Chapter 30: The fire continued, kicking up super-heated earth, playing with her.

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Ella watched as Tayre was catapulted to the ground. She saw her land, badly, her body twisted and still.

Tears flooded her eyes. Tears of rage at her own powerlessness to prevent her dearest friend from harm.

The TIE started to turn toward her. Ella nudged her speeder upward and drove her heels into the pedals, gaining speed. As the TIE presented its front, she fired in quick succession, the herd cannon shrieking angrily, its bursts striking the cockpit windows, but powerless to do any real harm.

Before the TIE had turned fully, Ella jumped the ship's bulbous centre and dipped sharply, heading low, down the mountainside. She would lose the TIE in the Marl, or beneath one of the great hydrobloats that dozed just above them. All she had to do was to draw it away from Tayre and the others. Then they might be able to get a signal out for help.

She turned her head, and saw that the TIE was already following.

***

Neerada pursued the fleeing speeder with a detached calmness. She couldn't believe that the same pilot had landed at least another three hits on her hull - true, she had been distracted by the people on the ground, but even so, it meant her opponent had daring and skill.

It was almost a shame she would have to kill them.

The speeder dropped under the slumbering shape of a native life form that filled her canopy view as she closed.

The Assayer refused to change course. Her thumbs made the tiniest movement and the twilight below her lit up with a stream of green blaster fire. The creature before her exploded in a fiery mass that lit up her cockpit before dying seconds later.

She felt the alarm spread throughout others of its kind as they took flight to escape the danger. The strength of the feeling surprised her, for it was stronger than she had experienced from many non-sentient creatures throughout the galaxy.

Nonetheless, Neerada mastered her feelings and concentrated on her quarry. The speeder ducked and weaved amongst the tops of the purple trees below, attempting to evade her. The pilot showed great skill and superior reactions, but Neerada couldn't afford to waste much more time on this sole individual. Still . . .

"Let's give you a real test . . ." she said aloud.

Her fingers moved again.

***

Ella was soaked through from the hydobloat's explosion. She couldn't believe that anyone in the galaxy could be so wantonly cruel enough to exterminate such a creature, centuries old! If only she had a way to fight back!

But fighting meant surviving. She needed to stay alive.

She dropped to the Marl as the TIE closed in above. And then they came, fast and furious and all around her, a torrent of green fire that ignited the forest canopy beneath and around her, that splintered branches and threw burning foliage and red hot embers into her path.

"Ah!"

A spinning branch collided with her arm, too quick for even her to avoid. Her limb went numb and only then did she realise that she had ducked to her left: if she hadn't, it would have hit her directly in the face.

A streak of fire devastated a heavy bole directly below her. Something hit her speeder and it made a painful jar in response. An alarm sounded.

She was losing power. And fast.

For the first time in her life Ella panicked. As the green super heated fire poured down all around her, turning the forest into an inferno, she couldn't see any way out save one.

She pushed the stick forward with her responsive arm and urged the speeder down!

Just survive! She told herself. Survive!

She turned the speeder to its right and left with extreme violence, as she had often done when Tayre had chased her in their mock battles and where she had always managed to shake her off.

But this time, the intention wasn't to shake, it was to deceive.

The speeder gained velocity as she descended, but every second its power bled away. Without power, she couldn't hope to evade the TIE.

She lined up her target with a determination born of necessity: A single tree that grew on the shoreline, where the water seemed placid and the tide still. Beyond it there was the open sea. There would be nothing to hide her from the TIE out there.

"If there is anything real about the Force, then I could really use it now!"

The tree grew large as she approached. Three hundred metres. The TIE's fire continued, kicking up super-heated earth and melting stones from either side of her, playing with her. She forced the speeder lower, ten feet above the surface. Two hundred metres out, and now the TIE's cannon hammered the space in front of her, blinding her with its light but just beyond range to damage her. She cursed the unknown pilot and whichever mother had given it birth for the sadistic torture and crouched on her saddle, leaning to her right.

One hundred metres!

The water was passing her by now. Ella took a breath.

And leapt.


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This shows Assayer Neerada's sadistic side. She toys with Ella rather than simply shooting her out of the air. It also shows her disregard for anything that gets in her way, with the uncaring destruction of the hydrobloat. But Ella has partly succeeded in her plan of drawing Neerada away from Tayre and the trapped security team - although at what cost?

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