Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Partners

“This is the Pantoran Docking Authority,” a voice fuzzed across the comm, “Please state your identification and purpose.”

“Dis is da Biridian, requesteen permission do dock on—” Kionee Rinnh's words were interrupted by a violent sneeze.

“Bless you,” the docking officer said over the comm channel.

“Danks,” Kionee sniffed, then finished, “On Rinnh Impords business.”

“I see here that the Viridian has come to Pantora on eight previous occasions on similar business,” the man on the surface reported concisely, “Your paperwork is still in order. Though, I should remind you that Rinnh Imports will need to renew its trading permit in four standard months. You are cleared to dock at landing bay E-42. Representatives from Pantora's Interstellar Customs Agency will arrive shortly after your landing to inspect your cargo and inform you of our current tariff policies.”

“Danks,” Kionee sniffed again, “Biridian oud.” No sooner did she close the comm channel than she erupted into another fit of sneezing. Eyes watering, she rummaged in her vest pockets for a cotton handkerchief then blew her nose loudly.

Sitting in the co-pilots chair next to her, the petite Rodian snickered.

“Whad?” Kionee demanded, stuffing the wadded handkerchief back into her pocket before taking the controls of her ship again.

“You didn't have to do that yourself,” Veea Tewa, the Rodian woman, pointed out, “And embarrass yourself to Pantoran Immigration. I could have talked to them, or even Emtee. You know I can speak Basic when I want to.” Veea made a point of speaking only Rodese, and occasionally Huttese to fill in her partner's gaps in vocabulary, to Kionee. Kionee understood and even spoke both languages well enough, having spent many years of her childhood growing up on Rodia. Plus, it served them both well enough to have a 'private' language to chat in around the potential business partners.

Kionee shook her head stubbornly, “I'm da captain of dis ship. Dat's my job.” She wiped her nose absently on the back of her hand. The vast white planet Orto Plutonia and it's small moon, Pantora, loomed up ahead of the Viridian, filling the cockpit's viewport. Kionee squinted down at it, trying to remember just where on the moon's surface was its capital city.

“Beea, can you calculade a drajecdory for Pandora Cidy's space pord?” Kionee requested.

Veea snickered again. “Yes 'capdain',” she mocked playfully.

“Oh, leabe it be,” Kionee retorted crossly, “I didn'd ask for dis cold.”

“I'm the copilot,” Veea replied, “I have to give you a hard time. That's my job.”

This, at least made Kionee laugh—and then break into sneezes again.


Kionee stood hunched over a steaming pot of water in the cramped cabin that served as their mess, with her family protocol droid supervising beside her.

Veea strode into the doorway with a datapad in one hand and something small and white in the other. “Feeling any better, Blondie?” she asked.

Kionee straightened up to greet her, “A bit. My head feels a lot less gunky.”

“Mistress Kionee,” MT-412 scolded, “You must breathe the steam for five minutes straight.”

“I'll get back to it in a minute,” she reassured the droid, “What's up Veea?”

“Here, try this,” Veea tossed the small white thing she was holding at Kionee.

Catching it in her fumbling hands, Kionee stared down at the papery wrapped head. “Garleek root?” Kionee asked incredulously.

Veea threw up her arms in a shrug. “The old lady on Ord Mantell that sold these to us insisted that garleek, when eaten uncooked, was a great cold remedy.”

Kionee scrunched up her nose in disgust. She knew just how pungently spicy the harmless-looking white root vegetable was when raw.

“Don't blame me if you don't like it,” Veea said, “You can blame the old farmer lady. Though, you should give it a try anyway.”

“Fine,” Kionee submitted, “I will.”

“You can take that one out of my commission. It should cost about half a credit,” Veea said, then abruptly changed subjects, “I have been checking on market prices for our cargo and the usual Pantoran goods. Unfortunately, garleek has dropped three credits per kilogram in value since we left Ord Mantell. But, we will be able to recover from. Mantell renj's retail price here is very high, because few traders have come through with it lately. Plus, because of that new health food craze in the core, the demand for erris greens, which are prevalent here, has skyrocketed. It seems that the Pantorans are unaware of that rise in demand, so we should be able to get them a lot cost and charge a high rate when we hit up Corellia and Chandrila next week.” She held the datapad before her, tapping at it with her long, spindly fingers as she continued to rattle off numbers and speculations.

