Capital Punishment - Part 2
A CRS Liberty Adventure
By: Rooster, Kallysto, Guardian, and Stryker. Edits and slight adjustments made by Bulldog.
Capital Punishment — Chapter 5
"Okay, okay, I'm impressed. These things aren't as boatlike as they seem," Kallysto informed the back of Guardian's helmet. "But an A-wing can still leave this thing in the dust."
Guardian's laugh floated over the back of the seat. "Ever heard of the 'In-your-face defense?'"
"Not exactly," Kallysto replied, "But I do assume that's the tactic of having your wingman practically pull a fly-through on whatever's on your six."
Guardian's helmet shook. "Nope. Completely wrong. Reach under your seat and pull the lever. Don't pull the ring, that'll trigger the ejection sequence. Pull the lever."
Kallysto shook his head, but felt under the seat, pulling at the lever. With a whine of servos, a targeting scope unfolded itself from the seatback, and a panel on his right opened out to reveal a firing grip.
"The turret has got an independent sensor array on top. It is utterly useless when it's pointing forward, but when the gunner controls are active, it'll give you an idea of what you're shooting at. Standard targeting grid, designed for anti-fighter fire," Guardian lectured.
"Ion cannons are slower than blasters, though. Why not put the blasters up in the turret and fix the ion cannons front?" Kallysto asked.
"Probably for strafing runs on things you want to disable," Guardian replied after thinking about it for a moment. "Dunno for sure, I normally don't fly with a gunner."
Kallysto idly worked the controls, noting the responsiveness. "You have to forget that you're moving forward, though, or you could get motion sickness pretty easily."
"Sure. But then, they test for tolerance for that in the basic pilot screening," Guardian replied.
"Hah. A-wings pull more Gs than that spinny thing they put you in." Kallysto looked out the back window, over the top of the R2 unit's dully shining dome. "Not like we have anything to shoot at. Ion bolts don't do much against asteroids."
Guardian smiled, and sent a command via the link to the droid. It whistled and activated its holoprojector, and a ghostly TIE fighter appeared off the stern of the Y-wing about a hundred meters behind. "Now, if you'll notice, the Y-wing is a flattened box; the vital points from the rear are, like on all fightercraft, the engines. Which, as you no doubt have noticed, are mounted out on spars to port and starboard," he lectured.
"Sure. And in the case of a water landing," Kallysto jibed.
"Ha ha. Anyway, the placement of the chin mounted guns on the TIE-class ships means that they have to try just that much harder to hit anything vital on a Y-wing. That's where you come in. If we cut speed, like so..." The whine of the engines turned to a lower-pitched hum, and the holographic TIE closed to within thirty meters from their tail.
"If he doesn't want to breathe our exhaust, he'll have to cut his speed to match. Do it fast enough, and he'll fly right over or under us. Either way, you negate the speed advantage," Guardian pointed out.
"Mmm," Kallysto mused. "Even playing field."
"A lot of Y-wing solo pilots have their turrets locked to point backwards for just such an occasion. However, on a single-seater, once locked, it can't be changed except from outside. So it kinda lessens their effectiveness as an interceptor craft. That is why most pilots keep it forward."
Guardian turned, looking at Kallysto over the seat. "I hope that bit of trivia enlightened your day. Let's have some fun shagging TIEs, shall we?"
Twenty minutes later, the TIE flickered out of existence. Kallysto pushed his visor up, rubbing his burning eyes. "What?"
"Take a break. Most engagements don't last this long, and your eyes must be looking like a Twi'lek who's stayed up all night by now," Guardian said.
Guardian hmm'd as the R2 unit whistled and beeped at him. "Not bad. We only got hit 22 times back there. According to the droid, we'd have, oh, about twelve percent armor left."
Kallysto laughed. "That much, eh?"
Guardian nodded, looking back over his shoulder. "Not bad for the first time in the back seat."
"No problemo, buddy. Got you to laugh, anyhow." He smiled, and Kallysto had to smile as well. "Feel free to play with the computer terminal. You can try your hand at holochess against the R2 unit. It'll be about half an hour before we make it back to the nav buoy."
Guardian turned back to the front and pulled on the stick, leaving Kallysto in silence.
A few minutes later, the R2 unit bleeped at Guardian urgently.
"What's up back there? The R2 unit says that you're mucking with the navicomp," Guardian asked with a knowing tone to his voice.
Kallysto looked up, startled. "Ah, I'm, er, brushing up on my astrogation skills. I was trying to submit a course change, but that droid keeps blocking me out. Mind you, I only wanted to get as far as plotting out a course and getting to a confirmation screen."
Guardian smiled, though Kallysto couldn't see it. "Let me guess. Adarlon, right?"
"Er, yeah," Kallysto replied.
