know where he is taking the dignitary. Most likely, the dignitary has a timer, which will tell 9-LOM’s B-wing when to revert to realspace, and this will put them at their intended destination. Intelligence believes that this destination is the new location of the Rebel base."

"How many systems are along this vector?"

"There are multiple systems, my Lord, including Sullust, Sluis Van, Bothawui, Umgul, Rodia, Hoth, Barkhesh, and Eriadu. I am stationing the Iron Vice at Barkhesh. There appears to be a Rebel operation taking place on the planet’s surface. I can hope to end that operation, as well as capture the dignitary and her bodyguard."

"Good work, General. I expect a report from you within two days."

"As you wish, my Lord." The image from the holocomm wavered once again, and then went out, and Killian stood. He glanced to the bridge weapons officer. "Power up the gravity well projectors. Nothing leaves the system without me knowing about it."

* * *

9-LOM and Naomi left the remnants of the pipe, and reoriented themselves on the bustling surface-level streets of Nar Shaddaa. They came down one of the back alleys, and found the rear entrance to the Imperial bunker, which was relatively unguarded. 9-LOM began to march up to the rear door, but Naomi stepped forward and grabbed his shoulder, a look of shock on her face.

"What in the name of the Sith are you doing?" she asked, turning him around.

"Walking up and knocking, what does it look like I’m doing?"

"Getting us killed, that’s what."

"I want my ship, and what I want, I get."

"Fine, we’ll get your ship, but we’ll do it my way."

"What’s ‘your way’?"

"What do you know about acting?"

Trooper 2154 sat peacefully at his desk, checking the monitors for the Imperial bunker. He’d had the same job for two years, watching monitors, and he was beginning to enjoy it. For a war going on, it was awfully quiet, especially for someone stationed on the Smuggler’s Moon. And quiet was the way Trooper 2154 liked it. He tipped his chair forward, and glanced at the upper-left monitor on his screen. It showed two bipeds approaching the main entrance, and then stopping.

The two figures looked up into the security camera, and Trooper 2154 could clearly see that the taller of the two was a machine, possibly a protocol droid. The other biped was slightly shorter, and shrouded in a cloak. Trooper 2154 stood, and walked to the entrance, then tapped the key code to open the door. No harm in seeing what two vagrants wanted, was there? He thought to himself. The door raised, and he saw that the second figure was a woman, her face partly shrouded by the brown cloak she kept wrapped around herself.

"What can I do for you?" Trooper 2154 said to the two people.

"I am AD-416, protocol droid and servant to Miss Daohlson," spoke the droid. Trooper 2154 winced a bit at the sound of the droid’s worrysome voice. The company really should change that voice or something, Trooper 2154 thought to himself. It might save lives. "My master has something to tell you," continued the droid, forcing another wince from Trooper 2154.

"Yes, ma’am?" spoke Trooper 2154 as the woman approached.

"I’m sorry, young man. My hearing is failing. You’ll have to come closer," she said. Trooper 2154 walked up to her, and put his face close to hers, as she whispered something in his ear.

"Surprise."

Trooper 2154 didn’t have time to react as the woman shoved a DL-44 up into his neck, and fired a point-blank stun blast.

9-LOM looked on as Naomi popped a stun coil into the helmetless trooper’s neck, and sent him flying back, unconscious before he hit the ground.

"Nice," 9-LOM commented as Naomi dropped her cloak and holstered her pistol.

"It’s worked more than once," she said with a smirk. "Let’s go get your ship." She gestured for him to go ahead. 9-LOM stepped out in front, his machine pistol already in hand, and walked down the corridor leading to the turbolifts.

"The base seems deserted…" commented Naomi.

"That’s what happens when the mercenaries that they hired go berserk."

As they walked, a thought came to 9-LOM. "Hey, what happened to Killian, the General?"

"Who knows? Who cares?"

"Why would he desert his base?"

"I don’t know," Naomi thought for a moment. "To prepare for a trap?"

"Exactly."

"What do you want to do about it?"

"Where would Killian retreat to if he wanted to stage an ambush?"

"Probably some sort of command ship or something."

"Well, Imperial bases are all outfitted with self-destruct mechanisms. A sucicde pill contains a multi-megaton warhead with a set blast radius, so it doesn’t destroy neighboring buildings. It wouldn’t do well for Imperial support if a base went up and blew out a third of the city, now, would it?"

