"In The Black of Wild Space"
Silver Coin transport vessel
Ke'rii Ogasawara sat with his feet up on the dash. Ahead of him, the hypnotic view of hyperspace’s dizzying starlines. But he was not interested in the view, rather his dusty old boots. He squinted his steel blue eyes as he pondered the loose strap that had broken during a conflict with a Gamorrean a week ago at a spaceport cantina. Typically he could manage his short temper, but he had drunk too much, pulled his knife too hard, and… the rest was dark after that. From the headache and the black eye he had the following morning, it was obvious he lost… or won… more likely he had been rescued by a member of his crew. He wondered if he should get the boot fixed soon as he stretched his arms over his head and yawned.
He let out a sigh as he lowered his hands, ruffling his crew-cut obsidian hair, then tapped one of the cybernetics on the side of his forehead to pull up a chart from the ship’s navicomputer. He rested his hands behind his head as he studied the chart with a slight shake of his head. Why was it, months ago, that finding this fleet by accident seemed a lot shorter than actually retracing the route with purpose?
The old ship creaked and Ke looked up at the ceiling, then over his shoulder at the darkened cockpit behind him. He was alone, and it was quiet. Too quiet. Back on his own ship, The Shengli, he could hear where everyone was. And he typically heard the laughter and clatter of boots running back and forth on the bridge from Keiko’li and Tutix. He missed his ship. He missed his daughter. He missed the warm suns of Tattooine. Space was too cold, and the Silver Coin was not as “luxurious” as advertised.
Ke had paid a bargain price for this Heraklon-class transport vessel. He wasn’t fond of the name, the Silver Coin, it seemed so… underclass, but a name was just a name. Didn’t mean nothing about the way she flew and how much she could carry. He had bought her from a dealer by the name of Rascal Chuck on Nar Shaddaa. The dealer’s name was amusing enough that it nearly convinced him to buy the ship no matter what. The transaction had been smooth, no blasters were pulled, and the guy knew how to barter well. But details that would matter to others weren’t exactly as they should have been. But those things were materialistic in nature, and Ke couldn’t care less about that. Details, details, blah, blah, blah. He needed this ship for the mother load of all payloads. And for that, he got his money’s worth.
The ship required at least twenty crew, but Ke had a way of cutting corners for profit and going against the odds. It was his ‘thing’. He hired on half the recommended crew size, and none of these men he knew. Another risk, yes, but… as long as they were paid, fed and had a place to sleep, they were fine.. well, maybe just okay. Loyalty wasn’t high on the list of important details. After all, this was a trip an abandoned fleet. No one will be there. No need to train the crew to fight off Imperial or Republic soldiers, possibly just pirates, but that was it. And for that… well, they were good enough. And they were cheaper to hire without all that fancy training.
Come what may, Ke had a way of having things go his way. Things always went his way. Either by design or (more often than not) pure, dumb luck.
Ke’rii lowered his feet, clicking off his cybernetic as he leaned forward to look at the actual navicomputer on the console in front of him. They were right on course, which made him relax a bit. The last thing he needed was to get himself lost in space. The only person who even knew even the slightest details about this mission was Kaatulf, better known in some circles as the Oathbreaker. Even then, he had only told the Pureblood about his ‘get rich quick’ idea, not that he had actually left to salvage the fleet.
But Ke went where the credits were.
Keiko’li had tried not to cry when he said his goodbye. She was only twelve and only knew him for two years. She was still calling him “Ke” instead of “dad” (though she had been slipping recently). She was tough, so of course she didn’t give him a hug, though he could tell she wanted to. It hurt a little, but he understood her. He was the same way when he was her age.
The Jawa, Tutix, had been the more difficult one. And that came as no surprise. Tut had been at Ke’s side for years, ever since the sarlacc incident way back when. Tut objected to Ke going alone, citing “that HK maniac” as part of the reason. Loyalty cannot be programmed, the Jawa had argued, but Ke insisted that it would be all right. Tut belonged on Tatooine with Keiko. He needed someone he trusted to keep an eye on business (and Tut was good at business) and to watch over his daughter. There was no one else he trusted with a blaster more than Tut.
