"Raice you shouldn't even have to ask that question. You know perfectly well why I hate delivering anything to the Zann Consortium, least of all weapons."
I threw my hands up in frustration. "So what? Charge 'em double, and give the extra to the Hutts if you want. We can even kill a few if that'd make you feel better, but I'm telling you right now: I'm delivering that cargo."
"Why? What has the Zann ever done to you to make you side with them?"
"It's not the Zann."
"Ok... did the Hutt's ever give you a reason to dislike them?"
"Yes, actually they did, and while that has something to do with it, that's not my whole reason why."
"Then what is?"
"It's a matter of pride."
"Pride. Pride. You're going to let pride dictate your actions? If you wanted pride you should have stayed with your father rich boy."
"Watch what you sa-"
"Or what? You have yet to give me a good reaso-"
"You don't need to know my reasons! I was hoping that I've earned enough of your respect to allow you to trust that my reasons are good-"
"What about MY reasons? Do you nt respect my own? They captured me and turned me into a killing machine Raice. You've got nothing on tha-"
"I haven't failed to deliver cargo since Cedran DIED Astor. I made him a promise. One that I intend to keep."
"I'm sorry Raice I didn't re-"
"And if you want more reasons, I can give you one! You wanna take a guess at who was responsible for his death? Take a guess at who killed my best friend and mentor. YOUR BLASTED HUTTS!"
I was breathing heavily and I couldn't think straight. Thinking about Cedran Tanin, the man who had taught me everything he knew about smuggling, always left me distressed.
"Well I'm sorry they did that. But I'm not delivering that car-"
The ship shuddered and alarms started to go off.
"What in blazes?" Astor muttered as he took off for the cockpit.
"It's very rude to interrupt an argument!" I yelled at whatever had hit us. Then I was jogging after Astor and saw the blockade at the same time he did.
"Where did that come from?" I asked.
"I have no clue. Nothing came up on the holonet or on any of our comm channels. This must be a recent development."
"Take a look at those ships Astor. They have the Consortium emblem on them. If you're such good pals with them, why not ask them to quit shooting at us!"
"Raice this isn't the best time for arguing."
"It wasn't an argument. If we don't survive we wont be able to continue our argument."
"If only there was a pair of entrepid smugglers with some skill at piloting a freighter..." Astor said with a grin.
Argument forgotten, I gave him a nod and ran for one of the turrets. After I had pulled on a headset I checked in with my fellow pilot.
"Ok I'm ready Astor. Let's break through this barricade!"
"Roger that. Executing evasive maneuvers!"
A turbolaser flashed past my viewport and even situated in the craft, I could feel it's heat.
"Can you cut it any closer?" I yelled into the headset.
"Maybe! let's see!"
The hull shook again as a flurry of light laserfire glanced off the deflector shields.
"Getting hit doesn't count as close."
"Yeah I know. We've picked up some fighters. Give them my regards please."
A squad of four consortium ships of different makes were puling up beside our ship, the Spear of Sorrow. I waited until they couldn't get any closer, then I jammed down on the trigger and was able to catch two of them before the were able to respond.
The other two arced above us, where they were out of range of the quad laser-turret.
"Astor. Two above cut back on the engines and see if you can lock a missile on them."
I held on to my seat as the ship slowed and I was thrust forward in my seat. I heard a missile leaving its tube, and the subsequent explosion confirmed it had hit.
"Raice, the remaining fighter is trying the same thing we did. He's locked weapons on us. The rear deflector shield can handle laserfire but it won't last long against anything explosive. Will the rear cannon be able to hit it?"
"I hope so" I muttered, as I unbuckled and made my way to the rear mounted laser cannon. I sat down without strapping in due to the flashing lights that I saw as I sat down. Astor confirmed their message,
"Raice they've fired missiles!"
"Alright alright... keep us level, but boost the speed."
