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Tell Cho

THE STARSHIP

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ACT I: The Mission of a Lifetime


"For as long as our kin does not know freedom, neither shall we." - Tell Cho


Miwù Shanmà, Ossus - Mid Year 3 of the reign of King Cho


“It almost reminds one of home, eh? To the Royal Caves.”

Mazhen Lù grunted in assent as he and his second entered the skiff, which resembled nothing more than a small boat with a dirigible hull attached. The driver, an older Gossam with silver earrings trumpeted a laugh.

“Ah,” the old one said in agreement. “My wife, rest her soul, and I lived in a dry canyon and range like this back when. Much more technology then, though.”

He sighed, somewhat wistfully.

“Didn’t get us nowhere good, but sometimes I do miss the luxuries.”

The Misty Mountains where the Gossam in Exile had made themselves their headquarters was in the process of waking up. On the more distant mountain sides, the terraced pastures were already being opened up to huoyen by their herders. The street and plaza lamps began to dim, waiting for the mist-reflected sunlight to begin their charging cycles, and the food stands were lit and smelling heavenly in preparation for the morning when those who did not have the skill to cook or the good fortune to live with someone who did.

“We weren’t hatchlings then, old one,” Xûi laughed. “Lù here fought a battle or two despite the fact he was too young for it. I was merely a little thing trying to earn a belt or two for a pretty one.”

The old skiff drived hissed in amusement as he used his pole to push them from the mooring.

“Hello!” he shouted, bragging, taunting, and warning all at once. “Hello! First fare! Away!”

“Lucky bastard!” another driver on the other side of the canyon shouted back. Others joined in. “You’re clear!”

“Going to meet with the King?” the driver asked, satisfaction in his tone. All drivers were incurable gossips. “Be careful; he has that magic the Jedi have. He could command your tongues to spill the truth and you’d still think that you were weaving lies!”

It was a point of both fear and pride that their King could use the Force like Jedi could.

“Yes, yes, we’ve heard this before,” Xûi yawned. “Give us another frightful tale for variety, please.”

“We’re with the Fleet,” Lù said, a small smile on his face. “Suppose that we’re being called in to do some auditing, or being given another week on dirt. Like as not we’ll be speaking with Jong In.”

“If only! Zhen would be ecstatic,” Xûi laughed. “She wants stability before the next eggs. I don’t think she understands that things are only going to get busier.”

“What ship in the Fleet?”

“Hu Che Er,” Xûi answered, waving to a child that was yawning on a bridge. “A repurposed Munificent.”

“The signalmen!” the driver said. “You would get long cruises.”

“You’re telling me? Ah, I’m almost forty five, and I want some dirt time as much as those in first spring! Zhen, my wife, she has aged as if she hasn’t. She is beautiful.”

“You’ve started it now,” Lù grunted to the driver. “He won’t stop until we get there.”

“He’s in love,” the driver said philosophically, with a smile and light shrug.



It was still dawning when they arrived, and the caves were practically empty. The guards outside the caves saluted as they walked past; Lù nodded while Xûi lazily aped the gesture.

“Ah, don’t look now, but the attendant is making eyes at you,” Xûi chirped in the amusement. “I wonder if Fù Li would appreciate that.”

Lù ignored him.

“Mazhen Lù,” he said. The attendant bobbed her head and gestured for another to take her place.

“Everyone else has arrived,” she said brightly, standing and moving from behind her desk. She gestured and led them down to the conference caves. “I’m up early today, but thankfully I don’t have to keep such hours regularly. What could be so important to have wake up before the sun does?”

He remained quiet as Xûi made conversation cheerily, asking after family and hobbies; and they went deeper into and then turned to follow the curve of the Mountain, only stopping finally at the mouth of a room with large, windows that showed the still brightening sky.

King Cho was sitting on a wooden stool, looking tired and older than his fifty years. With him at the long table sat five other Gossam. Lù and Shûi stopped and gathered themselves for a moment, guaging the situation that had become more than they’d expected and was becoming more with each passing moment.