"That's why the navicomp didn't bother asking you if you wanted to confirm the change. It's already got those coordinates locked in," Guardian said jovially.
"Hmm?" Kallysto asked, confused.
"Oh, I didn't tell you. I signed us out for a four day survey out on the Rim. I figured you might like going home for a day or two, to visit your old stomping grounds," he said. Silence emitted from the back seat. "Don't thank me all at once, friend."
Kallysto sighed. "Adam, you shouldn't be doing this. I was grounded, after all. Off active flight status, and no leave allowed."
Guardian smiled. "You're on duty. And last time I checked, there wasn't a flight stick back there between your legs." He paused. "It's okay. Rank has its privileges, after all."
Kallysto laughed, an easier laugh this time. "Yeah. All right. Actually, though, I have to admit, as long as we're going in that direction, there's some things I'd like to pick up while we're there."
The white lines streaked past and faded to pinpoints as the Y-wing dropped out of hyperspace. Before them, the blue-green world of Adarlon hung in space like a Life Day gift ornament.
"Welcome home," Guardian called over the seat to wake Jeff up.
"Mmm?" Kallysto replied sleepily.
"We're here. I expect you know a good place to hide a Y-wing?"
"Sure. Set the following coordinates," Kallysto began.
The radio crackled to life. "Unidentified Y-wing, heave-to and prepare to be boarded. This is Customs vehicle Star Envoy. In the name of the Emperor, you are ordered to stand down," the radio blared.
Guardian growled. "He was hiding behind the moon back there. You know those ships better than I do. Can we outrun it?"
Kallysto spun his chair around to look out the back window. "Yeah, I think so. Head into Adarlon Prime's gravity well. You can slingshot off the atmosphere and hide in the debris field on the other side. We actually lost a moon about eight years ago, and the displacement field is highly ionized."
Guardian chuckled, and then shoved the stick over. "Bet that was a sight to see." The customs ship opened fire, green energy bolts sizzling overhead.
"Sure was. Did you ever see 'Starrunners III'? Well, the moon that I 'blew up' in the movie, housing the base of the evil Doctor Fangor, was a real moon exploding," Kallysto said tightly.
"Serious? Wow," Guardian commented distractedly.
Kallysto sucked in his breath as Guardian put the fighter through a wide G-turn. "Yeah. It was cooler-looking in person."
After the inertial dampers kicked in, Kallysto managed to find his tongue again. "You want to charge up the ion cannon? I'll take some potshots at the thing, and maybe we'll get lucky."
Guardian's response was a strangled gasp. "Not today we won't."
Kallysto spun his chair around even as the radio staticed to life again. "This is the Star Destroyer Chariot. You are ordered to stand down your fighter or be destroyed. You have thirty seconds to comply." The ponderous wedge-shaped warship hovered into view from where it had been on the far side of the planet even as they sped toward it. A shot from the Customs cruiser splattered on their shields from behind.
"Welcome home, Kallysto," Guardian hissed.
Capital Punishment — Chapter 6
"I'm not going to say it, if you won't," Kallysto more yelped than growled as the Y-wing shook from another blaster hit.
"What? 'I have a bad feeling about this?'" Guardian yelled over his shoulder, mindful of the yellow indicators that displayed their rapidly depleting shields.
"No. The other one," Kallysto replied tightly as he let another few ion bolts fly at the escort frigate chasing them. Guardian could keep turning the Y-wing to buy Kallysto time to plug away at the nearer escort, avoiding the worst of its gunfire. But they weren't going anywhere, and the VSD Chariot was slowly closing in.
"Mmm. Well, enlighten me then. It might be amusing while we get our engines blown out from under us." Guardian paused and heeled the Y-wing over as the frigate let loose another barrage. While there was neither 'up' nor 'down' in space, having the stars and planets wheel madly before your eyes was still somewhat disorienting.
"Okay, you asked for it. 'It could be worse,'" Kallysto lamented.
Guardian groaned. "Oh. That—" In the next second, the R2 unit squealed as four new blips appeared on the radar screen. "Four more bandits. I make them to be TIE fighters, heading on intercept vector." He giggled nervously. "Just don't say that again, okay?"
Kallysto nodded, and blasted away at the pursuing Corvette. "I don't suppose you can up the power? The charge is almost dry."
"Not unless you want that thing to catch up to us. I think we're going to need all the maneuvering room we can get once we get into tractor range of that Vic," Guardian snapped.
"Fine, fine. I'll cope." Kallysto chanced to look to his left. "Break right!" he shouted.
