Not every person who can fly is a qualified pilot and has the bit of paper to prove it. Pretty much anyone can buy a ship, learn the basics and run the sky. That being said, when you think about it, this makes space travel a little bit scary.
When my father figured out that I was really serious about learning to fly he made sure it was done right, no messing about. The pilots he hired for the docking bay were all well trained and had their papers. They were qualified to teach me and they did.
Because I started out so young and, I suppose looking back now, because of my unique talents, I had a leg up on most people from around Mos Eisley. What made my life even more interesting was Jyrki, who seemed to know everything there was to know about pulling ships apart and putting them back together. He had told me that every good pilot knew enough about the ships they flew to patch them up when things went wrong, but the best pilots in the galaxy knew how to build their ships from scratch. I still don’t know how serious he was when he said this but I took this advice to heart. I liked ship mechanics and jumped on any excuse to be near him. So for me it was a win win thing to learn all I could about ships and how they worked in and around my time spent flying. I never did find out where Jyrki learned to be a mechanic or for that matter a slicer.
I kept mulling over Thrawn’s words to me during incident with the Doxy Jane about me being a slicer. I had never thought about it that way before. It seemed to me to be a natural extension of knowing how your ship ran. Jyrki had spent hours teaching the finer arts of ship board computers, the nav systems, the life support systems and the general how things work. I didn’t have his natural talent for it but I was a quick study and good at mathematics. Plus for reasons I could never explain, I was damned good at remembering things almost perfectly. I doubted I could slice into just any mainframe of land based computer, but I knew my way around ship’s onboard computers much better than most.
Most space craft have the same basic design in the major part of the galaxy. It’s really only when you head out into the Unknown Regions or the real backwater areas that you start to see really huge design changes and some pretty funky engine types. But really most ships come from the same places either the Kuat Drive Yards or the Sienar Fleet Systems and the Corellian Engineering Corporation. Most ship components come from one of these yards, and most ship designs follow a set list of standards. That is when they are manufactured… what the pilots and owners do to these ships after they come off the assembly line, well now, that’ a whole other game altogether.
When it came time for me to make my solo flight, the last step before getting my class 1 pilot’s papers, my father suggested the milk run that we did once a week from Tatooine to Nar Shadda. It was an easy route but a profitable one for the various docking bays and delivery ships that did it. Delivering goods, mail and odds and ends mostly stuff on the up and up. I had accompanied various pilots and my father on many many occasions so I knew this ride inside and out. It should have been an easy trip but as my luck would have it, it wasn’t.
It started off just fine, I checked my ship, and got on the go. Set the co ordinates and began. About half way through the hyperspace jump the ship bounced out into sub light with a bang. The Black Pearl was an HWK light freighter. My father’s secondary transport ship, used for quick runs and light transports. I had not been kidding when I had told Thrawn I had cut my teeth on this ship class. She was a reliable ship type that could be flown by one person, but unlike the Ahnkeli ’Su’udelma, the Pearl had not been remodified and was not armed to the teeth. Pearl was a rust bucket kept in the air by chewing gum, engineer’s tape and a whole lot of prayer. There was always something falling apart on her, and even though Jyrki and I had gone over and over the engines at least three times before my run something still went wrong. This time it was the hyperdrive motivator. It blew and I was stuck.
The first few minutes in a crisis usually say a lot about how a person will react in a situation. I swore a lot using words that, had my father been there and heard, well he would have blushed. Then I went to see if I could figure what the problem was and fix it. Once I found out the hyperdrive motivator had blown there were a few more choice words and the insane desire to make a cup of tea. First things first was to get out of the hyperspace lane, so with some more cursing I kicked in the sublight engines and moved off the shipping lane. Then because I did not have a spare motivator handy I sent messages to the receiving dock that due to engine trouble I would be late. Once all the official procedures were out of the way I went back to the engine room and tried to figure out if there was anyway to salvage this situation without calling for help.