“I recognise Chui Banme, and that's her second Ge Fulao. Is that Tser Jiù? I don’t recognize the bureaucrat.”

“You wouldn’t. Admiral Tso Wan,” Lù breathed, “was just recently promoted. I read the updates they send us. You should too.”

Xui clucked, laughing in slight apprehension, and with reason he had to admit. Tser Jiù was a legend of the Merchant Fleet; at forty-seven he was almost as old as King Cho and had just as much if not more fleet experience. He commanded a modified Recusant that had more action to its name than a third of the Fleet, and that was excluding his time serving with Cho in the CSA. And a new admiral on top of that?

Jiù was known to be a good sort -- not the kind of commander to be too harsh or unsociable. But only two weeks ago he'd been heading out near Ansion, or as close to Ansion as he wanted to get to coordinate the Fleet and keep an eye out for scavengers and pirates. That sort of mission usually went for three months.

A second broke off from the quietly murmuring group, stalking over to them gracefully and bowing.

“Mazhen Lù. Xûi Danjo. Good to see you. How're the eggs?”

“Hatched, I'm afraid. Seven years going now. Kan Dúojì, second of Fuchang?”

She nodded, and Xui rolled his wrist at Lu's stubborn reserve in public. Dúojì bobbed her head in commiseration.

“We docked with Dun two days ago. Had a rough stretch through the Neutral passage. It's worse than anyone predicted,” she said, watching Lu make his way to the others gathered around the fire pit. Xûi tilted his head in question.

“Imperials,” she elaborated. “They are patrolling in larger convoys. It doesn't help that those Knights are becoming more numerous.”

They drifted over to the fire pit, their conversation kept low.

“We are glad to see you all,” Cho said suddenly, interrupting the soft chirps and hums. “It is regrettable that you have been pulled from duties or relaxation, but you are needed.”

The assembled Fleet officers stood straighter, their attention now focused. The Admiral stood, and looked at each of them.

“Please, look at this.”

A holoprojector whirred to life, and a grainy image appeared. A ship. The captains and their seconds stepped closer, looking at the rotating three dimensional image closely. It resembled a Mon Calamari vessel somewhat in the smoothness of its lines, though it was not uniformly so, notably on the points where antennae and various sensory and scanning arrays were mounted and what was likely the bridge, jutting from the dorsal hull with more antennae there as well.

“This is the first Gossam designed vessel of the Merchant Fleet,” Wan said. “Huihù class. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the stealthiest and most elusive design in the galaxy. Almost nothing can be more hidden, save for cloaking devices.”

“E-WAR,” Lù said, prompting the King and the other gathered to look at him. “From Novgorod.”

The Admiral nodded.

“That is part of what we used to base this off of; the ship is basically a platform for the various espionage elements necessary to hide itself. Sensors, jamming, network confusion. Even the paint and colouring scheme confuse scanners.”

“It sounds like it will be an amazing vessel. But I remain unsure as to why we are here, Admiral,” Jiù growled.

“Remain calm, Jiù,” Cho said from his seat. “All will be explained.”

Jiù nodded in deference to the King and bowed to the Admiral to continue.

“These are not capital ships. These are elusive shadows of support ships. Meant for espionage, reconnaissance, communication and support. Despite this they are not defenceless. Six fore missile tubes. Four rear, and space to hold an array of various missiles and chaff. It has mine-laying capabilities, and four heavy ion cannons, and laser cannons. With the proper armaments and tactics, as a surgical strike weapon these will work wonderfully.

“And this is not a description of a ship that will be, but of a ship class that is. And we want you, and your chosen crews, to be their first operators for their dedicated mission.”

The Admiral glanced over to King Cho, who remained impassive.

“These ships are for the liberation and repatriation of Gossam in Imperial territory.”

Silence oppressed the room.

“Apologies,” the admiral continued. “Two will be sent into Imperial space. The third will be sent into Hutt space and there will operate to disrupt their piracy and actions against the Merchant Fleet.”