Naomi considered this, then nodded. "What’s your point?"

"What do you know about diffusing bombs?"

Ten minutes later, 9-LOM carried the destruct bomb out to the landing pad, where his modified B-wing sat in standby mode.

"Hero," 9-LOM called out, and an R3 unit rotated its head around to face 9-LOM and Naomi. "Prep the ship for takeoff. Compensate for added weight. Rebel dignitary has clearance to enter navjump codes."

Hero chirped an affirmative, and the repulsorlifts rumbled to life as the cockpit dome opened. 9-LOM helped Naomi up into the main pilot’s chair, and she spoke into the microphone receptor.

"Jump coordinates AT-328-316-BL," she said calmly and clearly, then hopped into the rear seat. "It’s done. Let’s get out of here."

9-LOM climbed up into the pilot’s chair, and closed the canopy. "Hoth? Why that rock?"

"You’ll find out soon enough." The B-wing lifted off, and rocketed out of Nar Shaddaa’s atmosphere.

"We’re clear. Jump in 4…3…2…1…"

Stars became starlines as the ship rocketed into hyperspace.

"Rogue Squadron, this is General Rieekan. One of our shuttles will rendezvous with a supply convoy from local resistance on Barkhesh, which must first travel through Imperial territory. They carry supplies vital to the Rebellion," General Rieekan’s voice came over clearly from the comm unit in Luke Skywalker’s X-wing. "Your mission is to rendezvous with that convoy, and escort it to the landing zone. Good luck."

"I copy, General," Luke said. "All Rogues, report in."

"Rogue Two, standing by."

"Rogue Three, all systems go."

"Rogue Four, ready to rock."

"Rogue Five, four lit and in the green."

"Rogue Six, let’s get to work."

"Rogue Seven, online."

"Rogue Eight, systems nominal."

"Rogue Nine, ready to dance."

"Rogue Ten, weapons functional."

"Rogue Eleven, awaiting orders."

"Rogue Twelve, flyin’ fine."

"Alright Rogues. We’re here to escort a supply convoy to the shuttle LZ. Should be a walk in the park." The X-wings throttled up, and flew towards the marked location for the resistance convoy. They passed over the resistance base, and Luke saw multiple convoy craft on his scopes.

"Okay, Rogues, the convoy has begun moving. Defend it until it gets to the landing zone." Luke throttled up, and pulled ahead of the group. "Don’t worry about the escort craft. Stick with the supply vehicles."

"I copy, General."

Wedge Antilles swung his X-wing out alongside Luke’s and turned on his scanners. "Luke, we’ve got probe droids, dead ahead."

"I copy, Wedge." Two of the X-wings lanced ahead, firing crimson bolts of energy at the droids. They exploded in midair, and the X-wings pulled away. "Thanks, Seven."

"No problem, Boss." Behind them, the convoy rumbled on, turning right and cruising down through a valley.

"Luke, we’ve got AT-STs in the valley, and turrets topside."
"Pick your targets and go."

"I copy, Commander."

Dack Ralter pulled his X-wing above the rim of the valley, and popped a quad-linked shot at one of the turrets, peeling away as it detonated. He repeated the maneuver on another turret, then swung back down into the valley. "Topside’s clean, sir."

"I copy, Dack," Luke said as he swung his X-wing around, sighting a scout walker. He set his lasers to single-fire, and let loose a barrage of energy. The shots played off the AT-ST’s hull, before one punched through and detonated the energy cells, blowing the head off. Behind him, another walked dropped as a shot pierced its knee, and it toppled.

Wedge switched over to proton torpedoes, and obtained a lock on one of the walkers. He popped a shot, and pulled up into an inverted corkscrew as the AT-ST disappeared from his scopes. Something else caught his attention, though. "Watch for enemy fighters!"

Luke brought his X-wing around, and sighted two TIE Bombers coming in fast. They swooped over the convoy, and let loose a salvo of proton bombs. One bomb pierced the armor of one of the convoy vehicles, and detonated its contents. Shrapnel flew out everywhere, ringing off the hulls of the other convoy craft.

"I’m on him," Luke said as he pulled in behind the bomber, and fired a few shots up its engines. One of the shots entered through the rear of the weapons compartment, and the bomber detonated in mid-flight, disappearing. Dack took out the other bomber before it could make another pass.

