One week passed and then the Punishing One jumped out of hyperspace, orbiting a dark green planet.
The hyperdrives cooling system woke Dengar up. He’d been dreaming, couldn’t remember about what, but it felt good. Perhaps there was still a remnant of his feelings left, somewhere in his subconscious, he didn’t know, but a rare feeling of peace coursed through his body for about two seconds until it was replaced by pain.
He looked out the window and studied the planet. Didn’t look like much, this planet. From orbit it looked exactly as deserted as it was and a wave of loneliness showered Dengar, "Computer, find the coordinates for the Imperial outpost," he said. The computer complied and a string of binary numbers scrolled up on his navigation screen he manually plotted the course and Punishing One dived in.
After a short while he could see a small, unassuming ruin that was partially covered by the massive crowns of ancient trees. It looked like the place had been all but completely overgrown with the scrubland, as if the very forest was trying to take back the rocks and stone that had been used to build the place in the first place.
He spotted the landing site of the ancient outpost and landed his ship.
It was humid. He was well aware of the fact even before getting here, but tropical climate always shocked him with its incredible humidity. He jumped off the ramp of his ship and into the overgrown platform and stole a look around.
The forest was dark and alive with thousands of insects that swarmed the towering wood. He could see them from afar due to his enhanced vision. Giant butterflies swarmed the beautiful red and yellow flowers that sprung up from the soil and bees the size of fists gathered nectar from the white blossoms of the ancient wood.
In front of him lay the outpost. It was eroded and several places the stonework had crumbled away revealing clusters of fungi that had infested the rocks. A gaping mouth lay ahead of him. He could see a blast door control on the side of the opening, but the metallic blast door had long since been sabotaged by the heat and humidity and now lay, impotent on the ground.
He started towards the building with his blaster carbine ready.
Inside the building it was dark. He stopped and allowed his low-light vision to adjust and after a short while he could see perfectly. He’d been aware that something was wrong with his visionary sensors, they reacted too slow, but he’d been lazy about it and hadn’t reported it to his staff. He was assigned to a special branch of scientists who’s sole purpose was to keep his enhancements up and running. He considered it a positive quirk because he remembered that the normal receptors of human eyes needed time to adjust in near darkness. Somehow the quirk made him feel more human.
When he was satisfied with what he saw he moved further into the outpost.
He was on a long hallway, it had been white once, but now it was overgrown and small spores of fungi along with nests of insect life covered the walls in splashed patterns.
The floor was made up of linoleum tiles that’d shattered and crumbled from the heat. Small puddles of moist had forced it’s way through the tiles and painted them black.
Dengar’s superior sense of smell picked up a trail of someone human. Several animals resided here, he could smell, but he focused on the sweetly albeit faint smell of human and followed the invisible trail down the hall.
It led him to the outposts dining room. It was ransacked, canisters and canteens lay spread out on the floor and the furniture was rotten and shattered. In the end of the large dining room, he could see a kitchen, but something smelled incredibly foul from there, so he didn’t go to look, besides, the smell of man led him in through the dining room and into yet another hallway.
The hallway ended in a blastdoor that miraculously had survived the wear and tear of the jungle world. It was closed shut and Dengar noticed that the panel flashed bright red, it was locked.
Suddenly he could hear the faint spin of a motor and a panel above the door fell out and shattered on the floor.
Dengar saw the rotating shape of a heavy autocannon lower itself from the ceiling.
Should have known, he thought and looked around to find cover. There were none. The autocannon seemed to move in slowmotion due to Dengars enhanced speed. Adrenalin was released into his cyborg circuits that, in turn, sped up allowing him to move incredibly fast. He paced up underneath the autocannon, where he knew there was a blind spot and pressed his carbine into the motor of the machine. He squeezed the trigger and the motor exploded from the heavy blaster shot. The autocannon fired a blind shot down the hall then stopped with a devastating scream as the motor tried to reroute power and completely self destructed.
Dengar hit the panel on the side of the shut blast door and the plastic crumbled from the strain, revealing an intricate pattern of wires. Easy money, he thought …
Holden didn’t know what just happened. One second ago he’d seen a heavy built man in a makeshift brown armor, wearing ragged bandages on his head the next his screen had blacked out. Fear crept up his back and he stole a glance towards the massive obsidian tablet next to him. They were here now. Here to take away the tablet and to kill him, he knew it. He started to get up from the control chair and in the same second the blast door moaned and opened. The silhouette of the bandaged man came to vision, he was holding a heavy weapon and pointing it towards Holden.