“The Alliance has agreed to help us then in more concrete ways?” Banme asked, lightly dragging her clawed fingertips on the table top.

A pause.

“No,” the admiral answered. “They have not. In fact, the Alliance has been quite firm that we are to respect the Treaty and to restrict ourselves to other methods that will not ‘threaten the stability and survival of galactic civilization as we know it.’”

“So this is to be confidential then? Very well. But why now? These ships are just built. We need time to adapt to them. We’d be better off running them through Alliance patrols or sticking with Hutt interference,” Tser Jiù seemed almost dazed. Lù felt the same. “If we are caught, with this sort of technology, without Alliance backing —”

“How long of a cruise are we estimating?” Ge Fulao pulled out a pipe and lit it, taking deep anxious puffs from the yantsǎ within.

“How deep into Imperial space?”

“Will we be teamed with a convoy or a squadron? What will be our support?”

“Just give me a moment and I’ll answer your questions, just — give me a moment —”
The King stood, and the room quieted.

“There is another advantage to these ships,” Cho said. “Huihù, Banjí, and Yànou; their uses will not escape anyone who knows of them, especially as they do not use standard hyperspace technology for interstellar voyages. And if the Alliance learns of them, the Empire will learn of them. The Hutts will learn of them. We will be outstripped once more.

“The Alliance will be sending a fleet to rendezvous with the Merchant Fleet around Bei Hwang An Station, where we presently are keeping those ships hidden amongst their public designs. As of the moment, they are safe, but we cannot waste time.”

Silence descended on the room again.

“They do not use standard hyperspace technology?”

Jiù leaned forward; all the Captains in the room fixed the King with undivided attention. The King gestured to the Admiral.

“It warps space around the ship in a specific direction, and the ship essentially sails, or perhaps rides would be a better term, on this distortion to the destination. An added benefit is that the ship is essentially cloaked by the distortion, such that it isn’t even there. It isn’t as fast as hyperspace travel: travelling to Dac with it will take three weeks. But it is quieter, requires less energy, and doesn’t leave an easily readable trail,” Wan explained. “Unlike cloaking, we will not be blind as well. We’ve codenamed it Húdié.”

“The Alliance will want this drive,” Cho said. “And we cannot lose it.”

“Butterfly drive,” Lù grunted. “Right.”

“You were chosen as captains of vessels that all serve similar needs in the Fleet. Communications, reconnaissance, and interdiction, and most importantly, you have experience with this type of mission.”

“In bulk freighters, perhaps!” Fulao burst out. “Not in these small frigates! Are they frigates? They could be corvettes, based on their dimensions. At least before we knew what we were doing, what our ships could do!”

“You do not have to take this mission. However all the information here is beyond secret. You will be grounded and bound to Miwù Shanmà and lose communications with the Fleet.”

“If we don’t take the offer, we’ll go to prison for knowing this,” Tser Jiù smiled wryly. “That important, Cho-zhu? Can’t you just use your magic to wipe our minds?”

The King shook his head in response.

“Fine then,” Jiù nodded. “I’ll do it.”

Wan handed him a datapad.

“Assemble your crew. Specifics are within this.”

Banme leaned back and glanced at Lù.

“I’ll do it,” Lù said. “Give me one of those.”

Ge Fulao chirped insistently into Banme’s ear, until she honked in annoyance and pushed him to the side.

“If you don’t want to come, I’ll just leave you behind Fulao!” she hissed, before swiping the last datapad.

“Banjí,” Lù hummed as he stood, reading the datapad. He glanced over at Xûi apologetically. “A week to gather our crew and prepare. You don’t have to come.”

Xûi grimaced. “I’m not happy, but I don’t think I could really relax knowing what you were doing out there, Captain. I’ll come.”

“Gossam,” the admiral said. “Thank you.”

The Captains and their Seconds stood and saluted the admiral, and bowed to the King.

Cho bowed back and looked each of them in the eye.

“Thank you,” he said, Lù could feel that he meant it.

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