Guardian reflexively jammed the stick over to the right. Structural supports complained as the craft pushed into a snap roll. Green lances of energy sailed past the tail of the fighter as the TIEs joined the fray. A lucky bolt hit one of the support struts, sending sparks flying. "How bad is it, R2?" The droid bleeped back a terse reply. "Wonderful," he replied sarcastically. "Structural integrity is down by half. No more fancy turns for this crate. And we're still heading straight for the Vicstar," he finished.
Kallysto didn't respond at first, studying the VSD. "Pass it to port," he said calmly.
"Right. We'll be spacedust in thirty seconds," Guardian retorted sarcastically.
"Trust me. The guns are out on that side. I've been watching the pattern, and the last time we tangled with the Chariot, the guns were out on the port side."
Guardian chuckled, but complied. "Right. I'll be sure to make 'Pass it to Port' the epitaph on our gravestones."
As the Y-wing sped by the capital ship, the guns trying to bracket the fighter from the side fell silent. "Not bad intelligence. Here. Knock yourself out," he added, notching some of the engine power back to the ion cannon.
Kallysto nodded, looking back into his sights and neatly pasted an unsuspecting fighter that was following too close. "In your face time?"
Suddenly, the entire world went yellow-green as several turbolaser shots smashed into the Y-wing from the starboard side. Several instrument panels protested, and finally one to his left blew apart.
Kallysto licked back dry lips. "Yeah, well...I guess they fixed them."
Guardian nodded. "Hyperdrive is out. Guns are down. Engines are damaged and we can't maneuver worth a crud. Ejection is out too, by the way. We're dead, m'friend."
"Sorry," Kallysto offered lamely, watching the TIE fighters close in for the kill.
The one on the left exploded. "If it's fixed, make sure it's broken first," a cheerful voice crackled over the radio. "So, ya need some help?" Eloy "Mynock" Cintron, Corsair 4, called out. "Since Parody and I are getting paid for this, we thought we'd crash the party."
"Yes!" Guardian answered and cheered both pilots. "The R2 unit says we'll have maneuvering thrusters in thirty seconds, if you can buy us that much time. Maybe we can still make a run for it."
"Copy that. Parody, you take the one on the right, and cover me."
Parody, Corsair 7, swung his A-wing out to the left, bracketing the TIEs with orange lasers, while Mynock made an attack run on the oncoming Customs Corvette. A dozen concussion missiles later, the corvette limped off, turning to starboard as it fired its turbolaser cannons vainly at the nimble fighter.
"Yo, Mynock. If you're done over there, I could use a hand," Parody hissed, looking over his shoulder as he dodged and weaved in front of the last TIE.
"Coming. Hang on," he reassured Parody, but fretted at the distance between him and the two fighters.
The TIE disintegrated in a sizziling ball of blue electrical fire. "Tag," Kallysto called over the radio. "You know, I could get to like these gunnery turrets."
Mynock pulled up on the left of the limping Y-wing. "What's your situation? Stryker sent us, figuring you might want a little company."
"We're up and running, literally, thanks to you. But I mark another flight of TIEs launching, and our hyperdrive's damaged," Guardian said.
"What are our options?" Parody asked.
"Set the following coordinates," Kallysto responded.
Adarlon II was a tiny bead in the distance as the three fightercraft dropped out of hyperspace. "Hard left and head for the asteroid field," Kallysto barked, as soon as the others had checked in. "There's a mining colony on the largest asteroid near the periphery. If we can get into the asteroid field, we'll miss their sensor sweep, hopefully."
Guardian nodded, half-listening, as he read the report from the astromech. "The R2 unit says the hyperdrive is completely burned out. We'll have to replace the collimator coils. I hope this place you're taking us has some."
Kallysto nodded. "It may be a bit more pricey than Adarlon proper, but I have a few favors I can call in. "
Parody's voice crackled over the radio. "How long before the Vic comes after us?"
"It won't. My sources told me that the hyperdrive has been glitchy on that thing for over a year, and they don't make hyperdrives for the older Victory-class models anymore. However, they did ship in a Nebulon-B recently, but I hope to be down and out of scanner range before they realize we didn't leave the system," Kallysto said.
"Sometimes I think we take hyperdrive for granted, but it's a real life saver," Mynock added. "The faster you are fixed and we're on our way, the better."
"Hope you brought your civvies. Nothing stands out more than these day-glo orange suits!" Kallysto replied.
The air was musty, smelling of having been recycled through filtration systems a hundred thousand times over the years. The group had split up. Guardian and Mynock took the R2 unit to scrounge up some power cells to replace the blown ones, leaving Parody and Kallysto to find some old friends.
A quick side-trip to a clothing shop had given them some modicum of disguises. Kallysto now sported a denim jacket and a broad-brimmed blue fedora, while Parody wore an olive green tech's outfit with a gray canvas trench coat. "Who are we looking for?"