“Observation,” the mechanical voice of his HK-24 droid disrupted the silence. “Your hired hands appear apprehensive of your abilities.”
Ke smirked as he turned to see the droid entering the cockpit and watched him take to the co-pilot’s seat. He had found this particular HK-24 unit blasted and out of commission, but for sale by a local jawa trader. They saw it as a piece of junk, but Ke saw potential. He hardly changed a thing about the assassin droid once he got him fully operational again. He much liked the challenges, sarcasm and bluntness of the droid.
HK turned to look at him. “They say you sound insecure,” the droid continued bluntly.
Ke laughed. “You don’t say?” he smiled with amusement. “Well tell them I’m not entirely certain about much of anything I do.”
HK turned to the ship’s hyperspace controls when a light started flashing. “Advice: Try not to say that too loud.” If droids could smirk, this one would. And that's what Ke loved about him. That and, he never called him 'master' or 'sir'.
"I keep 'em happy, fed and paid," Ke shrugged, reaching to hit a button that HK beat him to. He gave the droid a sly look, but smiled inwardly. He was glad to know his re-programming of the droid’s ability to captain a ship had challenged his own… or so he saw it that way.
"Statement: Droids complain less."
Ke laughed loudly. "Oh, like you never complained before?!" He leaned back as HK-24 finished the sequence to pull them out of hyperspace. "I believe the last droid I had you work with ended up being... how did you put it? A 'useless pile of twisted metal'." He chuckled at the memory.
“Statement,” the droid began--
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Ke interrupted. “It had no combat abilities. Completely useless. Forget the fact it kept our ship clean, changed the air purifications, kept the food fresh… yeah, none of that is important to us meatbags at all.” He smirked and cocked his head to the side. “You’re not gonna have some droid uprising against me, are you? I know about the HK’s before you.”
HK-24 slowly turned its head to look at Ke, there was a subtle menace about the way it looked at him, yet somehow managed to have a hint of amusement.
“Declaration…” the droid started to say.
“Osi’kyr!” Ke cursed with a laugh. “You are going to kill me, aren’t you? One of these days!” His sides were almost hurting from laughing so hard.
“Confusion: HK-24 units do not have a sense of humor, master,” the droid replied dryly, “I do not understand why you find any of this so funny.”
“Now I know you’re messing with me. You never call me ‘master’.” He was still laughing.
“Observation: We have come out of hyperspace. You might want to address your other meatbags, captain.”
Ke sighed happily and tried to compose himself as he looked out the front of the ship. The fleet rested ominously in front of them. Just sitting there… still… lifeless… It was in pristine order. A blockade of ships, arranged perfectly in grid formation. The sight was striking and silenced Ke immediately. He shook his head with dismay.
“Can you imagine, HK?” He stood, as if standing would get him a closer look at the fleet. “To command such a thing? The power… the battles… what must it had been like? Who were they? What happened?...”
The droid observed Ke a moment before speaking again. “Reminder: Your crew should be notified.”
Ke shook his head, clearing his thoughts about the fleet. “Right. The crew.” He stood straighter, and adjusted the collar of his jacket. “How do I look? Captain-y?”
HK-24 just stared at him, unamused.
“Right,” Ke pointed at him. “Not my mirror.” He turned sharply, crossing the spacious cockpit and found the intercom. He cleared his throat before speaking again. “Good morning, crew…” he paused. Was it morning? “Well… if it is morning. Maybe afternoon, or hell you could decide it’s night for all I know. Been out here so long and all,” he laughed nervously again, hating that he couldn’t stop his words from coming. “Anyway, hard to tell out here in the black and without a real point of reference or anything.” He closed his eyes, silently cursing himself. It was too late to go back and start again.
HK-24 shook its head across the room.
