Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Mishandled

Tatooine. The Viridian snapped out of hyperspace above the dusty brown planet. Not a single spot of green could be seen from orbit. Kionee Rinnh shook her head mournfully for the planet as she guided the Nubian freighter towards the port city of Anchorhead. “I don’t know why under the stars that anyone would choose to live there,” she murmured.

“Because of the prospects for mining a nearly untouched planet,” her bronze-plated protocol droid MT-412 promptly informed her.

Kionee rolled her eyes playfully and retorted, “I know Emtee. It’s not like we’ve never been here before. It’s just, all that heat and dryness. I happen to like seeing plants everywhere.”

“So that is why you disliked Coruscant so much,” the droid observed.

“At least you can plant something in a pot there and it would stay alive,” Kionee said, “Here, I bet anything would wither and die within two hours. I bet I’d wither and die out in that sun within two hours.”

“Mistress Kionee, I don’t believe humans can wither, so you have little to worry about on that front,” MT-412 made an attempt to comfort her.

Kionee snorted. “Emtee, why don’t you go on back to the cargo bay to make sure all those crates are secured for landing?”

“Yes mistress,” the droid responded and, feet clanking along the metal floor, shuffled out of the cockpit.

The dryness and heat wasn’t the only reason Kionee dreaded Tatooine every time her shipment rounds brought them here. First and foremost, there was Czerka, the intergalactic corporation that essentially ran the planet. Czerka had tried, sometimes succeeding, to buy out the local grocers and markets that Rinnh Imports supplied on more than one planet. Fortunately, the eccentrically stubborn Duros that ran a food market in Anchorhead was not to be tricked out of his business. After the businesses of a number of his friends had been whisked right out from underneath their noses, Kionee’s father had refused to put up with Czerka’s outrageous tariffs and ceased business with them entirely. That Duros was the only contact they had in Anchorhead, and she would hate to see such a dismal place without fresh fruits and vegetables, were Czerka to buy him out.

On top of that, Tatooine was always the end of a run for her. Nothing grew on this planet, at least not that anyone elsewhere wanted to buy, so all she ever got in return was credits. Then she would have to go back to one of the Rinnh’s major suppliers like Ithoria, Drall, Nubia, or Onderon.

This particular run, however, was different. Sometimes, the Viridian would be commissioned to carry other cargo along with the produce, and this was one of those occations.

The Duros grocer acted as a middle-man for a shipment of gizka bound for a Manaan zoo. Kionee didn’t enjoy transporting animals, but she owed him a favor. Besides, Manaan always had interesting undersea fruit. Soggy but intriguing, and those fruits did have a market.

MT-412 clanked back into the cockpit. “Mistress Kionee, all shipment crates are secured,” he announced.

“Thanks Emtee. Get strapped in. We’ll be going through the atmosphere and down to Anchorhead pretty soon. Doesn’t look like there’s any sandstorms or high winds, but it may get bumpy anyway,” Kionee advised. Shortly after Emtee jerkily strapped himself onto the navigator’s seat, the silver ship began to hum and vibrate as it cut down through the atmosphere.


After sourly paying the docking fee and import tariffs to the Czerka official that was all too happy to greet her upon landing, Kionee strode out into the town with MT-412 tottering along behind her. As soon as she stepped out of the shelter of the hangar bay a sand-laden wind blew violently up the wide street. She fished a length of cord out of her jacket pocket and deftly tied her blond hair back out of the way. Already, her skin stung from the dry air and the spray of sand.

“I think we’ll head straight for Gendoss’ place,” Kionee said as she struggled to roll up the tight sleeves of her flight suit. “I can’t stand this oppressive heat. The sooner we get off this rock the better.”

“But Mistress Kionee,” MT-412 pointed out, “If you will recall, it was regularly hotter than this when you lived on Rodia as a little girl.”

