Chapter 28: One man was thrown from the back, his limbs on fire.

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Assayer Neerada concealed herself in a bank of cloud to the south of the mountain. She watched the four signatures on her Nav computer slow down as they neared the stationary signal of another speeder bike. Two of the escort circled the mountain top, gaining altitude, whilst a third flew in a close guard over the landing positions of the others.

She would take out the two over the mountain top first. Then deal with the third on her way down to the landing position.

"Captain Pina - increase interference. I want to surprise the two escorts higher up."

"Very good your Eminence. But increasing it now will be hard to pass off as anything other than deliberate blocking."

"That is acceptable. Time is not on our side."

"Very well. It shall be done immediately."

Neerada saw her sensor strength wane as the Reaver carried out its interference. She checked the flight position of the two security speeders and waited until they were passing the edge of the cloud bank.

Then she turned to follow them, shadowing them as she increased the TIE's speed and positioned it on an ideal attack vector: from behind them both and slightly above.

The second she emerged from the cloud bank she saw them, only a hundred metres below her. Her thumb twitched the fire command and a single dual burst of green fire turned the farthest one into a burning wreck, its three occupants consumed in the heat and shredded by the exploding wreckage.

They died before they even knew they were under attack.

The surviving security speeder made to turn in an evasion, but it was a tactic that Neerada had already accounted for. With an almost lazy twitch of her thumb, a second burst caught the bottom of the speeder and sent it into a wild spin. One man was thrown from the back, the gunner, screaming as he fell, his limbs on fire.

She felt his fear and his anger as he comprehended the inevitability of his death. She wondered if he thought of his family, or if he cursed his unknown killer with the last of his will.

It didn't matter to her. These beings were no more than insects to her. His death, like his life, was an irrelevance compared to those who could harness the Force, for only through the Force could any real perception of the galaxy be realised.

She turned the TIE away from the falling man and tumbling speeders without another thought.

For she was set on more than insects now.

She dropped low and followed the contour of the mountain, shadowing the sentry speeder that had taken up a position five hundred feet above the landing site.

She waited, like an unseen predator in one of the galaxy's countless oceans, as the sentry moved away, starting its patrol around the mountain, oblivious to her presence.

Silently, she dropped behind it and shadowed its path. Her targeting crosshairs fell on it and gave an affirmative beep.

Still she waited for several heartbeats to pass, the pain in her leg her sole physical sensation as she concentrated. She didn't want to rush the kill. She would wait until she was sure she could remove the sentry without being detected by those below. The seconds passed. The sentry turned around the mountain side, its sensors still blocked.

Neerada smiled. She was tempted to reach out into the mind of the pilot, to confuse him, to see if she could nudge him into the side of the mountain without the use of her cannons.

No. She was not so strong, and she didn't wish to endanger her mission.

Her thumbs crept over the fire controls.

***

Ella watched as Tayre came in to land, followed by two security speeders and a third that broke off to circle overhead. The latter disappeared around the side of the mountain top, and Ella knew they would be surveying the ground for any trouble.

The princess pulled up next to her, her speeder belching a rude burst of thick black smog from its engine as it shuddered to a halt.

"Still chugging along hey sis?" Ella tried to joke, but her words were flat. "Why's our gatekeeper here?" she said, nodding to Arnaud as he approached.

The thick set man raised his visor to look Ella in the eyes. She could see, in fact she could even feel, his anger toward her.

"Hey Arnaud, come on!" Ella said pre-emptively. "We've run off dozens of times before. Don't get angry with us for that."

"This time it's different," he said. "The Empire are here and good people are dead."

Ella's authority collapsed like a pierced balloon.

"Yes. I know. I'm sorry." The thoughts of the old wookie came racing back into her mind. She lifted her gaze back to the stone face of Arnaud. "Is there any news about Jish?"

He shook his head. "Nothing new. But our priority is to get you out of here. Now mount up."

Tayre looked at her speeder with concern. "I'm not sure if this will make it back to the palace, Colonel."

"We're not going to the palace," Arnaud said. "I am carrying out a covert order from your father that has been in place since the day Ella first arrived: if the Empire ever came in force to Farsalt, she gets sent off world."

Ella froze. "What do you mean, 'off world?'"

"Yeah," Tayre added. "And why is she so important? She's the adopted one, remember? I'm the princess!"

Ella couldn't help smile at that affectionate jibe.

But Arnaud didn't smile. He motioned to them, and both girls walked a short distance away. Arnaud glanced at the security team nearby and made sure they weren't within earshot.

"The adopted one, a pain though she is, is more important than you, Highness. She is more important to your father than you are too. So, no more talk, mount up on your bikes and head to the co-ordinates I'll send through to your Nav computer." He turned back to his speeder. "How is the interference looking?"

The man who sat in the back of the vehicle shook his head. "It's worse," he said. "I've double checked it but it's stronger than before. It can only be the Reaver doing it, sir–"

The roar of blaster fire rained down upon the clearing. Ella saw a green bolt turn the cairn into a molten heap in a brilliant flash, felt the wave of heat rush over her face and felt a force lift her off her feet and carry her over her speeder. She heard a scream and heard Tayre shout as an explosion deafened her for an instant.


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This is the first time we see the Assayer in action from her point of view. One thing that intrigued me when writing about Force Sensitive characters is that they are actually very different from normal people: their extra senses, their ability to perceive emotion over distance, makes them interesting. What would that really do to an individual's psyche? Would you find yourself becoming bored by normal people, able to see through their lies and to experience their fears and hopes? Neerada here refers to them as 'insects' as she takes their lives, believing them to be far lower sentient beings than herself with her ability to perceive the Force. And in a way is she right? Do we humans use the same justification for our treatment of other species?

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