Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

The Road to Rediscovery
Part 24 - Not the Best of Circumstances

Kionee Rinnh stepped out of her apartment and locked the door behind her with a contented sigh.

Her apartment and her door.

It had been nearly six months since the Telos Restoration Project had granted her the small apartment on Citadel Station in return for regularly hauling cannoks, flipdarters, and shrubbery. The run from Onderon to Telos took her two days of hyperspace travel and granted her two more days of holiday on either end. During those two days on Telos, she had only to briefly supervise the Ithorians who unloaded her ship, then meet with their leader to take orders for her next run. The rest of the time was hers, and it baffled her.

The regular runs between two and only two planets, the free time, and the apartment were something entirely new to her. At twenty-seven, Kionee had never before owned her own place and never before had such a predictable job. Her freighter, the Viridian, had been her home and her narrow bunk in the cabin her bed. After growing up hopping from planet to planet with her father, then working ten years freighting produce for the family business all across the galaxy, Kionee had not even considered wanting anything more.

But now that she had stability—and importance—she couldn't go back.

At first, Kionee hadn't known what to do with the studio apartment. The room was little more than a durasteel box with a few wide windows that looked down on the distorted landscape below. It came with a bed, a dresser, a table, and one chair. The blank, steely walls of the Viridian had never bothered her before, but she soon found the itch to decorate. She hung pictures of some of her favorite places in the galaxy—the Nubian planes, Ahto City, Drallish Meadows, Rodian jungles, and Telos before the war, among others—along with tacky posters from some of her favorite movies and holodramas. She soon made a point of bringing fresh flowers all the way from Iziz to put in the blue glass vase on her table every time she made the trip.

Citadel Station Resident Module 034 C-4 was hers, Kionee Rinnh's, and she celebrated it every time she arrived back 'home.'

Her apartment lacked a kitchen, but that was fine by her. She didn't know how to cook well anyway. Citadel Station already housed a number of cantinas and two or three up-scale restaurants. Sometimes Kionee treated herself to one of the restaurants—she could easily afford it on her generous salary—but tonight she felt like something simpler.

Kionee made her way down the residential block and smiled at the handful of neighbors she passed. She knew the names of only a few, but she did recognize most of the residents of her module by now. It was a pleasant place for everyone from young families to freighter pilots like her to live. The Ithorians hadn't even left the steel and re-bar station lifeless. Trees and trickling little fountains lined the center of all the residential corridors.

The rail shuttle was at the station when she arrived at the far end of the module. Kionee ducked inside with a few other passengers. They were undoubtedly heading out for dinner as well. She settled into an empty seat and soon the doors slid shut.

The shuttle car raced along its track, through the scaffolding of the massive space station-in-progress. Soon there would be enough space to house all of the Telosians who desperately wanted to come back home, even if it was only to orbit above their home planet until the restoration was complete.

A transfer and one more shuttle ride later, Kionee arrived in Entertainment Module 042. Disembarking, the crowd there was far more lively and diverse than in her peaceful neighborhood. The nearby docking bays made it popular with spacers who were passing through. She wove her way through the milling crowd of colorful aliens and humans to the cantina. Her height and broad shoulders made it easy to jostle her way through knotted crowds.

The cantina itself was just as lively as the streets outside. The loud conversation in a multitude of languages made Kionee feel right at home. The snappy music from a band of three Biths and a Bothan put her in good spirits.

Kionee settled down at the bar and hailed the Zabrak barkeep, “What's the special tonight, Irkun?”

“Corellian-style boiled tirfus root stew,” he replied without enthusiasm.

“Fine, give me a bowl of that and one of those Mrenjii juices,” Kionee ordered.

“Just juice?” the Zabrak asked skeptically.

“Just juice,” Kionee answered firmly.

He shrugged and walked off to fill her order. Soon, she had a bowl of brownish-yellow stew in front of her and a tall glass of frothy, pink juice in her hand. The first spoonful of the soup burnt the roof of her mouth, but soon she was enjoying its rather bland flavors.

As Kionee sipped at her dinner, she noticed an emerald-green Rodian sitting two seats down staring at her. The smallish Rodian wore baggy pants, a large jacket, and a conspicuous weapons belt. It was the typical attire of an off-world Rodian pilot.

In the sidelong glances Kionee took, something struck her about the Rodian. She had spent enough time on Rodia and with her own co-pilot to know females from male Rodians. Despite the shaved head and the clothes, the Rodian watching her was clearly a woman. “Come to think of it...” she murmured and put down her spoon. She turned to the Rodian woman and asked, “Veea, is that you?”

“I wondered how long it would take you to figure that out,” she replied in Rodian with an amused spark in her eyes.

“Veea!” Kionee exclaimed and slid herself and her dinner down two stools to sit next to her old friend, “It's been so long! How are you?” She reached out to wrap the Rodian woman in a hug, but when Veea didn't reciprocate, she awkwardly shifted her gesture to warmly pat her on the back instead.

