“Take us to the Starport on Industry Center Pkwy.” Said Fern as she leaned into the small voice amplifier positioned in the middle of the glass partition that blocked access between the rear and front seats. Into the high lanes of traffic the aircar rose. Jostling with the vortices of criss-crossing masses of wind and passing vehicles. The sun held high in the hazy afternoon sky, only partially seen through the ever present smog.
“There’s the starport,” Dax pointed out the right window towards a tall tapered building with a circular platform at its top. Like a honeycomb the building was checkered with entry and exit points for countless private starships coming to and from countless destinations. The top platform was temporary parking for airspeeders and shuttle speeders either dropping off or picking up passengers from long commercial voyages. The largest commercial ships, which held passengers in the thousands, never actually entered the atmosphere of coruscant. They docked entirely at the orbiting skyhooks suspended in space. From the top and center of the platform a large organic looking tube extended from the top of the building all the way into space. This passageway held numerous turbolifts that carried passengers to and from the commercial skyhook above. The material of the turbolift shaft was synthetically grown in laboratories. Engineers mimicked the properties of salt-water seaweeds commonly found in the oceans of Mon Calamari. It was discovered that its pliability, relatively light weight, and super strength was ideal for tethering skyhooks in orbit. The turbolift cars that shuttled up and down the inside of these tethers were entirely by managed by ventrally aimed repulsorlifts. No other guidance systems were necessary since there was nowhere else to go but up or down.
Nearing the platform Nolann, Fern, and Dax could see hundreds of aircabs, much like their own, with the alternating white and maroon markings, lining up to the starport’s departures terminal doors. Touching down on permacrete, the driver pushed a button, allowing the cabs doors to move up and open. Like some strange winged creature perched after landing the trio of adventures exited the cab from both sides. Nolann stooped over a small payment console on the side of the aircab to insert credits. Waving bye to the driver they walked towards the long bank of glass entranceway doors.
High above them they looked at the organic tubes reaching farther into the sky than their eyes could see. Now closer, Dax observed that the turbolift shafts were a translucent tan and greenish color and housed at least thirty different passages for shuttles. Like rockets the shuttle cars moved up and down at incredible speeds. Judging by their size Dax guessed each car could hold approximately twenty human-sized creatures.
After walking through the glass doors and buying passes from the droid ticket vendors Nolann, Dax, and Fern stood in a short line waiting to pass through turnstiles. In the hallway immediately in front of them Fern looked at a large blue and illuminated imperial propaganda poster that read Never forget the Jedi. Underneath the words, there was the image of a small green creature with large ears impaling a clone trooper through the chest-plate with its lightsaber. The small but fearsome creature appeared to be no more than two feet in height. Beneath the graphic picture in bold letters it read TRAITORS! Report dangerous force users to your local magistrate and receive a reward beginning at 10,000 credits.
“You’re worth 10,000 credits?” Fern smiled at Dax raising one eyebrow in a mock challenge.
“Don’t even think about it.” Dax sighed wearily, looking away down the corridor. As far as he knew he was the last of his kind but that wouldn’t stop the Empire from wanting to kill him. Even though he posed no more of a threat than a wamp-rat attacking a krayt dragon the Empire saw things different.
Of course Fern knew that the offered bounty was a sham. The imps would never pay out that kind of coin for a captured Jedi. The sucker who ratted on a Jedi would most likely end up executed too. There was no compassion for fools under the Emperor’s rule.
Next to the wanted poster was an “relocation” advertisement. Pictures of lush warm beaches depicted the supposed allure of the planetoid Kessell. Underneath, encouragements such as free transport, free meals, and work security promised dreams of paradise. This was also a sham Fern thought to herself. Everyone in this dump knew that Kessell was a spice mining colony on a dark forsaken asteroid. If there was a bright center to the universe you would have to be from the planet that is farthest from, or incredibly dense to believe those claims. But these were the kinds of propaganda that were typical in the alien freezones, condescending, belittling, and based on gross misinformation.
After finally pushing their way through the crowded turnstiles Fern, Nolann, and Dax followed a massive herd of slow walking Ithorians. Their stereo mouths echoed their rumbling voices against the tiled walls of the cramped corridor creating a cacophony of white noise. The white walls were drab and dirty, caked with all of the smells, dust, and dead skin of billions of passengers who had walked these halls before. Since this tunnel was intended for skyhook departures only all of the traffic moved in one direction. The arrival tunnels were most likely on the other side of the huge complex. All corridors were built to keep the influx and outflow of passengers efficiently moving.
Rounding the last turn the wide corridor finally straightened before opening into a large security processing room. Two white-armor clad stormtroopers were positioned at each of the ten scanning stations for a total of twenty troopers. Ten technicians in grey imperial bureaucratic garb were also manning each of the ten stations. The line for processing was at least seventy-five persons and growing and represented at least twenty different species. As Nolann and Fern fumbled with their skyhook tickets Dax visually inspected the room. To their left were three refreshing rooms, one for males, females, and asexuals near a short hallway leading to two doorways, while to Dax’s right stood four droid starship ticket vendors. Overhead the ceiling was open, exposing the building’s infrastructure. Dax was most interested in the large ventilation shaft that passed from behind them, then across the security processing booths into the turbolift loading area.