-"Please don’t kill me!" Holden screamed and raised his arms in a pathetic gesture.
The man shook his head and said: "Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not here to kill you," he stepped into the room and lowered his weapon.
Holden’s heart felt like it was ready to explode. He fell back into the chair and tried to collect himself. The stranger moved closer and looked around, then he said: "Look, I know you’re scared but I am the rescue team. My ship is parked outside, ready to get you and the tablet back to civilization. Let’s go."
Holden rose, picked up the tablet and clutched it, like a child would its most precious toy and paced towards Dengar. He didn’t know if he could trust the mercenary, but since he was still breathing he might as well follow the man.
The two moved quickly towards the exit of the outpost.
Once outside the sunlight seemed brighter and Dengars eyes slowly adjusted to the white. He could see the blurry form of Punishing One, no more than a hundred meters ahead. Then a sound forced its way into his audio system. It was a faint sound that he recognized instantly, leather against plast, the sound of a gloved hand squeezing a trigger. He reacted before he heard the characteristic sound of a blaster pistol and dodged to his right. He didn’t need to bother, the blaster shot wasn’t aimed at him. He couldn’t hear the hard light connect, but he heard the loud thump of Holden Fenneks body that fell flat on the ground.
A couple of shadows moved quickly in the brushland. Dengar quickly identified them. Enhanced scout armor, black and sensor reflecting. They would be near invisible to anyone but Dengar. He dodged a couple of shots from a soldier on the other side of the landing platform and threw himself down behind a giant and worm ridden fallen tree.
He took notice of the two soldiers to his left who were slowly trying to flank him. He could easily see them, but they had good cover and he didn’t want to waste ammo. He still had no idea of how many of them there might be. Holden Fennek was lying on the platform with a black burn in his forehead. The tablet was lying next to him unharmed.
Dengar knew he should feel sorry for the young man, but he just couldn’t.
He quickly assessed the situation. There were at least three men, probably more. He grabbed a grenade in his belt and launched it at the two men to his right, they thought themselves invisible and he heard one of them mutter a word of surprise just before the grenade exploded. Before the smoke cleared Dengar threw himself forward, hoping his speed would make him impossible to hit. He moved fast and dodged a couple of bolts before he was face to face with the third soldier. He used the momentum from the rush and hit the soldier with his carbine. The soldier’s helmet exploded with a satisfying crunch. Dengar quickly drew his combat knife, slithered behind the man and slit his throat, before disappearing into the undergrowth.
A panic arose with the remaining soldiers. Three was already killed and now they couldn’t see the mercenary. He was good, the sergeant thought. Must have bio enhancements to move at that speed and apparently he could see despite their perfect camouflage.
If he didn’t know better, he’d take the man to be an imperial assassin, but that was impossible. Probably some high class crime lord’s mercenary, this guy couldn’t possible come cheap.
He signaled the rest of the squad to advance to the point where the mercenary had disappeared. They cautiously did. Suddenly a hail of blaster bolts rained upon them from the top of the outpost. The sergeant looked up and saw the mercenary, standing upright and sending round after round of hard light into the commandos. The Sergeant took aim with his blaster pistol and fired. He hit the mercenary in the chest and he fell backwards and out of sight- "Gotcha," the Sergeant smiled.
There were only four commandos left. They moved fast towards the tablet and one of them picked it up. They started towards their shuttle, believing the mercenary to be dead or passed out, he wasn’t a threat. They were wrong.
The Sergeant was the first to walk into the shuttle and the rest of the men gather behind him. Suddenly they heard a woosh behind them and they quickly turned to see a missile, fired from the mercenary’s ship, on the way to the shuttle. They didn’t have time to react. The missile was too fast and it hit with an inferno of white light.
Dengar put the remote to Punishing One’s weapons system back in his belt and jumped down from the roof of the outpost.
He ran to the debris of the shuttle to see if anything was left of the tablet. It was improbable but he had to take a look. The remaining soldiers laid scattered on the ground, in pieces. Using anti fighter weapons against infantry was a messy affair. The shuttle was all but annihilated. Dengar kicked the ash and the bodyparts but realized that the tablet must have been completely vaporized.
He turned towards his ship when something suddenly caught his eye. There, in the surrounding scrub near the platform he could se a corner of something remarkably like obsidian. It was the tablet and it was, as if by some miracle, completely unharmed.
Once back in his ship, Dengar quickly removed his breast plate. He was in pain. The soldier had shot him up pretty bad. He found a first aid kid and started bandaging the scorched mark on his chest.