Kionee caught only half of it as she dug for her handkerchief again and blew her nose.

One of Veea's brow ridges raised, but she made no comment, only finishing with, “And we have arrived at a convenient time of morning such that we can start out right away in meeting with our contacts even this afternoon.”

“Where would I be without you, Veea?” Kionee beamed.

“Not making nearly as nice of a commission from these runs, that's for sure,” Veea teased.

“So, as soon as the—” Kionee sneezed again, “customs officers get here and approve of the cargo, we'll head out.”

“You don't seriously mean to go meet all of our clients with your nose running like 'fresher spigot?” Veea asked, tapping her fingers on the datapad again. “They'll worry that you've sneezed all over their produce.”

“Veea,” Kionee began to protest.

“Miss Veea is right in her suggestion,” MT put in politely, “You need to rest, Mistress Kionee, and you should not risk spreading this potentially foreign cold to the Pantorans. I should not have to remind you that Pantora is a frigid planet, and exposure to such climate would only worsen your condition.”

Kionee sighed. “Fine,” she submitted, then laughed lightly, “I really don't know what I would do without you Veea.”

“You hang around and deal with the customs officers, and I'll go meet with our clients,” Veea suggested. “In the mean time, you work on getting healthy.”

“Thanks Veea,” Kionee said warmly.

With that, Veea took her leave.

At MT's insistence, Kionee finished her steam bath and managed to tearfully crunch down three cloves of garleek before she could not handle any more. She even had time to brush out her hair and put it up into a neater ponytail before MT-412 announced that the Pantoran Interstellar Customs representatives had arrived.

MT politely ushered them up the loading ramp and Kionee met them in the cargo hold, trying to hide her sniffles. As with every other visit to Pantora, there were two of them. Both were blue-skinned and violet-haired Pantorans, though the woman's hair was much darker than the man's. As always, Kionee felt huge and ungainly next to these petite people.

“Hello,” Kionee began awkwardly.

“Welcome to Pantora,” the man extended a gloved hand for her to shake. Both he and the woman were dressed in sharply tailored blue uniforms with short gray woolen capes for extra warmth. She noticed by the name tag clipped to his lapel that his name was Chi Shori.

“Thank you, sir,” Kionee replied.

“You are Kionee Rinnh, the registered captain and pilot of the Viridian?” the woman asked. Her lapel sported the name Illa Rechia.

“Yes, that's me,” Kionee answered as formally as she could. She always hated customs inspections, but it couldn't be helped. Freighters such as herself were always suspect for smuggling. Even with her own spotless record of nearly five years and her family's good name, Kionee could not escape close scrutiny. She resented it. Why can't they just look at my list, charge me the import tax, and leave? I'm not a smuggler and I never will be!

“Good,” the woman nodded and jotted a note down on her pad, “Would you mind if we have a look around, Ms. Rinnh?”

“Yes, of course, right this way,” Kionee ushered them further inside.

“Can I see your cargo list?” the man requested, gesturing to the datapad in her hands.

“Uh, here,” she said, passing it to him while repressing a sneeze.

Following the list of reported goods intended for import, Kionee showed them around the spacious cargo hold. For a chamber of made from floor to ceiling of durasteel, the cargo hold always had a pleasantly fresh smell about it. It held three large refrigeration units and one freezer, which was unused and powered down for this run. Each unit could hold as many as twenty standard-sized crates of produce. After inspecting contents of the refrigerators, Kionee showed them the two moist lockers, used for produce that could not be allowed to dry out. Finally, she opened every crate and plasteel cylinder that was stacked in the back of the hold, those that did not need any kind of special care.

After Kionee finished her tour, the two customs officers spoke together in hushed Pantoran. Meanwhile, Kionee stood patiently in the middle of the hold with her arms crossed behind her back. When she thought they weren't looking, she made a quick wipe at her nose.