Suddenly shaken from his introspection Dax was surprised to see two stormtroopers violently pull an Ithorian male from the group standing in line before them. As one jerked him by his left arm, the other hit him in his large hammer-like head with the butt of his rifle, making him fall to the floor face first. The other Ithorians stood back and watched in horror as their companion was mercilessly beaten by the imperial soldiers. A deathly quiet fell over the denizens as they witnessed the atrocity taking place. The other stormtroopers standing at the security lines nervously shifted from foot to foot waiting for the crowd to erupt into mayhem, though most of the xenophobic soldiers were probably unaware that Ithorians are generally pacifists. Now cuffed in binders the poor creature was dragged away to an unknown fate. This senseless act of violence most likely stemmed from the imperials petulant desire to demonstrate their superiority, not the result of a necessary police action.
Fern’s fingers passed over the hidden blaster in the folds of her brown cloak, “I think we should find another way to our meeting,” she looked at Nolann.
“I have a crazy idea,” Dax interjected, pointing his finger towards the ceiling, while a small smile crept across his face.
Nolann’s eyes followed Dax’s finger to the vent shafts above “that is crazy.”
“It looks as if the vents pass over the refreshers,” Fern observed.
Fern walked into the female refresher and positioned herself in a rear stall underneath an air vent. Dax and Nolann did the same in the males’ refresher. Nimbly positioning his feet on the edges of a refresher within one of the back stalls Dax drew his blue lightsaber and lifted it towards the small grate covering the ventilation shaft “watch the door would you Nolann?”
Nolann peeked around the corner of the stalls opening intently watching the main entranceway. In the awkward confines of the refresher stall Dax fumbled nervously with the glowing rod of light. If this went horribly wrong twenty or more stormtroopers may be pouring into this refresher unit he thought, and they wouldn’t be showing any mercy today. Nolann jumped as the refresher’s main door slammed open revealing a small black eyed sullustan in loose green clothing. Seemingly unaware the sullustan walked to the first refreshers stall to conduct his business. Nolann’s right hand nervously fingered the butt of his concealed blasters as the work on the vent grating seemed to crawl at an unbearable pace.
Dax’s right foot slipped from the rim causing his reflexes to send his right arm out to the edge of the stall for balance, “bantha fodder!” he cursed under his breath. “How’s the door?” he whispered as an afterthought.
“Ok so far, “ Nolann hoped.
The small sullustan left the refresher without incident only to be replaced by a horned devaronian. The naturally smiling creature was more astute than his predecessor. He greeted the partially hidden Nolann with a quizzical nod, and a laughing grin, before intentionally displaying disinterest. Nolann concerned about the creature’s awareness, left the rear stall to confront him with a cheerful salutation, “how are you today?” he waved with his right hand.
“Just fine,” the devaronian chuckled with a scoffing grunt through clenched teeth “that’s an interesting fusion torch your friend has there” indicating Dax with his lightsaber.
“Uh yeah, we were called in to fix a problem with the refresher,” Nolann lied terribly as Dax slipped again in the stall. More cursing ensued.
“Uh huh,” he paused thinking for a second “do you think the imps will buy that story?” he grinned creepily through jagged teeth.
Instead of drawing his blaster the annoyed Duros pulled out a one hundred credit piece from his money pouch and placed it in the palm of the devaronian. Simultaneously Nolann revealed the concealed weapons in the folds of his clothing to convey that any further complications and the Devaronian would be answering to the barrel of his blaster.
“Aha, I think this should just about do it.” He gave one last little grin before leaving Dax and Nolann alone.
“I think I’ve got it,” Dax said as the heavy grating dropped from his hands and into the stalls floor.
“Shhhh!” Nolann screamed in a whisper.
Running into the stall Nolann held his fingers into a clasped web, giving dax a sturdy platform to step into the gaping hole. In a second Dax was firmly lying on the inside of the large metallic tube.
“Hand me the grate,” Dax motioned with one arm dangling from the dark opening. After receiving the grating, Dax lowered his arm again to lift the tiny Duros into the vent shaft. Since the shaft was barely large enough for only one humanoid, Dax handed Nolann the grating which he then carefully placed over the jaggedly cut hole.
“That’s good enough,” Dax wearily observed “Now its time to get Fern.”
Shuffling down the round man-sized tube every movement echoed with a deafening buckling of the thin metallic rings. Nolann only hoped that the clamor of noisy passengers in the security screening area below was enough to mask their passage from the perceptive stormtroopers. After moving at least three meters on hands and knees the piping curved slightly to the left at an obtuse angle. To their right the shaft split sharply into a third passageway making the intersection roughly Y shaped. “Turn right?” Dax called back to Nolann.
“Yeah” he grunted. Banging their way through the short tributary pipe Dax looked into the females refresher through the metal grating “Fern!” Dax said in a strained whisper “Fern!”
“I’m here!” Fern snapped from below “Hold on.” A moment later the metal grating was gently raised into the tunnel.
Amazed, Dax looked down at Fern “How did you do that?”