"Commander, this is Rieekan. The escort vehicles are at the LZ. How long until the convoy shows up?"

"ETA, three minutes."

Two more bombers swooped in as the convoy cleared the valley. Hobbie loosed a torpedo, ripping apart the first one before it could get within bombing range. The convoy throttled up, and rumbled along the clearing as the second bomber flew in. Another fire-linked shot from Wedge sheared off a wing, and the bomber spiraled into the ground, impacting the lead convoy vehicle. It detonated, causing the one behind it to swerve around the flaming wreckage. The remaining convoy craft rumbled into the clearing where the escort vehicles were, and a shuttle flew in from overhead.

"The shuttle is clear. She’ll pick up the rest of this cargo. These supplies will be a great help, especially after we lost Yavin base," Rieekan said. Luke and the rest of the Rogues pulled up into the atmosphere as the shuttle landed, and headed towards the hyperjump point.

"Rogue Leader, we have new orders. There is a neutral craft of unknown origin on the other side of the planet, being pursued by 5, no, wait…4 hostiles. Investigate at once."

"I copy. Moving out." Luke brought his X-Wing around to face the direction of the neutral signal, and kicked it into high gear, followed closely behind by the rest of Rogue Squadron.

9-LOM glanced at the countdown clock on the B-wing’s navicomp display, showing time until the reversion to realspace. Time ticked down, but suddenly, lights blinked on the inside of the cockpit, and the nav-display changed: PROXIMITY WARNING.

"What the…?" 9-LOM glanced over his shoulder to Naomi, who looked as shocked as 9-LOM felt. "Did you misread your navjump codes?"

"No!"

"Looks like you did something wrong. We’ll be lucky if we don’t rocket into a star! Reversion in 2…1…"

The B-wing dropped back into realspace, and engaged his scanners. No nearby star, one planet, identified as Barkhesh. However, there was something else that caught 9-LOM’s attention, and was far more important.

"An Interdictor-class cruiser. We’ve been compromised. It’s identifying itself as the Iron Vice. Looks like your hunch on Killian having a command ship was right."

Things got a lot more interesting when the Interdictor started launching fighters, though.

"General!" called the navigation officer, getting Killian’s attention. "We have one inbound craft, 26 kilometers out, starboard side!"

"What class?"

"B-wing, sir. Inbound and coming in hot. It just locked its s-foils in strike position, and brought its cannons online."

"Good work. Deploy the Toscan with a screen of four TIE Fighters."

"It is done, sir."

As they came into range of the enemy fighters, 9-LOM rolled his B-wing to face the planet Barkhesh, and accelerated to full speed, opening the throttle all the way, and shunting power from his shields and lasers into the drive systems. Naomi and he were kicked back into their seats as 9-LOM engaged the SLAM system scramjets. The B-wing accelerated to almost 200 MegaLights and 9-LOM rolled the B-wing in hopes of blowing past the inbound TIEs. Before he had a chance, however, the Toscan fighter swooped down from the port side, letting loose a volley of laserfire, stippling across the B-wing’s shields. The Toscan pulled in behind the B-wing, and before 9-LOM could bank away, a shot punched through the shields and nailed the hull, just to the right of Hero. The R3 unit gave out a wail, and 9-LOM glanced at his display screen. He toggled the damage heads-up display.

"Sithspawn! Hyperdrive is offline. This is about to get interesting…"

9-LOM hauled back on the stick, rolling the B-wing’s wing assembly around as the cockpit stayed stationary. He toggled the countermeasure controls three times, sending out three flares. Finding no targets, the flares homed in on the nearest enemy craft, two hitting the Toscan and dropping its shields, and the third hitting the nearest TIE Fighter. The flare impacted the transparisteel viewport of the TIE’s cockpit, and caused a spiderweb fracture to form across it. The viewport trembled a little, then the cockpit imploded, shearing off both wings.