“Rodia has two things that Tatooine doesn’t: humidity and shade,” Kionee argued, “If all goes well, we might even leave for Manaan tonight. I would welcome a world entirely of water right about now.”

“Already?” the droid inquired, “But we have only just landed.”

“Already,” Kionee answered, then added with a grin, “I’m worried that if we take too long, those gizka will be fried by the time we take off.”

“I certainly hope Gendoss has taken good care of the little creatures,” MT-412 twittered.

Surprisingly, a number of people wandered the sandy streets under the glare of the twin suns. None of them looked as sweaty and miserable as Kionee felt. I should have changed clothes into something less insulating. She thought wryly. Flight suits are great for space but I forgot how not-great they are for Tatooine.

“You really aught to think about spending the night in Anchorhead, Mistress Kionee,” her protocol droid suggested, having finally managed to catch up with her long, loping strides. “You should rest before making another long hyperspace jump.”

“I appreciate your concern Emtee,” Kionee smiled in reply, “But I’ll be fine. I know how to take care of myself.”

“Actually,” Emtee politely disagreed, “I lack confidence in your ability to do so.”

Kionee laughed, “That’s why I have you around. But I still think I’ll be fine. I’ll be worse off if I stay here and wilt.”

“Only plants wilt, and you are not a plant, Mistress Kionee,” the droid pointed out.

Kionee chuckled. “There’s the cantina, Emtee,” she said, pointing to the shady building ahead of them, “If I remember right, the market is just around this corner.”

“Your memory serves you well,” MT-412 replied.

When they rounded the corner, Kionee stopped so quickly that Emtee lurched into her from behind. She staggered aside to give him a better view. Three dark jedi lulled in the shadow of the wall that divided this street from the next. Their black hooded robes were unmistakable. They must be hot.

“Dark jedi on Tatooine?” Emtee asked, the volume of his voice lowered to nearly a whisper. That was a particular trick that her father programmed in early on and had proven useful on many occasions. “What are they doing here?”

Kionee scrutinized them, squinting against the glare of the sun on the sand. One sat on a low crate while the other two leaned against the stucco wall. Despite their lazy postures, Kionee could see their heads subtly twitch back and forth, watching alertly. “Waiting,” she observed quietly. “And they don’t seem to be waiting for us, so let’s keep going and not attract their attention.”

As she and Emtee stiffly hurried past the Sith, Kionee tried not to glance their direction or even acknowledge that they were there. She had never tangled with a dark jedi before and did not plant on breaking that record now. I know some people who would like to know about dark jedi on this planet, she thought and made a mental note to pass on the information.

Kionee and MT soon passed through a pair of double-doors that resembled an airlock. The chilled humidity of the food market immediately put Kionee at ease again. A green-faced Duros fussed with a display of orange muja fruit near the middle of the store.

“Gendoss!” Kionee said, then greeted him in Durese as best as her human tongue would allow.

Gendoss turned from his pyramidal display and returned the greeting. Then, switching into gravely Basic, he said, “Welcome back to Anchorhead Kionee Rinnh. It is good to see you again.” Meanwhile, several of the precariously balanced round fruit tumbled to the floor behind him.

“And you, Gendoss Nrat,” Kionee replied and approached him. “How is business these days?”

“A little slower than usual, maybe,” he replied, “But with Czerka’s mining efforts failing, people don’t have money to buy the good foods I offer, or they have moved away. But business continues.”

“I am sorry for your business,” Kionee said sympathetically, “but I am not sorry to see Czerka Corp. faltering.”

Gendoss threw back his head with a crackling gurgle Kionee had learned to be a Durese laugh. “I want Czerka to fail and to leave my establishment alone, but if Czerka does fail, it will take all of the people with it and I will have no business.”
She laughed along with him, “Why does that corporation have to insert itself into everything so that it’s hard to live without?”

“I do not know, but I wish it would not,” Gendoss replied and stooped over to retrieve the fallen muja fruit.