“There is one item on your list we have not yet seen,” the man said at last, addressing her again in Galactic Basic. Turning the pad towards her, he read, “Mantellian spices: hulli, shayo, and yellow snipp, one half kilogram each.”

“I don't—,” Kionee stopped herself. I don't remember taking anything like that from our last stop. It must have been something Veea bargained for right at the end. She never lets a good deal pass her by. She apologized quickly, “I'm sorry I missed that. I think that should be with the rest of the dry goods.” Kionee returned to the back of the hold and rummaged around. Sandwiched between two bulky crates of root vegetables, Kionee finally discovered a small, sealed box she didn't recognize. Pulling it out of the stacks, she presented it to the Pantorans, who broke the seal and lifted the lid. It appeared to contain several layers of stacked trays. The top layer held yellowish-green leaves that Kionee immediately recognized as yellow snipp.

The woman nodded satisfactorily and shut the lid again. The container let out a small hiss as it sealed itself again.

“I have calculated your import tax for this cargo to be 1275 credits,” the man informed her, handing back the datapad. “Please stop by the spaceport customs office later today to pay your fee.”

Kionee nodded, “Of course. I'll send my droid with the credits in a bit.”

Both Pantorans nodded. “Have a good day and enjoy your stay on Pantora,” the woman said before they both exited the ship.

As soon as they were gone, Kionee fished out her handkerchief and blew her nose loudly.

“Would you like some more garleek now, Mistress Kionee?” MT-412 offered.

“No thanks,” Kionee waved him off. She sat down onto one of the crates behind her. “Ugh. I'm glad that's over,” she admitted.

“You did very well, as always,” the droid praised, “You are always improving. Your father would be proud.”

“I hope so...” Kionee trailed off, staring at the small crate she had placed next to her. It caught her curiosity. Again, she broke the seal and opened it. She leaned down and took breathed in the scent of the snipp. Something about the smell, however, struck her as odd. She gingerly grasped the raised nob in the middle of the tray and lifted it out. She was surprised at how thin the tray was. It didn't account for the claimed half kilo of yellow snipp. The next tray held orange powdered hulli. Lifting it out as well, she found the second tray to be just as thin. The third tray, full of shayo, she hardly glanced at before lifting it out and placing it on the crate beside her. The three trays together added up to less than half of the volume of the little crate, and the powdery substance that filled the rest of container was unmistakable even to one who had never seen it before.

Kionee caught a gasp in her throat and slammed the lid of the box shut again. She stood abruptly to her feet, nearly knocking over the tray of shayo.

“What is it, Mistress Kionee?” the protocol droid asked.

“We have to go tell those officers!” she blurted.

“Tell them what?” MT asked.

“That someone has smuggled spice onto our hold!” Kionee exclaimed. She didn't want to admit it, but she knew exactly who could be responsible for the spice: Veea. No one else would have access to their records or know how to slip it past Kionee. Veea, who she trusted; her closest friend for these five years.

“So that they can arrest you or Veea?” MT-412 asked practically.

Kionee caught her breath. She could prove that it was not her fault, but Veea would not get off so easily. There was a general prejudice against Rodians in the galaxy. And, well, Veea just lived up to her race's reputation. If I turned this in, I would have to have some explanation as to how it got there.

“Emtee,” Kionee started slowly, but her heart pounded, “What is the Pantoran punishment for smuggling spice?”

“Twelve years imprisonment and a fine of two hundred thousand credits,” MT-412 replied.

Shaking, Kionee sunk back down onto the crate and sniffed loudly. “I can't do that to Veea, no matter what she's done,” she murmured, conflicted, “But I can't let her break the law either. Maybe—maybe this is just all one big misunderstanding. Maybe she didn't know that she was given spice instead of spices.”

Kionee was still staring dejectedly down at the container of spice when Veea strode back up the loading ramp and into the cargo hold.