It wasn’t lethal, but it hurt and it would take a while to heal. After patching up he sat in the pilot chair of the ship and started a scan. The soldiers, who looked exactly like Imperial Commandos, had arrived in a shuttle, which meant that there had to be a capital ship in orbit. He wanted to know where the ship was so they didn’t surprise him when he was trying to make a jump.
The scan revealed something even more mysterious than the soldiers. A Victory-Class star destroyer.
Whoever hired the soldiers either had to be rich or Empire. He considered the possibilities. The holotape briefing had already told him that someone else was looking for Fennek. Could these soldiers be them? Or was the commandoes another rescue party sent in case Dengar failed? It was obvious that the obsidian tablet was of some importance to someone in the Empire, the question was only who?
Then he noticed a small device that had been placed underneath the dashboard of the navigation computer. He quickly identified it as an Imperial tracking device. It was small and handy and probably worth a considerate amount of credits. Without removing the device he started the engines of his ship.
He typed in a hyperjump on the opposite side of the planet from where the Star destroyer was and started up his ship.
Soon after he was in orbit and prepared to make the jump.
When he came out of hyperspace he immediately spotted a dreadnought class cruiser. It was floating a couple of kilometers away and as soon as it registered him it disbanded a squadron of z-95 headhunters, Dengar shrugged, nice with a welcoming committee, he thought and opened his communication channels.
-"This is Captain Foil," a voice sounded over the speakers, "Please give me your transponder code."
-"0011923834," Dengar replied.
There was a moments silence, then: "Welcome back Dengar, the Governor is expecting you, we’ll escort you down."
-"Sure," Dengar said coldly.
Punishing One set course towards the planet below and the squadron of Headhunters followed him. His cargo was precious, if he hadn’t known before he knew now. The escort took great care in shielding him from all directions, shielding him in case a fighter group should jump out of hyperspace to surprise them, but nothing happened.
Dengar landed his ship on the platform of the remote world. It was raining and the wind howled through the massive towers and antennas of the Governor Milas. There was a squadron of soldiers waiting for him on the platform. The leader of the squad approached him: "Dengar, I am Commander Sev Reihn. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I trust your flight went well?"
Dengar eyed the man suspiciously and nodded.
-"Well then, the commander continued, where is the young Mr. Fennek?"
-Dead, Dengar said uncaring.
The commander’s smile collapsed like a ravine, "What do you mean he’s dead, I thought you said that the mission went well," he said.
-"It did," the assassin said and pulled the tablet out of his rucksack. The commander brightened in a smile, "Ah," he said, "excellent, the Governor will be most pleased."
With that Dengar passed him and walked to the turbolift that would lead him to the office of Governor Milas.
The Governors office was lit only by two low light lamps, the light was insufficient to cover the entire room and most of the corners were left in cold darkness.
Dengar approached the enormous mahogany desk where the Governor was sitting in his comfortable cloned leather chair.
The shadows of the room made Milas’ smile seem sinister.
-"Finally, you’ve returned," the Governor said, "can I see it?"
Dengar placed the tablet on the desk.
The Governors smile broadened and he rose from his chair and started to caress the tablet maniacally.
-"See ya," Dengar said and started for the door.
-"Hold it," the Governor said. He stopped and turned, "Yes?"
"Did you meet any resistance on your hunt?" Milas asked.
Dengar nodded, "There was a group of commandoes. Imperial commandoes," he said.
The Governor’s smile faded, "And?" he asked.
Dengar shook his head,"And nothing," he said, "you paid, you get your monies worth."
The Governor looked relieved, "Fantastic," he muttered and turned his attention towards the tablet again. Dengar continued towards the door. Before exiting he stopped again and turned around, "I guess we, were the them Fennek was so scared of," he said.
The Governor looked up, "yes … I believe that was the case," he said in a stoic tone.
-"Interesting," the assassin said.
-"What is?" asked the Governor.
-"Nothing," Dengar said and walked away.
Once back on the Punishing One, Dengar switched his communications system on. He smiled when he saw an encrypted message had been downloaded to his mainframe. He pushed play and watched the image of a tall black clad figure, with half his face replaced by cybernetics, project on the holoboard, "Dengar," the man said, "I have a retrieval assignment for you, far from here, on the moon world exodus ..."
The assaissin turned off the message, he didn't need to hear more, and threw a glance out the window to the armored milita. They looked tough, but not that tough.
"Well, so long as I’m already here," Dengar said, and grabbed his blaster carbine …