The Duros swiveled around to finish his pyramid and Kionee stood quietly, shifting her weight from her right foot to her left and back again. When Gendoss seemed satisfied with his work, she said, “So, I’ve got a pretty big shipment for you this time around.”

“Ah,” he replied in what seemed to be an excited tone. “What have you brought?”

The trouble with Duros is that their facial expression never change, at least that I can tell. “I’ve got jewel-fruit and sea grass from Mon Calamari, some sunburst fruit and nimn from Drall, at least ten varieties from Ithoria, and that root veggie from Dantooine you liked last time,” she paused, the name escaping her.

“It is called aglas root,” MT-412 recited immediately. Kionee nodded in thanks towards the droid.

“Ah, good,” Gendoss responded and drummed his long fingers together. “When I see it, you will receive payment.”

Kionee covered a chuckle with a cough. Gendoss is as stingy as ever. No one could cheat him out of his hard-earned credits. “I have already hired some docking bay hands to deliver the plasteel crates to you,” Kionee said, suppressing her grin, “They should be arriving soon.”

The Duros nodded slowly.

“And what about those Gizka that needed to get to Manaan?” Kionee asked, sticking to buisness.

“I will have them delivered to your ship,” he replied, “You are docked in which bay?”

Kionee turned to her protocol droid and asked, “Emtee?”

“Docking bay 23,” he supplied.

“Since you are here and always bring such good things, I will buy you midday meal at the cantina,” Gendoss said, sounding rather pleased, “But first, let me contact Jor Ul Kurax to deliver the gizka to your ship.”

Kionee smiled. Although not the brightest Aqualish she had ever encountered, Jor was honest and could be counted on to run even the most ridiculous errands. She would have made use of his services to deliver the fruit if he had been hanging around her docking bay when she arrived. In stead, Kionee had to hire two stocky men she didn’t recognize. Probably miners short on credits.


After locking up the market, Gendoss stiffly led Kionee and her droid past the loitering dark jedi and across the street to the cantina. Kionee stooped low under the doorway and into the dimness of the cantina, nearly bumping her head. Rural space ports, especially those frequented by non-humans were rarely built to accommodate her height of over two meters tall; a fact she forgot all too often. Clumsily turning into a hanging lamp, she hissed and rubbed her forehead before following Gendoss to a table. She pulled up a chair and MT-412 stood alertly beside them.

“Will you not sit?” Gendoss offered.

“I must decline, Mr. Nrat,” Emtee politely replied, “I do not tire as you do and thus have no need to sit. I will take up less space by standing.”

A red-skinned Twi’lek waiter quickly swept over to their table and placed a plate of the daily special in front of each of them, a dry-ish looking meat with similarly dry root vegetables. She couldn’t refuse it, since the daily special was all the tiny cantina offered on a given day. “Welcome. Can I get you something to drink?” the waiter inquired smoothly.

“A water, please,” Kionee answered automatically, but the responding look on the Twi’lek’s face reminded her that she had just made an expensive request. Feeling guilty, she almost took back her order but decided against it when her host didn’t protest. Besides, nothing else could help her parched throat as well.

Gendoss, on the other hand, shook his head and declined. The waiter nodded with a toothy grin and swept away.

“How long have those dark jedi been hanging around?” Kionee asked in a low voice.

“A week or two,” Gendoss answered vaguely. Typical of him, the Duros didn’t pay attention to things that didn’t concern him. “They look like they are waiting for someone,” he added.

“And they don’t care if they’re seen,” Kionee commented. “I’m glad they’re not after me. I wonder who they could be waiting for.”

“You would do better to ask them in stead of me,” he replied. Kionee suspected he was being ironic. At least, she hoped so.

“And I guess Czerka Corp. isn’t about to report them to The Republic or kick them out,” Kionee mused. The waiter returned and placed a tall glass of water next to the plate of still untouched food. “Thanks,” she said, and took a long drink.