Ke continued with another clear of his throat. “Anyway… this is your captain speaking and I wanted to let you all know this long, seemingly drawn out trip to the middle of nowhere, that I hope you’ve had at least some fun on, hasn’t been for nothing.” He paused, replaying that quickly in his head. He hated making announcements over intercom. He sounded ridiculous. “With that said, we have arrived at our destination. This uh fleet I told you all about back on your various home worlds has uh been relocated. So um, suit up and please prepare for docking. It is payday, boys.”
He clicked the intercom off and hit himself on the head with the palm of his hand. Did he really just call those disgruntled men ‘boys’? He walked back over to the controls, eyeing HK.
“Don’t,” he ordered. “Don’t even say it. I already know… Declaration: you’re an idiot,” he mocked himself the way the droid would.
HK-24 remained silent and watched the other.
“Let’s just,” Ke pointed out the front window. “Just get there,” he plopped into his seat and took control of the vessel. The ship shook slightly as it transitioned from autopilot to manual. “And run scans, make sure there aren’t any meatbags or something.”
For a moment Ke had a sinking feeling as he stared at the wall of ships ahead of them. The Silver Coin had no turrets, no proper shielding against enemy attacks. Even Rascal Chuck had advised him that whatever his plan may be, don’t go alone. Travel with an armoured escort.
Ke had a way of not listening to good advice.
“Report,” the droid stated as they drifted closer, the wall starting to tower over them. “Minimal life form readings. There is, however, a substantially high energy reading. I must advise caution.”
Ke nodded. “Yeah, let’s hope it’s not monkeylizards,” he commented. “I sort of expected high energy from a fleet this size.”
HK-24 looked over at him. “Statement: Not this high, Ke’rii.”
It was rare the droid ever addressed him by his full name. Ke kept his eyes on the fleet, as his stomach twisted into a knot. His gut was telling him to run. But he had come this far, and it had taken this long to turn back now. Stubbornness, and possibly even greed, overruled instinct. It was a bad trait.
“Keep your eyes open, all right--”
Movement from the fleet cut him off as he watched a smaller ship leave one of the ships that rested in formation. He froze at the controls.
“Ke--” HK started.
“Yeah, I see it.” He sounded calm, but his heart was racing. “Okay, slow us down.” He watched the ship’s path to confirm it was moving in their direction, and it was. He pulled a wire out of his pocket and slid one end into a socket in his temple, the other into the navicomputer. He punched in a few commands.
“I’m stopping the approach, we’ll hold here,” Ke said, quickly punching other buttons on the console to stop the Silver Coin. He watched the navicomputer’s screen for a moment, then detached the wires. He proceeded to enter in more prompts.
HK-24 watched him quietly.
“I may have made a mistake,” Ke admitted quietly, looking up from the computer to watch the ships. A ping from the computer recaptured his attention and he finished the sequence he had entered.
They came to a stop and Ke watched the scanners, five more ships were coming towards them and all of them were armed. He patted his chest where he usually put his paperwork to make sure they were still there, then quickly he turned and went over to the intercom to address his crew. He informed them to prepare for a boarding party, told them to leave their weapons in their bunks. He sounded much more certain of himself than his previous address. As he clicked off the intercom he looked to his HK-24 unit.
“Am I wrong to disarm them?”
Before the droid could respond, the ship’s holocommunicator crackled and an armored soldier appeared. The transmission was spotty at best, something Ke meant to modify before coming all the way out here, but he could make out that the soldier was requesting his identification and purpose.
Ke took to the holocomm. “Captain Ke’rii Ogasawara,” he stated clearly. If he hesitated too long on his purpose, he assumed they’d be done for. “Salvage mission. Must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.”
The transmission turned to static for a moment, then the soldier returned in mid-sentence. “... documentation. You do not ….. ization to….”
Ke shook his head. “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up.” He spoke slowly.
“... ard your ship, captain.”
“Board? Uh yeah… of course.” He responded, and just as he gave the permission he felt the other ship connect with his. “I’ll be right there.”
The soldier ended the transmission and Ke looked at HK. “Didn’t even ask our numbers.”