The blips on my screen informed me of the missiles' locations. I trained the cannon on one of them and held it as steady as I could. The screen flashed yellow as it locked on, and I fired. The explosion was reminiscent of the fireworks on Coruscant.
I took aim on the second missile and held steady when the ship flipped and I was thrown against the ceiling of the cannon alcove.
"Dammit Astor! I said hold steady!"
"Running into the bridge of a capital ship will kill us just as quickly as a missile Raice. That's why you're supposed to strap i-"
The hull groaned and series of sirens began to chirp. Using the rungs on the sides of the wall, I was able to make my way back to the cockpit while Astor used what tricks he had to keep us alive.
"What's the damage?" I gasped as I fell into my chair and fastened the belts.
"It's bad, but the hull is intact. The rear deflector shield down, and one of our turrets is offline. I told you we should have upgraded the shield generator, but no, we had to retrofit new engines!"
"The engines would have done the job just fine if you hadn't put us on a collision course with a destroyer."
"M6! See what you can do about the hull damage and the generator. We need those shields back!"
I looked at my controls and began to make some adjustments. "I'm rerouting the power from the generator into the engines until M-6 can get the shields back."
"Ok. That might do it."
We surged forward as the thrusters received the power transfer.
"Those cruisers are trying to cut us off!" Astor yelled, "I hope that boost was enough."
Astor launched into a complex series of twists and turns, and managed to avoid most of the fire from the large ships.
"We're gonna make it through, but if we don't those shields up, they'll tear us apart!"
M6 chirped and whistled over the intercom and one of the red lights on my screen began to flash green.
"Shields are back!" I exclaimed, "Diverting power back into the shield generators, deflector shields up at maximum! Well done M6"
The droid whistled in thanks and and then made his way back to the bridge.
The ship shook a few more times as we passed in between the two cruisers.
"WOOHOO!!!" I shouted. "You know, this reminds me of the time we stole that corvette-class supply ship!"
"But that ship was destroyed and we barely escaped..."
"Ok so maybe it doesn't really remind me of that time after all..."
And then we were past the blockade, and the fire stopped. We had made it.
Considering the state the ship was in, Astor brought us into a good landing. We avoided the main spaceport, because we were carrying prohibited cargo. The question was now whether or not we would deliver it.
M6 began to work on the ship as soon as we landed, and Astor and I stood up and made our to the hold.
"Raice. I'm not delivering that cargo." Astor said quietly.
"Then you don't have to, but I'm going to. Like I said, I've never failed on a delivery, not even after my ship was stolen."
"Then that's your decision, but you're not coming back to this ship."
"You heard me. If you help the consortium, then I'm not allowing you back on my ship."
"After everything we've done over the last few years, you're kicking me off because I'm hurting your feeli-"
His fist caught me in the jaw.
I ducked the next blow and slammed my own fist into his stomach. I wasn't convinced I would win this fight. The debate on the better shot was hadn't been decided, but after Astor's years serving the consortium, the republic, and a gang of mercenaries, he had quick the muscle power.
He slammed me in the wall and delivered a punch to my ribs, I tried twisting away from his next and was only mildly successful as his fist glanced off my thigh. I headbutted him and stuck my foot behind his leg to trip him, sidestepped it and hammered down on the pressure point on my hip.
I dropped to the metal floor. When I looked back up at him, he was pointing Bonni, his blaster, at me.
"Get. Off. My. Ship."
I decided it was a bad time to ask for the cargo, so I climbed to my feet and limped off The Spear of Sorrow. He wouldn't go anywhere until he had made repairs, and even then, the blockade would probably dissuade him from leaving in the near future. I would have time to sneak aboard and grab the weapons. If I was lucky, I could borrow the ship and fly the cargo there, then return for Astor and see if we could settle up.
I wasn't going to change my mind on delivering those weapons, but I fervently hoped that this wasn't the end of the somewhat legendary partnership of Raice Wystelin and Astor Cassen.