The Toscan’s shields dropped as both flares impacted, and 9-LOM brought the B-wing around to bear. He toggled his ion cannons, fire-linked them, and popped a shot. Electricity crackled along the hull as the fighter was disabled and went into a lazy spiral towards Barkhesh, entering the atmosphere before disappearing from 9-LOM’s scopes. Two more TIEs swept in for the kill. 9-LOM toggled the lasers again, and rolled his fighter while making a head-on pass at the nearest TIE, firing all the way. His rolling would make him a much harder target to hit, with the only stable part of the ship being the cockpit section, but it would force the laser convergence systems of the targeting system to go into overdrive. One shot hit the left wing of the TIE, melting it slightly before 9-LOM blew past it. He dropped a flare, and nodded once as it smacked into the damaged wing, blowing it in half.

"We’re gonna have to land. I can’t make repairs to the hyperdrive while in orbit," 9-LOM said over his shoulder, and he saw Naomi nod. The were both jerked violently as the third TIE swooped in behind them, and fired a volley of shots, taking down the rear shields of the B-wing as they entered orbit. "Hold on!" 9-LOM called out, and then put all power into his shields, and then diverted his shields to aft. Then 9-LOM did the unthinkable.

He decelerated.

The TIE rammed into the rear of the B-wing at full throttle, shattering on impact. The momentum of the TIE fighter punched through the shields easily, and tore off the port side s-foil. 9-LOM throttled back up, and tried to regain control.

"Brace for impact!" he yelled as they neared the ground. The B-wing impacted just as 9-LOM set the shields to full forward, dampening the blow slightly. The rest of the wing assembly nearly disintegrated and the cockpit flew free, skidding across the muddy marsh and sliding to a stop near a lake. 9-LOM popped the cockpit, and he helped Naomi out of the wrecked craft. 9-LOM jogged over to the wreckage of the B-wing, and shook his head. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Naomi catch up with him. 9-LOM turned his attention back to the smoking wreckage, but then he heard an electronic wail and moan.

"Hero!" 9-LOM said as he climbed over the wreckage. He found the R3 unit, smoking, dented, and covered in mud, but otherwise intact. He pulled the droid free, and set it on the ground. Hero did a raspberry, and extended its arc welder, tagging 9-LOM on the leg.

"Hey!" he said as he hopped back from the small droid’s onslaught. "It’s not my fault that TIE pilots have bad reflexes." The droid blurted and beeped again. "So what? You’re still here, aren’t you?" was 9-LOM’s reply.

Suddenly, 9-LOM heard the distinctive sound of a TIE’s ion engines. He unslung his disruptor rifle, and grabbed Naomi by the arm, dragging her behind the B-wing wreckage. Hero rolled off into the trees, looking for cover. The TIE swooped overhead, popping a few emerald shots at the area where Naomi and 9-LOM had just stood. The ground smoked and 9-LOM stood, stepping out into the clear. As the TIE came around for another pass, 9-LOM brought his disruptor rifle to bear, and slowly moved his arm across horizontally, tracking his target. He popped a shot, and a green ball of energy streaked out at its target. Abruptly, the TIE’s cockpit viewport exploded outward, and the TIE rocketed into the treetops.

"Nice shot," Naomi said as she stood, brushing herself off.

"Yeah, I get that a lot," 9-LOM said as he slung his rifle back over his shoulder. They both glanced up to see a Lambda-class shuttle cruising in from overhead. "That must be the landing party that’s here to bring you to the Interdictor."

"But I haven’t been captured yet."

"But they don’t know that yet, do they?" 9-LOM said as he unslung his rifle again, and engaged the stun attachment.

Naomi grinned, and unholstered her pistol. The shuttle landed, and the ramp extended. However, the approaching troops didn’t anticipate the two armed people waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Or the salvo of stun blasts they let loose.

9-LOM took the undamaged self-destruct device out of the cockpit of the B-wing, along with two circular rings.

"What’re those?" Naomi asked.

"I bought these from an Ithorian. He produced a larger set for a well-known magician, known as Magwit. They’re short-distance matter transporters. ‘Teleporters,’ if you will. I’ve got a plan…" 9-LOM also pulled a datapad out of the cockpit, and quickly tapped a few keys before setting it down.

"What do you plan to do?" Naomi asked.

"Watch and learn, human," 9-LOM said as he walked up the ramp of the shuttle, carrying one of the energy rings.

"General, we have a problem," Luke Skywalker said into his comm as his flightgroups neared the last location of the unidentified signal. "Readings for the neutral as well as the hostiles have disappeared."