“I loosened the screws. How did you think I did it? With a lightsaber? Besides, what took you guys so long?”
“Nice” Dax grunted as he lifted the petite Fern into the ventilation shaft from the refresher below.
Now reversed the team needed to move in the opposite direction. That would take them across the security line and into the turbolift area. In the cramped space Nolann now took the lead, behind him trailed Dax and Fern respectively. Ten meters from the Y intersection Nolann encountered another metal grating. Looking below his eyes struggled to focus on a single stormtrooper watching his security post. The buckethead appeared oblivious to their passage.
Soon they would be crossing the security line. Within another ten meters they breached the security line and passed another grating. Looking carefully through the small metal bars Nolann spied a bothan male speaking on his comlink.
“This is no good” Nolann whispered “We’ll have to move on.” Scurrying another 10 meters to the final grating Nolann could see nothing but a white wall below him.
“I can’t see anything from here, but it looks like the tubing climbs at a ninety degree angle straight up after this,” the Duros observed “this is the end of our road, back up.”
“Back up?” Dax looked confused.
“Back up!!” Nolann yelled now agitated from being enclosed in the cramped space. Passengers in the crowded corridor below looked up to the ventilation shaft, each wondering where the voices were coming from. The comedy troop then did as Nolann said, moving feet first towards the last grating they passed.
“It looks like the Bothan is still there,” Fern commented dryly.
“We might have to chance it. Nolann why don’t you go first?” the Chiss offered.
“Me????” the duros hissed. Knowing that there was no sense in arguing the trio arranged themselves so that the duros could lower himself into the corridor below.
“Sit back,” Dax said as he ignited his lightsaber creating a blue green glow within the tunnel.
“So you did use your lightsaber,” fern scoffed sardonically with an evil grin. Dax ignored Fern and gently lowered the tip of the dangerous beam of light into the grating’s frame. With the vent being carefully circled by the lightsaber, Nolann held the metal piece in place to prevent it from dropping to the floor below. After the cut was made Dax and Nolann both carefully lifted the vent and laid it aside inside the tunnel. Preparing for the worst, Nolann slowly lowered his head into the corridor below. Pivoting around like a ventral-side turret on a warship he inspected the hall. Surprisingly it was a deserted corridor lined with communication banks, save for a single bothan businessman talking on his communicator. At one end the hall terminated with more refresher rooms. The other side of the hall appeared to curve around to the left, probably connecting with the primary turbolift loading area.
“But I don’t want to go back to Corellia. I was just there last week Ryn!” Nolann heard the bothan speak into his communicator. The tiny voice on the other end replied but was inaudible to the inverted Duros. “Yeah, but 50,000 units was all they were willing to buy,” he continued loudly. “Well, you tell that to Andros!!” he replied to the tiny voice angrily, now increasing in volume.
As the bothan continued to whine Nolann pulled his head back into the shaft “I think I’m going to chance it.”
Swinging his legs into the small opening with his hands placed on the edges Nolann heaved then quietly dropped the three meters to the corridor floor. Now standing upright in the middle of the hall he now knew for certain that he and the bothan were alone. Still standing with his arms splayed in a landing position with his knees slightly bent the bothan spun around in surprise, jumping back two feet when he saw the short duros behind him.
“Where in Mustafar did you come from!!??” he squealed towards Nolann. Nolann couldn’t help but smile at the furry creatures terror.
“Nothing, it’s nothing!” the bothan continued into his comlink. “Some weirdo just appeared out of nowhere” he finished more quietly. Putting his left hand up against his other ear he leaned up against the wall inspecting Nolann carefully with his right eye. Since the drop-hole in the vent was now directly in the bothan’s line of sight, the Duros wheeled around to the bothans other side. Annoyed and slightly frightened by the small alien the bothan businessman flipped to his other side to keep an eye him. Now satisfied with his full attention Nolann dropped his pants to do his best impersonation of the moon walk. Utterly repulsed the bothan continued to watch Nolann but then did so with slightly averted eyes.
“Ryn, this is the last time you send me to the core worlds, I’m sick of these galactic city-dwellers. Besides the segregation laws here are awful.”
Nolann continued to mess with the bothan’s head as both Dax and Fern dropped silently behind him. Satisfied with their succesful infiltration, Nolann, Dax, and Fern walked casually past the beleaguered alien. He dropped his comlink upon sighting the female human and blue-tinted chiss male “W-where did you come from?” he whispered in exasperation.
Nolann, Fern, and Dax entered the turbolift loading area. Nodding to a stormtrooper who guarded one of the maintenance entrances they joined the line of passengers waiting for departure. A rerecorded informational message played over the speakers describing laws associated with riding the skyhook turbolift, starship departure information, necessary travel documentation, and safety regulations concerning passenger regurgitation, and system failure. The wait for the lift was not very long and soon the trio of adventurers were being strapped into seats and harnesses that filled the bullet-like pods. No sooner was the pod completely filled than they were speeding away into the outer atmosphere of Coruscant at unimaginable speeds. A nearby Ithorian vomited into a regurgitation waste unit. The Ord City Skyhook was only seconds away.