Rubbing her hands together in a self-satisfied manner, Veea announced proudly, “I've just met with our contact at Arveen Foods and made the deal of the season. You should see these numbers I got them to agree to!” She waved a thin datapad in Kionee's direction.

But Kionee didn't care. She pointed to the small container at her side and asked dryly, “Veea, what's this?”

Veea lost all of her animation. She slid the datapad back into her pouch as she said softly, “You weren't supposed to find that.”

“Then you knew about it?” Kionee demanded, snapping the lid shut again.

“Of course I knew about it,” Veea replied, “I'm the one who took it on.”

“And you didn't tell me about it?” Kionee rose angrily to her feet.

“Of course I didn't!” Veea almost laughed.

Stunned, Kionee sunk back onto the crate behind her again. Veea knowingly brought spice onto my ship under my nose. “Someone bribed you to do this,” Kionee assumed meekly, hopefully.

“I don't do anything unless I want to,” Veea retorted, putting her hands on her hips, “You know that.”

“Veea, I thought that you—If it was those customs officers who found this stuff and not me,” Kionee stammered, horrified, “Veea, you could have gotten me thrown in jail!”

“And how many times have you almost gotten me killed with your stupidly altruistic blockade runs?” Veea demanded, “I didn't sign up for that.”

“But you're still alive,” Kionee protested, “And you never once even got seriously injured.”

“And you're not in a Pantoran Prison waiting for your daddy to bail you out,” Veea retorted, “Still, we're hardly even. You've put me through plenty enough dangers without even asking me if I value my skin, Blondie.”

“If you haded co-piloding for me so much, you could have quid a long dime ago!” Kionee blurted, tears beginning to sting at the corners of her eyes. She sniffed loudly. The gunk in her head was coming back.

“Not until I had a better job in hand. I'm not about to go unemployed for even a month,” Veea replied coldly, “Oh, come on, Kionee, you don't honestly think this is the first time I've smuggled goods.”

“No,” Kionee gasped, almost at a whisper, “Since when habe you—no. I don'd wand do know. Veea, I drusded you!”

Veea made no reply. She just crossed her arms over her chest and stared down at Kionee.

“Why?” Kionee whispered as she held back tears.

“You shouldn't even have to ask,” Veea retorted, throwing her hands into the air, “Have you every once, in that little head of yours, considered what I wanted with my life? I've told you a thousand times at least that I want a ship of my own. If you were smart, you could have easily seen that, even with the great commissions I always pull, there is no way my salary will ever earn me enough for that. Not without some other work on the side, anyway. I don't have a rich daddy like yours that just buy me a brand krifing new ship on my next birthday.”

“If you had dold me, I would habe asked Dad do gibe you a raise or sometheen,” Kionee started to rise.

“I don't want your pity or your dad's,” Veea snapped and clenched her hands in front of her, “I want to earn my way with my own two hands. I don't want my life handed to me on a silver platter.”

“You're suggesdeen I don'd deserbe whad I habe?” Kionee asked angrily.

“By the Core, you don't!” Veea retorted, “Sure, you're a good girl, Blondie. You're generous—too generous for this line of work, if you ask me. Do you know how many times I've had to sit by and watch you get cheated by our clients? How many times I've rescued you from it? The only reason you got this cushy job is because you are the baby of the man who owns this krifing company, not because you're qualified. Your daddy loves you enough to trust an idiot with some of his best customers.”

Kionee stiffened up and clenched her fists. “Ged oud,” she hissed.

“Make me, you softie,” Veea taunted, “I don't think you can do it.”

Kionee hardly knew what she was doing. One moment she was facing down Veea in the cargo hold and the next she was in Veea's bunk cabin, seizing her belongings by the armful. She stormed back past Veea and flung Veea's things down the ramp.

“Careful! You might break that!” Veea protested, but Kionee blindly ignored her and went back for another armload.

She returned with an overflowing footlocker, the last of Veea's belongings, and threw that down the ramp as well, its contents spilling everywhere as it tumbled down. The Rodian woman already stood below, frantically collecting stray clothes, diskettes, and other trinkets. As Kionee turned back again to scour the Viridian for more signs of her copilot, Veea called, “Enough, Kionee!”