"His name is Maximillian Duncan. He used to be our fight and stunt coordinator. Taught me everything I knew about sword fighting, up 'til the day I could teach myself. And he has an understanding of droids and machinery, to boot."
"Think he'll be happy to see you?" Parody asked.
"Uncle Max? Sure," Kallysto replied jovially.
"You should never have come back," the old man growled, staring into his glass.
"What, why? You know how important the cause was to me," Kallysto replied, a hint of stress in his voice.
"Sure. You left the family to go running off for your cause. Well, you shouldn't have left us behind like you did, 'cause the enemy you went off to fight showed up on our doorstep," Maximilian griped.
Kallysto looked up at Parody. "This is not going so well," he commented dryly.
"Don't you talk over my head, boy," Max growled, looking up for the first time. "Just because I'm too old to fight in the Clone Wars doesn't mean I'm deaf."
Parody silently mouthed Clone Wars? to Kallysto, who just waved his hand.
"Master Maxil, you have a lot of fight in you yet. I wouldn't have come back to see you if I didn't think so," Kallysto said respectfully.
"Pah! You're probably here to steal my daughter away to your precious starcruiser. That is what you're after," the old man spat.
Kallysto grinned. "Well, if that is so, why didn't I go see her instead?" He paused, looking innocent. "But now that you mention it, how is Amber, anyhow?"
The old man stood up, slamming both hands down on the table. "I! KNEW! It! We lost everything in the war, Swyfte, and all I got left is my daughter. And you stole her heart, then gallivanted off on your wild adventure without her. So, now, after all these years, you remember? Whassamatter, your bio clock alarm go off? Some new enemy stronghold to raid, and you need my daughter to distract some guards long enough for you to waylay them?"
Kallysto took a step back, raising both hands. "Whoa, whoa, Uncle Max."
"And quit calling me that. I'm not your uncle, and never have been."
Kallysto sighed. "All right. Sorry, Maxil. Tell ya what. I'm here for the silverfish, primarily. And I would like to see Amber again, hopefully."
In a flash of steel, a knife appeared in the old man's hand. With a thunk, it was embedded a centimeter into the tabletop. "You'll have them over my dead body," the old man growled, drawing a second knife from his belt.
Parody tapped Kallysto on the shoulder. "Let's just go, hey?"
Kallysto shook his head. "Can't now, Mike. This is between him and me, and if I walk away now, I'll never be able to show my face in these parts again." He snatched up the knife.
Max nodded. "Outside." He turned, looking at the bartender, and tossing a coin his way. "For the drink and the damage to the table. I'll be back in five minutes." The 'tender caught the coin and returned a dirty look.
"C'mon son, let's see if you still got it," Max taunted, leading the way out the side door.
Parody sat anxiously on a lubricant barrel, watching the two combatants circle each other, fingers twitching at the holster for his blaster. A light shot at stun setting, he thought, but didn't pull his weapon out.
Kallysto and Max had been at it for at least two minutes, their slow circling punctuated by quick knife exchanges, slashes, cuts, metallic sounding blocks, and an occasional charge attack. The old man was conserving his movements, moving slowly, never giving ground. Kallysto himself was moving a little stiffly, and sported a nasty-looking gash across the front of his shirt.
"C'mon, kid. You're too slow. I've only been playing with you, and I've tagged you once already. If you ask me, I think you should have stayed here, instead of going off on your own. It's made ya old, and tired, and—" The old man lunged, slicing Kallysto high on the left shoulder. "—rusty," he grinned, dancing back.
Kallysto frowned. "Fine. I was trying to be nice to you, old man, but since you put it that way," he stepped in, aiming a flurry of stabs at the old man's face, forcing his guard up repeatedly with the sound of steel on steel. "I want you to know," he hissed, "that this isn't personal." Another volley of slashes, the last of which left a bit of white hair drifting down in its wake. "But you leave me no choice!"
Dropping his guard suddenly, Kallysto reached up with his left arm. Max's counter-riposte stab buried the old man's knife into the younger pilot's forearm a good two inches.
Kallysto's own knife found its mark in the old man's chest.
Almost in slow motion, Kallysto stepped back, fingers of his left hand jerking spasmodically. Max looked down at the knife embedded to the hilt in his chest, and coughed. "Rusty, but even…" he coughed,"...a rusty knife…" another cough, "...can be…" He collapsed in a heap, rolling over on his face, with a final gurgle.
"...deadly." Kallysto finished softly.
Capital Punishment — Chapter 7
Kallysto sat down heavily in the lone rickety chair outside the cantina, casually pulling the knife out of his arm. A few electrical sparks chased the blade. He flexed his fingers. "Not too terribly damaged," he remarked.
"Guess he's not going to help us now," Parody commented drily, looking down upon the corpse.