“Assumption: They already know.”
Ke went for the cockpit door, his hand resting on Bian, his best blaster that was on his hip. He hesitated a moment, but opted to keep it there. If he was completely unarmed, they’d have reason to be more suspicious of him.
HK-24 followed Ke out of the room, his rifle drawn and read.
“Put that thing away,” Ke urged. “We don’t want to look like we’re looking for a fight.”
Reluctantly HK obeyed the order as they arrived at the ship’s airlock, where the rest of the small crew was waiting. Ke’s heart was racing and he knew panic must be all over his face because his crew stood when he entered. They never stood for him. He drew in a breath and smiled. Smiling always helped you relax.
He turned to them calmly. “Just relax, okay? Nothing out of the norm here.”
“Uhh… I thought we was goin’ to an abandoned place, cap’n.” One of the men sneered. He was the only one still sitting, hunched over an arm that was resting on his knee. “Thought there weren’t supposed to be no trouble.”
Ke nodded. “There may have been a technical glitch, yes, but--”
“I didn’t sign up to be your hired gun. And I didn’t sign up to be shot at neither.”
Ke sighed, remaining as calm as he could. He didn’t need this guy on his back about this. There wasn’t any situation he couldn’t talk his way out of. “No one’s asking you to be my hired gun, so just chill, all right?” Ke turned and clenched a fist. He hated when things didn’t go according to plan, but it was made worse when someone wanted to start trouble with him because of it. “Just… be cool everyone,” he said as he opened the airlock between the two ships.
A group of fifteen or so soldiers stood in front of them. All of them in white gear, except the one in the front, who wore gold plated armour, his helmet covering his identity. The eyes glowed of blue hue, which was unsettling in and of itself. This man was the only one without a blaster, opting instead to carry a lightsaber.
“You’re the captain?” the man in gold asked, looking right at Ke’rii.
“I am, captain Ke’rii Ogasawa--”
“Documents and identification.” the other ordered, then gave a signal to his soldiers who stepped forward and started to board the ship.
Ke watched them as he handed over his documents. The soldiers were surrounding he and his men. “Have I done something wrong?”
The leader reviewed Ke’s documents. “What are these?” He looked up.
“My papers,” Ke wasn’t exactly sure what the deal was. He bought this ship in a straight sale, no swindles, no slicing, all legit. He had made sure of it.
“These aren’t recognized here.”
Ke’rii was lost for words and furrowed his brow. For a moment he hesitated. “Well… I....” he glanced over at the soldiers walking amongst his crew. “I…” he looked back at the leader. “Must be lost, apparently.” He cracked a smile and let out a small laugh, hoping to ease the tension. “Look, I bought and paid for this ship on Nar Shaddaa. The transaction was solid. You can check--”
“Nar Shaddaa?” the man wasn’t amused as he folded up Ke’s papers, still keeping them in hand.
“Smuggler’s Moon?” Ke suggested the alternate name. “No?” his eyes narrowed. “How’ve you never heard of…. where exactly am I?” he asked in earnest.
The man was silent and stared at Ke from beneath his golden helmet. “You have just breached Zakuulan air space--”
“Za-what?” Ke blinked..
“Zakuul,” the leader repeated more slowly this time. He was unsure if he was believing what Ke was saying. He continued…
...as Ke drifted in thought. The massive fleet that stood ahead of them. He knew he was out in the middle of uncharted space, but for some reason he never thought to assume there would be another system out there that he had never heard of before. That the Sith Empire or the Galactic Republic had never heard of before, for that matter. How did a fleet that size with troops this organized go unnoticed? It wasn’t like this was a some unintelligent civilization. There was order here. Again, an unsettling feeling dropped inside him and he shook his head.
“You have a problem with that, captain?” the armored man spoke sternly, making Ke look up at him.
“Huh? I-I’m sorry, I just--”
“You and your crew are not authorized to be here. I am seizing your ship and placing you and your men into holding until you can all be formally processed.”