“Id's nod enough undil ever lasd sdain of yours is wiped from this ship!” Kionee spat, “I neber wand do see your face again!”

“Come on Kionee,” Veea started encouragingly and stepped back up onto the loading ramp.

“No, stop,” Kionee warned, “You'll neber sed food on the Biridian again. You may habe been my copilod, but this is my ship.”

“Kionee,” Veea protested earnestly.

“No!” Kionee exclaimed, tears coming to her eyes again, “After all thad, I can'd forgive you. Veea, I thoughd you were my friend, like a sisder. I drusded you. And you used me, hading this whole thing the whole dime. I undersdand you now. You think I'm spoiled and sdupid. Fine! Think thad way, bud get off my ship!” she roared.

Veea gingerly took too steps backward onto the ferecrete ground.

“Excuse me,” a petite Pantoran man in the mustard uniform of docking police jogged up to the Viridian, “Is there a situation here?”

Kionee pointed a shaking finger towards Veea and accused, “She's jusd broughd—” She stopped herself. What am I doing? Should Veea go to jail for this? She did break the law...and my trust.

“She has just brought what?” the man asked suspiciously.

Veea stared knowingly up at Kionee.

“She's jusd broughd me her resignation,” Kionee swallowed hard, trying to check her fury and hurt. I could tell him now, and Veea would pay for all she's done. She hesitated, then continued, “She's just quid her job with Rinnh Impords and I'm helping her mobe her things.”

The Pantoran security officer glanced between the two young women and the belongings strewn all over the ground, before nodding curtly. “I see,” he said, “Call me if you are in any need of assistance.” With that, he strode away again, checking over his shoulder at them every few moments.

“I will be sure thad headquarders hears of your resignation,” Kionee said with as much forced calm as she could, “And thad you are paid your dues.” She added bitterly, “Including the commission you earned doday.”

“Thanks,” Veea replied coldly, “Now what about those spices?”

“Whad aboud dem?” Kionee demanded, suddenly angry again. “If you think I'm going to led you smuggle all thad ondo Pandora, you're wrong!”

“Then what are you going to do with it?” Veea asked sarcastically, “Sell it?”

“Shud up!” Kionee snapped, “And go away.”

“I will once you give me my goods,” Veea retorted hotly.

“Nod a chance!” Kionee burst out. Veea moved to storm back up onto the ship again, but Kionee was faster. She slammed the button on the wall that retracted the loading ramp. Veea made a grab for it, but it slid away.

“If I don't deliver that, I'll—” Veea was suddenly panicked, but Kionee ignored her as she slipped out of sight. “It's a krifing waste of money!”

“I don'd care any more!” she cried and the cargo hold clanked shut, “Id's always money with you isn'd id?” With a sigh, Kionee crumpled onto the floor of the hold right where she stood. Hugging her knees to her chest, she dissolved into sobs.

MT-412 shuffled over to her and patted a stiff-mechanical hand on her shoulder, saying comfortingly, “There there, Mistress Kionee.”


The Viridian floated deep in space, far from any known system. MT had finished all of their business on Pantora while Kionee remained on the ship with an endlessly running nose and bouts of crying that she couldn't keep in check. They left the system as quickly as they could. Kionee managed to break atmosphere and jump to hyperspace with just her protocol droid as a replacement copilot. But it was not the same. Nothing was.

After a day in hyperspace, however, she seemed to have run out of tears to cry.

Crouching above the Viridian's airlock, Kionee gazed forlornly at the small container shut between the two doors below her. With a sigh, she keyed in the command to open the outer hatch. A warning in bold red text flashed across the screen, but Kionee hit the override. The hatch was hardly half way open when the little crate was sucked out, spilling a fine trail of spice in its wake.

Now it will be no one's.

Kionee watched it fall way, sniffing then wiping her nose on her sleeve. Numbly, she closed the hatch again and stood. The bronze protocol droid was watching her.

“Are you alright, Mistress Kionee?” MT-412 asked.

She sighed, “I miss Veea.”


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