"Shh. I'm thinking," Kallysto snapped. "Ah!" He grinned suddenly. "Got it." He cleared his throat and thrust out his chest. "What have you now, defeated friend?" he spoke in a aristocratic fashion. "Did in your triumph, meet my end? Speak ye now, oh, venr'able ghost? I beseech ye now, help me, your host?"
Parody raised an eyebrow. "Uh...okay?"
"Why should I help you?" the old man's corpse spoke, remaining otherwise still. "Thy blade is embedded in mine chest!"
Kallysto stood over the body. "Because if you don't, you now-dead reprobate, 'tis your corpse, I will incinerate. And to Ringiss' moons I commit thy corpse, until on 'rival there, it...it...," he paused in mid-gesture. "..blast."
The corpse sat up. Parody took a step or three back, but the dead man only had eyes for Kallysto. "It's okay. It's been a few years, and I imagine you're far too busy fighting the hordes of the Empire, Jeff."
Parody gaped. "But..."
Max grinned at Parody, and made a show of pulling the knife out of his chest, revealing an empty hilt. With a snick, the blade came out. "Tax and Forbearance, Act three, Scene four. A good tragedy. An interesting choice of post-mortem scenery, however."
Kallysto bowed over his damaged cyberarm. "The modern version, of course." He held out his hand, to help the old man up.
Max accepted the hand, and dusted himself off once he'd stood up. "Uff. I'm getting too old for this."
"Nah, just more seasoned, Max."
Parody reached out and took the knife from Max. "This was all an act?"
Max chuckled. "My salt-and-pepper hair days are over, now I've just got copious amounts of the sugar and salt," he replied, and nodded. "Yeah, an act. Didn't 'Janno' here tell you of his once-stellar career in the movie business?"
Parody jumped as he found the catch that released the trick blade. "Not really. Though he does do a good holographic training vid."
Max put an arm around Parody's shoulder, and nodded at Kallysto. "That boy there, was once such a crowd pleaser. He set the Adarlon box-office record for first day tickets. Sold out the entire system, even the backwater theaters."
The oldster nodded at Kallysto. "So. What can I do for you, now that I've scared your friend out of his wits?"
Kallysto wasn't paying attention; he was looking at the group of stormtroopers that had materialized at the doorway.
"Good evening, gentlemen," the officer at the front of the squad said. "Neighborhood watch reported a knife fight."
Max muttered drily, "Must have raised the pay rates for good tips. We had a shooting last week and nobody said a word."
"Sir," one of the troopers called out, "That man with the mustache and denim jacket. He looks familiar," the armored soldier said, bringing his gun up to the ready position.
"Really," the Imperial officer said. "Let's see some ID," he asked, holding out his hand.
Kallysto bit his lip, looking at Parody out of the corner of his eye. Parody had a blaster, he knew, but there simply wasn't enough cover close enough. Two blasters against a whole squad of stormtroopers, he thought, I don't like those odds. He made a show of digging into the pockets of his trench coat. "Let me look. Hang on one moment."
Max started leaning towards cover, but stopped when a trooper adjusted his stance to follow the subtle movement.
"Hey! What's the idea? You KNOW you aren't supposed to be improvising the script. We don't have TIME for this!" an angry voice called out from the left.
Mynock, Corsair 4, strode angrily into the courtyard, brandishing a datapad like a weapon. He drew himself up to his full height as he got in Kallysto's face, completely ignoring the Imperials. "I don't care how big of a holoactor you are back on the Core worlds. When you signed up for this picture, you agreed to play by my rules." He shoved the datapad hard into Kallysto's hands. "Follow the script."
Kallysto blinked, but looked down at the datapad. "All right, Mister Director Cytros," he said, "But I think we need to take care of these good gentlemen first." He indicated the officer.
Mynock seemed to notice the officer for the first time. "Hm? Nice costume. Looks a bit too much like Imperial wear, though. The critics won't approve of that." He paused. "Hey! You aren't the extra I hired."
The officer nodded, smiling thinly. "Lieutenant Vossth, Imperial Army Officer Second Class." He indicated Kallysto with a nod of his chin. "I was just asking your associate here for identification. Trooper Dahn thinks he's a Rebel."
Mynock paused, and then threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, that's rich. Him?" He stood next to Vossth and framed Kallysto's head with his hands. "That, my fine Imperial friend, is none other than Rex Iie Fyllis, winner of three Hondoro awards at last year's Holofilm Festival. You don't need to see his identification, everyone knows who he is. Isn't that right, Trooper Dahn?" He looked around at the identical troopers.
"It's possible, sir," Dahn said, his embarrassment audible even through the synthesized audio speakers of the stormtrooper helmet. "I watch lots of movies in my spare time, and I think that's where I recognize him from."