As luck would have it I didn’t have to think about it for long. Just as I was drinking my second cup of tea and browsing through the cargo I was carrying to make sure that nothing was perishable the proximity alarm went off. There was a YT-1300 freighter stopped just off starboard. I ran a quick scan and sighed. It was either bloody pirates or mercs, nothing good that was for sure. They asked if I needed assistance and I told them what I needed. They said they had the part. I told them what I could pay them and they seemed happy enough. It was all lies and I was in trouble. The scan of their ship told me that there were four humans on board and no other life forms. I was pretty certain they had scanned me and knew it was just me and a boat load of cargo ripe for the taking.
Jyrki had always told me that when all the odds were stacked against you and it looked like you were dead in the water, change all the ship codes and add a few surprises. He had even gone so far as to drill me on what we would jokingly call the JEPP, Jyrki emergency procedures protocol. I had never though I would ever have to use them. Now, while the captain of the YT-1300 was busy prepping his crew for my demise and the take over of my ship I was busy getting the ship ready for them.
After a few radio calls back and forth they decided that three crew members against me was fine and when we docked it was all shake hands and make nice and no spare part. That, the captain told me was actually in the engine room in their ship and I needed to make sure it was the right one. Their engineer would show me the way. Blah, blah blah. Their engineer was twice my size, armed to the teeth and not very talkative. As soon as I stepped through the dock into their ship the doors to the boats closed. I knew this would happen but I acted surprised. When I went to get back to my ship that engineer showed me his strength. I put on a brave face. I didn’t feel the need to show big and ugly how terrified I truly was. Instead I just clung to something that Jyrki had said to me after one particularly bad day.
‘Mouse, when all else fails yer gotta remember, yer a pretty little thing and men like pretty things so use what yer’ve got!”
So I did. I turned on the tears, which wasn’t that hard, made as though I was going to pass out and started to whimper while batting my eyes at this guy who suddenly went from thug number one to prince charming with bad body odour. I poured out a sob story about having to work for my uncle, that it was his ship, that I would be so dead if I lost it .…. More blah blah blah. It kept the engineer occupied for as long as it was needed. I was ready when the radio call came through. The engineer was rough and mean when he got back.
“Why ain’t the life support working?” he asked wrenching my arm.
“I don’t know?” I whimpered.
“Why don’t the doors work any more?” he snarled.
“I don’t know do I look like a mechanic?” I whined.
He grunted something rude and went to try and break the seal locks on the airlock between ships. I moved slowly away and vanished into the shadows. On board the Pearl, they had about two hours of air left, maybe and no amount of messing with the doors would get them open, only I, or a slicer, could do that. I was banking on finding emergency suits on board and sure enough they were right were they were supposed to be. While the engineer was frantically trying everything he could think of to open the air locks I was busy getting into a space suit and being careful with the small piece of cargo I had taken from my ship. Lucky for me this special little treat had been on board.
The comm system in the suit allowed me to patch into the both ships and my guess is they were a little surprised to hear my voice.
“Captain Sonnar, by now I guess you realise that you are a bit stuck?” I said making my way to the engine room. I still needed a Hyperspace Motivator.
“What did you do you little b….”
I smiled as I cut him off. “Careful captain by my calculations you don’t have a whole lot of air left and it’s getting cold over there isn’t it. You’ll notice that I don’t have atmo suits or any spare oxygen so you don’t have a lot of time left. Care to hear my proposal?”
There was a nice silence then, “Okay, let's hear it.”
“I’m going to take the motivator you offered me and I will leave you the credits we discussed. I will release the locks and allow you to come back on board your ship provided you do the same for me.” I said. They did have a couple of spare motivators and I decided that for the trouble these guys were putting me through two for the price of one sounded about right. The credit chip I left in the box could be tracked and traced the minute they used it.
“That's it?” he asked.
“Yes.” I remember I had smiled when I had said that because I knew they would be thinking I was just too gullible. Unfortunately for them I had had Jyrki drilling me on the evils of space travel for years and my own experiences with men of this kind made me just a tad wary.
“It’s a deal then.” He said.
“Call off your pet!” I said making my way back to the docking lock and hoping that this all worked out. I set down on the floor by my feet the two round leathery looking balls I had swiped out of my cargo bay. The engineer looked at me in the atmo suit and made to move towards me.