“I do not think the Czerka officials here could stand up to three dark jedi,” Gendoss said, nibbling on the whitish roots.

“I doubt they even want to,” Kionee agreed.

“Czerka Corporation has been known to forge alliances with the Sith in the past, you know,” MT-412 added.

“And that’s another reason not to like that blasted company,” Kionee grimaced then finally bit into her meal.


Having already performed every check and adjustment on the Viridian she could think of, Kionee lay back on her bunk and stared up at the ceiling. It’s been almost three standard hours. Where are the gizka? Her mind absently ran over the hyperspace calculations from Tatooine to Manaan. “As soon as I’m through Manaan customs,” she mused out loud with a smile, “I’m taking a swim.” She tossed from one side to the other, dimly aware of MT’s approaching footsteps.

By the time the droid clanked into the bunk room, she couldn’t pretend to sleep any longer. Sitting up, she asked, “So what did you find out, Emtee?”

“Gendoss says that the crate should have been delivered while you dined in the cantina. It was taken care of already,” MT-412 reported.

“I’d believe it was taken care of if there was a crate in our cargo bay or even sitting outside the Viridian waiting to be loaded,” Kionee said and rose to her feet, “But either Jor got lazy, mixed up, or it got stolen. Though, why anyone would still a crate full of gizka is beyond me. Since the shopkeeper doesn’t seem to know anything, I guess I have to track down the delivery boy.”


Fortunately for Kionee, he was lounging in the shade of the wall not far from her own hangar bay.

Kionee boldly strode towards him with MT-412 tottering behind her. “Jor Ul Kurax,” she said with as much force as her ever-youthful soprano voice could muster. The burly Aqualish nearly jumped in surprise and straightened up to meet her. Kionee stopped less than an arm span in front of him, drew herself up to her full height, and frowned down at him. Roshind always said, “if you act like you’re powerful, most people will believe that you are.” She sincerely hoped Jor bought her ruse. He was good-natured, but had proven to be lazy sometimes when not startled into working. Despite her height, the Aqualish was far stronger.

“Ah, you are,” Jor stammered, “Kionee Rinnh.” MT-412 translated into her earpiece, a useful alternative to the protocol droid’s mouth-speaker that her brother Cash dreamed up some years back.

“Yes I am,” she responded shortly, “And I’m told that you delivered a shipment of gizka from Gendoss Nrat to my ship earlier this afternoon.”

“Yes,” Jor said and shrunk back apologetically, “I am sorry about the crate. It broke while I loaded it onto you ship.”

Kionee raised an eyebrow. “There is no crate of gizka, broken or otherwise on my ship right now,” she retorted. “Where did you deliver my cargo, Jor?”

“To docking bay 32,” he replied after a moment of thought.

“My ship is in bay 23,” she exclaimed with earnest indigence.

“Huh,” Jor responded, “The human from that ship seemed to expect the cargo too.”

“Well, then,” Kionee started, “could you go get that crate and bring back to my ship?”

The Aqualish shuffled his feet and looked away from her, “It broke, so some might have gotten out. And I have someplace I need to be right now. You should go talk to them yourself.” Without waiting for Kionee to reply, he turned in the other direction and hurried away.

“Fantastic. I think I overdid it,” Kionee sighed. “Well, Emtee, I guess we’re going visiting.”

“Gizka breed quickly enough,” her droid said as they walked towards bay 32, “That the loss of a few for the zoo on Manaan should not be detrimental. Perhaps we can strike a deal with person whose custody they are currently in and share some of the little creatures.”

“At least,” Kionee agreed, “we don’t have to worry about running around someone’s ship trying to catch runaway gizka. The Selkath won’t miss them.”