Mynock smiled winningly at Vossth. "He doesn't carry it on him, anyways. Costuming complains when people leave things in their pockets. Now, if you ask him nicely, I'm sure he'd be willing to sign a few autographs."
Vossth looked suspiciously at Kallysto. "Hey, where's the camera?"
Parody idly reached behind his back for his gun.
"Right here," Guardian replied from the darkness to the left, appearing with his astromech droid preceding him. "Got everything on tape." He thumped the little R2 unit on the head lightly. The droid bleeped, and projected a tiny image of Mynock: "Now, if you ask him nicely, I'm sure he'd be willing to sign a few autographs," the image replayed. The image panned to the left to show Vossth. "Hey, where's the camera?" the tiny image said.
Mynock studied the image, and looked appraisingly at Vossth. "Do me a favor, Vossth, was it? Say, 'Spread out and search the area. I want them found!' in your best command voice." He stepped back. "Rex, Marty, give the Imperial some room."
Vossth chuckled, and adopted a stern look. "Spread out and search the area. I want those Rebels found!" he ordered sternly, sweeping his arm out to the side.
Mynock paused. "Cut." He looked at the others. "Other than the improv, what do you think?"
Guardian hmmed. "Pretty good. Needs to stand a bit to his left to have the troopers in the picture."
Kallysto smiled. "I love it. MUCH better than those Guild extras you hired on. Whom, might I add, haven't shown up for their casting call."
Mynock let his lower lip jut out as he nodded approvingly. "Done, then. Officer Vossth, how would you and your men like to be extras in Fyllis' next film?"
The troopers looked at each other, then at Vossth for confirmation. "So, you're filming a movie, then? What about the knife fight?" Vossth asked uncertainly.
"All part of the film," Max said as he walked over, taking the trick knife from Parody. "Here, Officer Vossth. Here's the 'knife' I was using." He demonstrated the blade, and handed it over.
Vossth looked at it, testing the spring-loaded blade, and handed it back. "All right. I think the men could use the morale boost. What do we do?"
Parody and Kallysto rounded the corner, panting and out of breath. Blocks behind them, they could hear Vossth faintly shouting after them. "Spread out and search! They must be around here somewhere," Vossth yelled, followed by sounds of blaster fire.
Some ten minutes later, Guardian, Mynock and Max caught up to them. Mynock was grinning from ear to ear. "Officer Vossth and his men look forward to seeing the production when it comes out later this winter," he said smugly. "I trust you'll be at the opening, Mister Fyllis?"
Kallysto snickered. "Sure. Let's get the film tanker back to the development shop, shall we?"
Max had already hailed a robohack, and was holding the door open. "The driver is a friend of mine. He knows where to go," he told them quietly. "Let's go."
The old man burst out laughing as soon as the cab was underway. "Janno, m'boy, where did this one come from?" he gestured at Mynock. "He's a natural. The poor greenie never knew what hit him."
Mynock reached out and extended his hand to Max. "Doctor Eloy 'Mynock' Cintron, of the Alliance. You must be Maximillian, Jeff's FX and fight coordinator. Glad to meet you at last." Mynock jerked a thumb at Kallysto. "I've been a fan of the Janno Swyfte movies for years. Just never got around to buttonholing Jeff here for an autograph, since they've had me doing double-duty for awhile. Always wanted to be an actor," he said. "Speaking of which," he held out the datapad to Max. "Care to sign my datapad?" He nodded at Kallysto. "You too."
Young grinned. "Sure. I'll sign it Rex Iie Fyllis for ya." He took the pad from Max as soon as the old man had finished with it. "You got talent, 'Nock. Ever thought of recording a training holo?"
Capital Punishment — Chapter 8
Parody coughed loudly as he inhaled the thick yellow dust that gusted out from the opening doors. "Whoa. How long has it been since you opened up this place?"
"Oh, a bit," Maximillian said, pulling his card key out of the lock. "Didn't have a reason to come by, and the Imps had the place watched for awhile." He stepped inside the warehouse door, picking up a dusty hand-held electro-lantern from a nearby table. "Well, c'mon, don't just stand there outside like a bunch of tourists."
Mynock entered, and sniffed the air experimentally, having wisely covered his mouth with his sleeve when the doors opened. "This smells just like I'd expect an old holomovie warehouse to smell like. Preservatives, pyrotechnics, and electronics."
"Ah-yep. Years and years of production. The lost legacy of the Varan Holographic Studios," Max said proudly. "So, Janno, why don't you take your friends on a tour? I can get the birds ready." He paused. "Unless you're in a hurry."
Guardian still stood at the door. "Actually, I've got a sick Y-wing parked over in what Kallysto here calls 'C-Lot.' It's damaged, and we'd really like to get it out of here, along with our A-wings, as soon as possible. We've found the parts, but we'll need tools and a place to repair the ship."