“Other than being lost, what have we done wrong?” Ke wasn’t challenging, he was merely curious.
The man in gold stood taller, handing Ke’s papers back to him. “You are a long ways from home, captain. You are out of resources, and I suspect you were looking steal what you might need and more from the Eternal Fleet.”
Ke gave a lopsided smile and shrugged. “Well yeah, but I didn’t realize anyone was there. Didn’t pick up any life readings on our--”
“You dumbass!” the same problematic crew mate from before exclaimed from behind him.
Ke cursed the man in his head.
“Who tells ‘em we’re here to steal? I knew I shouldn’t have…” the man grumbled. “And I ain’t about to go down for ya either!”
Ke turned just as the burly man drew his blaster and shot down one of the white soldiers. He was about to tell at him to stop, when he realized the soldier had scattered across the floor, and there was no blood. For a moment he was relieved no one had actually gotten killed, but then he realized that these soldiers were droids. An entire fleet of droids. This all wasn’t exactly his error, there was no way to know there was an entire fleet sitting out in nowhere space made up entirely of droids. He smiled for a short moment before realizing that blaster fire was echoing through the empty hull of the ship.
“Wait! No!” Ke shouted and felt someone grab him forcefully by the arms, forcing him to his knees.
“Take their weapons!” an order was shouted.
His hands were being bound behind his back when he heard HK-24 exclaim an unsettling declaration and then open fired at the troopers.
“Dammit HK, no!” He turned to see HK-24 firing at the man in gold, who ignited his lightsaber, casting a brilliant blue glow that sliced through the air and the HK unit with great precision. “Tahla’ada! Everyone stop!”
HK dropped to the ground, and Ke didn’t even realise his own blaster had been removed from him.
No one listened to him and he watched seven more of his crew get shot down. Ke started to his feet when the blue saber came swing to an abrupt stop at his neck. The Knight in gold shook his head at Ke in warning.
With a scowl, he could only watch as the remaining two crew members were beaten to the ground, but left alive, and bound as well.
The Knight waited until the smoke had settled before he closed down his saber, reattaching it to his hip.
“Captain Ogasawara, I am placing you and what remains of your crew under arrest by order of the Emperor Valkorian, His Glorious Majesty, Slayer of Izax, Immortal Master and Protector of Zakuul.” The Knight gave a nod to his trooper to haul the prisoners away.
“The who?!” Ke exclaimed as he was dragged off the ship.
The Zakuulan Knight turned to the rest of his Skytroopers. “Destroy the ship.”
Ke’rii was slouched down in his chair, his head tilted so far back he was staring up at the ceiling. “I’ve told you,” he said, exhausted. “I’ve told you again and again,” he looked back at his interrogator. “They acted on their own. I never ordered them to attack you. Why do you think I would be that stupid? My ship wasn’t even armed, for cryin’ out loud! I wasn’t looking for a fight. How many times are we going to go over this?”
The man across from him made a note, then looked up. “Tell me again how exactly you found Zakuul.”
Ke sighed. “On accident,” he stared at the other for a long moment. Clearly the other wanted more details. With a slight roll of his eyes and a heavy sigh, he continued. “Was running some cargo back home, remember? I went over this yesterday. Thought I’d take a short cut, and whoopsie, I came out of hyperspace around these parts.”
“Mmhmm…” the man made a note. “Why didn’t our Skytroopers find any of this so-called cargo on your ship?”
They were going in circles.
Ke let out an annoyed sigh. “Because that ship was empty,” he spoke slowly, as if addressing a five year old. “My first time out here was on an entirely different ship. A smaller ship. I left that one back home and came back with the really big one a couple months later. That one you destroyed,” he frowned. “I told you and your buddies all of this already.”
The other nodded. “And where are you from again?”
“Apparently a place you’ve never heard of. Can we quit with the whole back and forth thing? I tired of it a week ago. Share your notes.”
Again, the other just stared at him, expecting an answer.