“I've been fine. Busy,” Veea answered, “Employed.”

Kionee tried to ignore the pointed sarcasm in her last remark. “I think it's been about eight years since I last saw you,” she said eagerly.

“Since our partnership was terminated,” Veea added her own clarification dryly. “What are you doing around Telos? I didn't think Rinnh Imports had anything to gain by trading on this dead rock.”

“I left the company a few months ago,” Kionee answered hesitantly.

“You too then?” Veea replied.

Veea's directness was making her uncomfortable in a way it hadn't during their time flying together when the Viridian was newly christened. She clarified, “I'm working with the TRP now. I know the Republic admiral who works with the Telos Security Force and one day he out and asked me to join in the effort. I guess they were really stretched for freighter pilots willing to haul creatures and plants—mostly the creatures—from Onderon. I guess I wanted some change, so I took him up on it.”

“I'm surprised your daddy let you go so easily,” Veea commented.

“Oh, Dad's glad to see me really finding my own place now, even if it's not with the family business,” Kionee replied, “I mean, I'm almost twenty-eight. I should be able to pick my own job by now.”

“I'm still surprised he let you,” Veea mused, “I've seen what you TRP pilots have been bringing in. Freighting in cannoks is almost as bad as your blockade running against the Mandalorians. Only this time, you've got the threat on the inside instead of in the skies.”

“It's my ship, Veea, not dad's, even if he gave it to me,” Kionee said a little defensively, “I can do with it what I want to. And I want to help Telos grow again. I can't stand looking down at that dead planet, thinking that it used to be home for billions of people, plants, and animals. I just feel like I have to do something about it.”

“You and your altruism,” Veea muttered, “It might get you killed one day.”

“You think being too nice will kill me?” Kionee snapped, but quickly smoothed over her emotions. She and Veea had never seen eye-to-eye on what was really important in life. There was no point in starting an argument with an old friend, even if their last parting had been less than friendly. “What have you been up to anyway, Veea?” Kionee asked deliberately.

“Working, shipping. I don't think you really want to know the details,” Veea answered tersely.

“You don't think I'd approve?” Kionee half-joked.

“Did you ever approve of smuggling?” Veea drummed her spindly fingers on the bar, “Gfersh! That was the whole reason you threw me off your stinking ship in the first place! Over a few honest credits earned.”

“I don't call money earned through illegal channels 'honest credits,'” Kionee snapped.

“You wouldn't,” Veea sneered.

“There's nothing honest about it,” Kionee continued uninterrupted, “Smuggling disrupts the normal channels of trade, of import-export. It takes away from legitimate commerce. Plus, it puts illegal, harmful, and dangerous things into circulation. There are good reasons for the laws against the stuff smugglers bring in.”

“I would bet you that at least a quarter of the spacers in this cantina are smugglers,” Veea said lowly, “I can vouch for at least that many. I'd watch what you say about the profession, Blondie.”

Kionee straightened up in her stool. Inside, however, her heart began to race. Although Veea's entire half of the conversation had been in Rodian, Kionee's speech flowed in and out of Galactic Basic. She certainly had said enough in Basic to offend an eves-dropping, self-important smuggler.

“You know, Rinnh Imports would take you back any time,” Kionee offered feebly, “and give you another chance.”

“Thanks but no,” Veea replied, confident that she now had the upper-hand, “This weapons racket pays far better than you and your fruit ever did.”

“Weapons racket?” Kionee blurted in Rodian, “You can't be serious! TSF has been doing their best to keep civilian weaponry to a minimum. Unaccounted-for explosives on a space station are dangerous!”

“And getting them in is tricky,” Veea bobbed her head proudly, “So I am paid very well by my clients.”

“Veea,” Kionee hissed, “You can't be doing this.”

“Oh?” the Rodian cocked her head to the side, “And who are you to tell me that?”

“I'll... I'll...” Kionee stammered.

“You'll what? Turn me in?” Veea mused. She looked Kionee over, from the nervously clenched fists to her quivering legs. After a pause, she observed, “No, you won't. You may be good friends with TSF, but you can't turn me in. You couldn't then either.”

Kionee bit her lip.

“See?” Veea laughed, “And now I'm free to go about my business as usual.” She stood, placing some credits on the bar for her meal. With a casual wave, she said, “It was good seeing you, Kionee. I'll catch you around.”

“It would be better if you didn't,” Kionee managed to say before Veea disappeared back into the cantina crowd and slipped away.

Kionee turned back to her dinner and sighed heavily. Taking up the spoon again, she idly stirred it around in the stew. Chunks of root vegetables and meat floated to the surface. “I wish Veea hadn't changed so much,” she sighed to herself, “But then again, she really hasn't changed at all. It was always money with her. I thought, after all those blockades we ran together and all those people we helped, maybe she changed her mind. But, I guess not. I really should report what she's doing here, but...”

In the end, smuggler or no, Veea had been her friend.

- Next Part -


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