Max smiled grandfatherly at Guardian. "Aaah. You must be the CO, then. Sure. You can take the hoverlift parked inside the fenced-off area, and tow the Y-wing into Soundstage 2." He tossed his security card to the Buccaneer pilot. "It's where the other A-wings are anyway."
"Other A-wings?" Guardian asked, confused.
Max grinned at Guardian's bemused expression. "Oh, you brought your OWN A-wings. I see, now. So Janno's been holdin' out on you, eh?"
Guardian eyed a smirking Kallysto. "I did say I wanted to pick up a few things while I was here. I just didn't say what." Kallysto drew a finger along the side of his nose. "There are slightly under a dozen A-wing prototypes we had left over when the Imps shut us down. They're listed under 'stunt craft' and we've been hiding them right under their Imp noses."
Max shook his head. "Afraid only six of them are spaceworthy, Swyfte. And they also confiscated all the gas supplies, like oxygen. Anything that could be a storage hazard." He stroked his beard. "I figure we can scrounge up enough oxygen to run one fighter, and slave the rest to some stripped-down R1 units I've got kicking around."
Kallysto's face fell. "Well, I'll take what you got. If you don't mind, that is."
Max shrugged noncommittally. "Not like I can pilot the things. Go ahead, take 'em, they'll rust and fall apart otherwise. I figured you'd come back for them eventually."
"R1 droid units?" Parody cut in. "You actually have some of those bait-buckets?"
Max nodded. "Indeed I do. Bought nearly two score of them at surplus prices back at the end of the Clone Wars, and been using them as stunt pilots ever since. Just takes a bit of reprogramming. Are you a droid person?"
Parody chuckled. "I suppose you could say that. Got my license from the Imperial Academy two years early."
Max clapped Parody on the shoulder. "Well then, come on, you can help me out." He looked at Mynock. "How 'bout you? You droid savvy?"
Mynock waggled a hand. "So-so. I'm more familiar with medical droids, not R-series astromechs. I'd probably get in the way," he said, looking around the cluttered studio again.
"Uh huh. And I bet you'd rather be snooping around the studio, anyway. Since I know Swyfte doesn't do much tech, why don't you and he go sightseeing, then?" Max said. "Lieutenant Burns can go and pick up the other fighters. There's only one hoverlift anyway."
"Done," Kallysto replied. "C'mon, we'll start back at the front of the studio. The larger stuff is kept up there."
Max slid open another of the ubiquitous warehouse doors, revealing a line of blocky-looking astro droids, all painted gray, standing silent and inactive. Parody peered past him into the room. "That doesn't look like two score. More like ten," he remarked.
"Well, yes. We've gotten quite a few blown up over the years. And the maintenance on the things was horrible to begin with." He opened a metal box on the inside wall and pulled out a short control rod, and tapped six of the droids. "Contact charge, depolarized the factory deactivation shunt."
"Hello, droids," Max spoke slowly. "My name is Max, and this is," he paused to look over his shoulder. "What was your name again?"
"This is Mikey. You're to follow us, and do what we say. Okay?"
The droids whistled and bleeped assent. Max turned and led the way out of the room.
The doors to Soundstage 2 were open as Max, Parody and their droid tagalongs crossed the studio lot. A dim light radiated out from inside. With a humming of electric motors, Guardian drove the hoverlift out into the lot again, waving as he went by. "Nice fighters you got there," he commented.
The fighters in question were A-wings, all right, but almost all had completely different paint jobs, modified tailfins, and antennae and spines sticking out of various parts of the fuselage. The result was positively garish, and Parody told Max as much.
"Oh, sure," Max said. "They're ugly beasties, but that's because these are the bad guy ships. Not much more than rocket engines strapped to a cockpit, with sensor and radio receivers. But in a lot of ways, that's exactly what an A-wing is. We just dressed ours up a bit more."
"And this one?" Parody asked, noticing a steel-gray ship in the bunch, painted with red chevrons and fitted with longer streaker fins, with no spines. "This is a 'good guy' ship if I ever saw one."
Max smiled. "Yep. You got it. That's Jeff's old hero ship. We'll rig that one up for life support. I imagine unless he's got his own bird, he'll want to fly it home."
"Nope, he rode shotgun in with Adam. He's not supposed to be flying," Parody replied, without thinking. "Er..."
Max chuckled. "Don't worry about it. He won't be flying. The autopilot will be." He tapped the nearest droid on the head. "Once we rig these droids with their new programming and strip them down a bit so they fit in the cramped cockpit, they'll fly the birds in formation, more like Argellian swamp ducks than anything else, but they'll go home with you when you jump."
"New programming?" Parody raised an eyebrow.