“A place called Tatooine, though I spend most of my time on my ship. The one you didn’t destroy. Look,” he leaned forward. “I know how this works. You and your buddies,” he shook his head. “you’re just middle men, okay? I know. Stop pretending to be someone higher up. It’s just sad.”
The man sat, tight jawed.
Ke continued: “I overheard that you let the other two men with me go free, so what gives, huh? Why am I being held?”
“You were planning to steal from the Eternal Flee--”
“But I didn’t,” Ke interrupted sharply. “So technically you have no grounds to hold me.” He leaned back and spread his arms out. “So why then… why am I still here?”
The other man was still for a moment before speaking. “Our High Justice says you refuse us access to your cybernetics.”
“Because they’re not yours to mess with.”
“Hmm…” the man stood and started to pace back and forth slowly. “Perhaps not, but…” he stopped and look down at Ke. “Before your ship was destroyed our Skytroopers noted that the navicomputer had been wiped clean.” He paused to see if Ke would squirm, but he did not. “We can only assume that you kept what ever information was there… in your little,” he tapped his temple. “implants, am I right?”
Ke shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. Why’s that important to you?”
“You don’t ask the questions, captain Ogasawara.”
This made the other chuckle. “Look, listen…” Ke leaned forward and looked up. “You ever think that maybe playing nice for a change would get you what you want? I’m not your enemy. I don’t even know you or your people or your all mighty majesty whoever-he-is, okay? I’m just a guy that got lost. I can be reasoned with. What happened on my ship between those hired hands and your troopers, was never my intention nor my orders.”
“Yet it happened.”
“Okay, yeah, well... then charge me with failure to do good background checks, okay? They were cheap help,” he shrugged, “and I’m sorry that cutting corners on cost resulted in the loss of life. Albeit droid life. You know those things can be repaired, right?” he shook his head. “This was just supposed to be a simple salvage mission of what I thought was an abandoned fleet. Thought maybe something of use would be there for the folks back home. I was wrong, okay? I’m sorry.”
The other man, touched his ear ever so slightly. Ke’rii rolled his eyes, well no kidding he had someone feeding him lines. He shook his head and sighed. This was complete bantha fodder.
“Sit tight,” the other ordered as he left.
“Where’m I supposed to go?” Ke asked sarcastically as the door shut.
Nearly an hour later another man entered, this one large than his predecessor. His uniform more decorated with awards and medals. Ke’rii sighed loudly.
“You’re kidding me. Look, read your buddy’s notes because I am sick of repeating myself.”
The man slide a paper document across the table and did not sit. “You’re being released,” he said.
Ke blinked and sat up straighter. “Come again?”
The man smiled. “You’re being released, captain,” he repeated.
“And the catch would be…?”
This made the other chuckle. “You’re a smart one, captain,” he said, sitting down and folding his hands on the desk. “Our High Justice has given us the go ahead to release you, under the condition you hand over your ship’s data you have stored in your cybernetics. Both ships,” he clarified. “The one we destroyed and the one you left back home. A smart man such as yourself surely has all that stored with him.”
Ke smirked, he was starting to like these people. “Why? So you can take your big ol’ fleet to my world and blast it? I think not.” He leaned back. “I’d like to go back to my cell now. I’m growing rather fond of it… nice and white, I like that. Do you think I could get some flowers though? You know, somethin’ prett--”
The other interrupted. “Zakuul is a peaceful world and we’d like to keep it that way. We would just prefer that our location be kept away from… your world.”
Ke took a moment to consider and nodded. “Can’t blame you for that, but I doubt they’d pay attention to you... Bein’ that they’re too busy trying to kill one another an’ all… but…” he thought of that fleet and if it got in the hands of either the Empire or the Republic… the result would be catastrophic no matter which way the coin was tossed. He leaned forward and looked the man straight in the eyes. “You got a deal,” he watched the other grin then quickly added, “But I wanna do it myself. If not, then I’d like some carpet in my cell too. Green maybe, I like green. Not like a vibrant green, but like... a moss gre--”
The other smiled, “Consider yourself a free man, captain Ogasawara.”