A red painted “32” above the open gateway in front of them marked their destination. Kionee strode under the arching doorway and stopped dead in her tracks. A lithe dark-skinned woman rounded into the archway and nearly careened into her. “Watch it!” the woman scolded then continued out into Anchorhead with an orange-clad man and a young jedi trailing behind her. The sight of the ship docked there, however, made Kionee glance over the young woman’s lightsaber and forget about the Sith that were lying in wait only a few blocks away.

“The Ebon Hawk,” Kionee whispered and backed into the shadow of the archway, “That’s Davik Kang’s ship. Emtee, I don’t want to tangle with The Exchange. Not ever.”

“That would neither be safe nor good for business,” MT-412 agreed.

“Well, if The Exchange wants gizka, Davik can have them,” Kionee said quickly, “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Viridian. All the while, Kionee glanced nervously over her shoulder and wondered, what am I going to tell the Selkath?

Once back aboard, Kionee contact the Rinnh Imports headquarters. A little holo of her older sister Roshind appeared on the transmission deck. “Kionee!” she said smiling. “What’s up? I see you’re on Tatooine. Just finishing up a run?”

“Well, kind of,” Kionee replied, fidgeting. “Gendoss Nrat wanted me to take some gizka to Manaan for him, but they was mistakenly delivered to a ship with The Exchange.”

Even through the tiny holo, Kionee could see Roshind roll her eyes. “That’s not the first time we’ve encountered incompetent help on Tatooine,” she said, “So now you’re wondering what to do about it?”

“I’m not going to do anything about it,” Kionee said quickly. “I don’t want The Exchange on our backs.”

“Smart choice,” her sister agreed. “So then I take it you’re looking for another assignment?”

“Actually, I was wondering if there were any pickups scheduled on Manaan,” she clarified. “I’m going to head there tonight and apologize to the Selkath in charge of the zoo that those gizka were bound for.”

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” Roshind said.

“I know,” Kionee sighed, “But I feel like I owe Gendoss one. He keeps buying up all of our stuff, including the most expensive fruits, and even when business is slow. I don’t want this whole thing to make us look bad.”

“If you want to, I won’t stop you,” her sister replied slowly. “Just let me call up your travel records and the current pending pick-up requests. Maybe I can send you someplace you haven’t been lately.” The holo of Roshind bent down and seemed to be typing. “Holy reek!” she exclaimed, “You’ve been half way across the galaxy and back just in the last two weeks. You completed an entire sixteen-stop route in fourteen standard days. When do you even rest?”

Kionee shrugged, “I’ve got a nice bunk her on the Viridian. There wasn’t anything that interested me when I made my stops, so I just kept going.”

“You need to take a vacation, little one,” Roshind said firmly, “Why don’t you come back home for a while?”

“Roshind, you know that Nubia is less of a home to me than Drall or Rodia were,” she replied.

“But you’re just as Nubian as the rest of us,” her sister protested.

“I hardly remember living on Nubia at all; I was so little when Dad started moving me around with him. But, I still want to get off this dry, sandy rock and apologize to the Selkath,” Kionee persisted. “What if I promise you that I take a break for a couple days in Ahto City. There’s a little inn I like there, and I could use a good swim after this planet.”

“Fine,” Roshind said sternly, then cracked a smile and wagged a finger at Kionee, “But you can’t have a new assignment until you rest some.”

“Okay, you win,” Kionee giggled.

“Take it easy, baby sister,” Roshind said warmly. “And Emtee,” she called, “Make sure Kionee actually does get some rest.”

“Yes Mistress Roshind,” the droid twittered in response.

“I’ll let Dad know how you’re doing next time I catch him,” Roshind promised.

“Thanks!” Kionee said warmly, “Viridian out.” She clicked off the display and turned to the protocol droid. “Prepare for takeoff and check over my hyperspace calculations,” she ordered. “Let’s make for Manaan.”

“But Mistress Roshind said you should rest,” he argued.

“That can wait until Manaan, so head to the cockpit and strap in,” Kionee said, itching to be on the move again.


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