"Sure. Yank out the behavioral protocol chip, crosswire the fuse on the logic matrix, and rig in a pulse transverse override, and you completely burn out the droids' higher self-preservation functions. They'll do whatever you want, like crash into a star cruiser or whatever." The old man giggled. "Don't tell the droid lovers, eh?"
Parody snorted. "That's lobotomizing a perfectly good droid. I mean, it'll even override the programming to protect sentient life."
"How do you think the first hunter/killer droids were created?" he joked. Max patted the R1 unit again. "These bait-buckets were slated to be scrapped anyways. We're doing them a service by giving them a good sendoff. We used to just have them doing additional flyby work for huge space battles. Better than stop-motion models and huge amounts of CG crunching. And best of all, you don't have to pay Guild dues for a droid."
"If you want, the droids are yours once they get you back home. You can tinker with them, swap in new memory chips, whatever. It's all the same to me," Max said. "Now let's get cracking, shall we?"
Kallysto smiled as he held up a speed draw holster, complete with gun. "This one is from 'Aschansas' Last Action'." he said.
Mynock grinned. "The Starslayer Who Laughs At Death!" he said. "Saw every one of the Starslayer films." He fingered the belt. "I always liked your Starslayer stuff better than the Starrunners series. Myles Aschansas didn't need to prove he was the best; he just… was."
"Starrunners was about the Alliance, Eloy," Kallysto replied. "It was the bigger picture, with more than just one hero against an evil warlord, it was a group of freedom fighters against an oppressive dominion."
"Well, true. Moral messages generally ruin storylines, more often than not, though," Mynock replied. "I must admit, I loved the space battles."
"Those are around the next corner," Kallysto said, deftly changing the subject and walking ahead.
Mynock followed, his slight disgruntlement easily dispersed by the numerous scale models of starships, space stations, and props housed in the next area. His voice slowly took a backseat in his mind as he ran his hand along the side of the mockup hull. "I recognize this one. It's from 'Eight Comets Under The Sun'." he said.
"Yeah," Kallysto replied faintly as his memory took over...
The attack cruiser exploded as he snap-rolled away from it. He jammed the stick down to avoid the incoming fire. Three more Wing Warrior fighters sped past him on their failed attack run. One of them was clobbered by a large chunk of the cruiser's fragmenting hull, exploding in a flash of green light.
Janno Swyfte looked over his shoulder, cutting the engine power to one-third, while wheeling his fighter-bomber and priming the warheads.
"Nice blobbies. Have a missile casserole!" he shouted as he pressed the firing stud, grinning ferally for the camera closeup.
With unnatural speed, the alien vessels dodged away from the cloud of zigzagging missiles, returning fire. Swyfte's ship was hit, sending sparks and smoke throughout the cockpit.
"...and, cut!" Max's voice spoke over his headphones. "Nice shot. We might be able to get out of this one without using CG touchup."
"Hey, boss, we have a problem," the tech's voice came over the commlink, faintly.
Young cut thrust to minimum. "Max, what's going on? Don't tell me we didn't get the shot."
"Worse, Jeff. The missiles aren't detonating," Max told him grimly. "And they're live today."
"What do you mean?" he asked, craning his neck to look for the errant pyrotechnics.
Max's voice was stressed. "The missiles didn't detonate. I think we've got runaway ordnance."
"Ringiss! What's it heading for?"
"The Imperial Customs Corvette about 5 parsecs out. They were watching the show."
"Oh boy." He jammed the thrusters on full, trying vainly to give the missiles chase. In a flash of genius, he reached under the console with his free hand and pulled a wire loose even as he centered the Corvette in his sights.
"This is Janno Swyfte to the Imperial Customs Vessel Vigilant. You have runaway concussion missiles incoming on your craft. Can you read me?"
He smiled to himself. Of course they can't. I disabled my transmitter.
Too late, the Corvette's crew saw the danger. Once a missile is locked on you, there's nothing you can do to stop it, save outrunning it or blasting it. The first of the missiles struck home even as the small capital ship turned, and her attempts to shoot down the incoming missiles met with failure. Explosions rocked the Vigilant as her shields went down.
"My gods," Jeff said, for sake of the recorder in the cockpit.
He watched as the mortally wounded Imperial ship keeled over, nodding as he pushed his stick over to turn away. "What a horrible accident," he said, attempting sincerity.
The fighter kept going forward. He pushed the stick harder. Nothing. A red warning light came on. 'Maneuvering system damaged.' He looked up in horror at the dying Vigilant, far too close, even as he cut the engines, he knew it was far, far, too late.
"Such a horrible accident," Kallysto murmured.
"What?", Mynock asked, jarring him back to the present. "You say something about an accent?"
"Hm? No, no, but there's always room for a good one in acting."