"What’s the problem, Rogue Lead?"

"The disappearance isn’t the problem, sir, this is." Luke replied as he fed the General the telemetric data from his X-Wing, displaying an Interdictor.

"General Killian, sir, we have one inbound shuttle, marked as friendly," said the nearest deck officer, and Killian turned to face him.

"Any lifesigns?"

"The Interdictor’s gravity-well projectors are disrupting out long-range scanners."

"I’ll go down and greet our prisoner personally, then, Lieutenant," Killian replied as he entered the turbolift and rode it down to the docking bay level. He stepped out, and walked down to the shuttle. However, when he lowered the ramp and walked inside, he didn’t see what he expected. In the middle of the floor space was an odd ring. Killian cocked his head to one side, and looked at the ring more closely.

"What in the name of the Emperor…?"

The ring suddenly pulsed, and a small datapad fell out of the ring, materializing out of thin air. Killian picked up the datapad, and read it aloud.

"From 9-LOM, with love."

Then the ring pulsed again, and the destruct mechanism from the Nar Shaddaa base fell out onto the deck.

"We don’t have the firepower to handle an Interdictor," Luke said into the comm. "It’s starting orbital insertion and bombardment maneuvers. Prepare to retreat…"

Suddenly, an explosion erupted from the belly of the Interdictor, traveling up the superstructure and blowing out the shield generators. The bridge erupted into flames, and the ship snapped in half, the flaming wreckage shattering and burning up in Barkhesh’s atmosphere.

Luke heard more than one "Woohoo!" over the comm, and couldn’t help but grin.

9-LOM looked overhead as twelve X-wings came in for a landing, along with a shuttle. The X-wings landed, and the cockpits lifted. From the nearest one, a young man with sandy blond hair hopped out, and started walking over to 9-LOM’s position, followed closely behind by the other twelve pilots.

"Hey Luke," started one of the other pilots, getting the blond-haired one’s attention, "Did you kill the Interdictor?"

The pilot chuckled. Skywalker, that was his name. The kid who saved the Alliance at their old base. "I wish! Who did fire that shot, Wedge?"

That was the name of the other pilot, Antilles. Almost got himself killed in the Death Star trench. "Not one of our boys, that’s for sure."

The ramp on the shuttle lowered, and General Carlist Rieekan stepped down. "Rogue Squadron, I want you to meet Naomi Cantar." He gestured to Naomi, who nodded politely. "And 9-LOM, the droid who saved her life…and destroyed the Interdictor." All eyes fell on 9-LOM, who simply shrugged.

Skywalker stepped forward, and extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you. I’m Luke Skywalker."

9-LOM nodded. "Pleased to meet you, too." He then shook Luke’s hand, drawing applause from the other 11 pilots.

"Well, sorry to break this celebration short, but we’ve got to report to the new base. High Command has new orders. Something about Gerrard V," Rieekan spoke up.

A few technicians walked down the ramp of the shuttle, and approached 9-LOM. "Your…ship. Do you want it salvaged?" 9-LOM pondered this, and as he did, Hero wheeled out from the trees. He beeped a few times, and then rolled up to 9-LOM. The Toscan wasn’t destroyed… 9-LOM thought.

"No. I don’t need it anymore. Salvage it if you want."

The technicians shrugged, and walked back up the ramp. The Rogue pilots hopped into their X-Wings, and lifted off as General Rieekan boarded the shuttle, followed by Naomi. 9-LOM walked off towards the trees, to find the Toscan fighter. Before he made it into the forest, however, a voice stopped him.

"Hey 9-LOM!"

He turned to see Naomi standing there. "Ya’know, the offer to join the Alliance still stands," she said with a smile, then walked up the shuttle ramp. 9-LOM turned back to the forest, and followed Hero until he found the Toscan. The pilot was unconscious a few feet from the craft, but the ship was intact, and all systems were back online. 9-LOM got in, hefted Hero into the rear compartment, and sat in the pilot seat. The Toscan lifted off, and cruised out of the atmosphere.

9-LOM glanced out towards the stars, and the navjump codes that Naomi had said for the Hoth base came to mind. It’s a big galaxy out there, 9-LOM thought. Maybe I need a change for once. 9-LOM tapped in the codes, and engaged the hyperdrive. Stars became starlines as he leapt off into the unknown.