“Tell your engineer to back off or you all die.” I said. “I have nothing to lose.”
The captain did as I asked and the engineer backed right off. I stepped on the two little bladders I had brought with me and made my way to the docking hatch. Ran the code and let the door open. As I had suspected they would, the three of them came charging through with blasters ready.
“I wouldn’t use those blasters, if I were you.” I said.
“Why not, you stupid little girl?”
“You smell that?” I asked. I couldn’t because the atmo suit was thankfully protecting me.
The men sniffed the air and made faces.
“That is Callion Gas, a little insurance on my part. It's not overly deadly, I don’t think, but if you fire a blaster it will ignite and your ship will blow up taking you along with it and if you breathe it too long I am told it will damage your brain.”
“Never heard of it.” The man growled.
I shrugged. “No one usually lives to talk about it.” I said. “Takes a quick vent to get it out of the ship, usually limited exposure isn’t that deadly. But I don’t know how long ‘limited’ is.”
“What do you want?” he snarled.
“To return, unharmed, to my ship and for you to leave me alone.” I said. “You can’t vent without taking precautions and I have the only atmo suit that still works, which means, you’d all have to leave the docking back and go to the bridge which can be shut off while you do a purge.”
The men looked at each other and I could tell the stench was getting to them. Their engineer had already thrown up once.
”Deal, now get the hell off my ship!” the captain yelled.
“Weapons down and move away first.”
They did as I asked and I got off their ship. Disengaged the dock, reset my ship and started up life support again. It didn’t take me long to get the new hyperspace motivator installed and even less time for me to get on the way again. I did have to jettison the atmo suit right away though because while Callion Gas was everything I had said it was, those little brown bladders were actually scent gland sacs from male dewbacks and the smell was really hard to get rid of. I didn’t want to go home and find every female dewie around trying to jump on me because, well, I smelled good to them. The Hutts loved these things and considered them a great delicacy. No wonder Hutts had very very bad breath.
I made it to Nar Shaddaa with surprisingly minimal time loss and when I got back home I was a certified pilot. I never told anyone what had happened, not even Jyrki. He had raised an eyebrow at the new hyperdrive motivator and the lingering odor of Dewback scent but he had not actually asked.
As I sat in my own ship waiting for Lianna to show up I thought about that trip. Maybe I wasn’t devious and perhaps I did trust a little too much sometimes, but I wasn’t quite the wide eyed sand urchin Thrawn seemed to think I was either. I shook my head at that thought. No one was ever exactly what they appeared to be, not ever, not even me.
Lianna arrived right on time. She was dressed in elegant traveling clothes and had one travel bag. She asked for permission to board and called me captain with a slight curl to her lip. I shook my head, I wasn’t actually a captain but if she wanted to call me that to piss me off, fine. I showed her where she could rest if she wanted to and stow her bag. I took her on the quick and dirty tour of the ship showing her the small galley and the common area.
“I don’t cook I’m afraid, so you are on your own if you get hungry. The galley is well stocked and I assume you do know how to operate the stove?”
“Do you fly?” I asked as I showed her where all the food was.
“I am a dancer. I don’t need to fly a ship.” She told me disdainfully.
“Right.” I nodded but I had watched her as she had looked around my ship. Followed her eyes went as they looked about. They were the eyes of someone who knew what to look for on a ship. She didn’t look at the décor or comment on the rough looks of the ship. She looked at the ship’s lines. She looked for the strengths and the weak spots. She looked at the small modifications that were visible to those who knew what to look for. I knew this because she looked at the same things I had looked at when I had first come on board and I knew she was lying to me.
“Well, you might want to strap in I am taking off now.” I said once the tour was over. She nodded and took the co pilot's seat. Her eyes watched me carefully, covertly as I went through the departure routine. It was a little unnerving and it made me wonder just exactly who she really was. While she moved like a dancer, dressed like a dancer even acted like a prima dancer but she watched me the way people do when they are assessing your strengths and weaknesses, when they are sizing you up for a fight. I ignored it, but that niggling feeling in the pit of my stomach said things were not how they seemed.