When he dropped from hyperspace, the Verpine was greeted by an enormous section of ship hull. Throwing his vessel into full reverse, he silently willed his ship to slow down. It seemed to work for a moment, before momentum took over and Hilgrif felt the sharp impact as the side of his beaten Short Hauler ground struck across the unforgiving side of the white-painted surface of the larger ship. The GX-1’s engines shuddered before sputtering out.
The Verpine looked at his console, noting that while the engines had ceased to function, the atmospheric seals were still intact. Turning to face the droid beside him, Hilgrif gave a nod before speaking. “DUM, start work on the engines.” The droid gave a buzzing cheep and a salute before shuffling off. Hilgrif turned back to the console to see that the commlink was flashing.
“-gain, we will request that you identify yourself, freighter. Failure to do so will result in aggression. Please identify.”
“This is,” Hilgrif paused for a moment before a name came to mind, “Favus 1. We have lost power to our engines. That is part of what has lead to this particularly unexpected meeting.”
There was a pause on the other end which stretched for several seconds. The Verpine began to wonder if the larger ship was drawing a firing solution on his much smaller ship. “We will be sending out a squadron to bring you in. Our commanders will doubtlessly desire a moment to speak with you.”
“Master.” the EV droid to the Verpine’s left spoke up after the commlink connection was closed. “I think we should have chosen a different system. I am not sure that these people have the greatest of intentions for us, sir.”
Hilgrif whirled around to face the supervisor droid. “No joke, Shroud, I will let you pick the location next time if you have a better suggestion.”
“Well, sir, no.” The droid’s eyes flashed, the droid equivalent of a nervous twitch. “I am a mere supervisor. Give me a flight droid, and I will supervise it to make sure we reach the correct system next time.” Hilgrif can almost feel the smugness from his droid’s reply before shrugging and tottering off to help DUM work on fixing the engines.
Several minutes of silence seemed to stretch on as Shroud sat in the cockpit of the Short Hauler. The Verpine continued to work until the ship’s comm’s system crackled to life, drawing his alien eyes up toward the speaker mounted in the corner of the engine room.
“Greetings, Favus 1. This is Massassi 1 and my squadron. We have been ordered to assist your arrival onto the esteemed Star Destroyer, Perdition. We have a lady on board who is quite interested in meeting you. It will take a little bit, so if you will just stand by, we can make sure everybody stay nice and calm.”
Those words did nothing to calm the unease that Hilgrif felt. “Do not cause any trouble we do not want to make this any worst.” Hilgrif said as he addressed Shroud and DUM “I have to go and answer some questions. I still do not trust them, however. Record everything that happens though, just in case.”
Things had been surprisingly quiet, after the initial encounter. The soldiers, well-armed and attentive, had efficiently directed the solitary Verpine from the hanger through several hallways and levels. Even as they surrounded him in one of the lifts, no fewer than three of the soldiers kept a weapon pointed in the insectoid’s general direction.
He had been escorted all the way down to a detention level. The soldiers had been nothing less than curt even as they shuffled him into one of the cells. Sensing nothing more than an unease and caution he felt in equal measure, Hilgrif complied. He had been sitting in the room for what felt like ages. The silence of the level was unsettling, until it was broken by the arrival of the blue head-tailed alien.
“Good evening.” the tattooed alien spoke cooly. There was a quiet grace as she approached. Yet, as she strode forward there was an emotional heaviness to her steps. “You have managed to visit us at an awkward time. Your arrival is worrying for our empire. So I am here to assess what, if any threat, you pose.”
Hilgrif blinked then got up off the ground and gave a formal verpine greeting before he replied. “ I am but a simple techie that just happened to be in a wrong spot when we had just hoped to plot a quick hyperspace jump.”
“If that is true, this might have been nothing more than an unfortunate turn of events. There are things larger than the lives of a Verpine and his droids that are taking place, however.”
“However?” Hilgrif’s tone raised in question. “Ii do not plan to take part in the Empire or the Rebels as i prefer my own quiet life on the Outer Rim “
“We are nothing as inconsequential as the former Empire or the Rebellion that became a Republic. We are not interested in the machinations of the First Order, for now. We have no interest in deterring you from living your own personal life, so long as you are of no danger to our Empire.”
“I do not plan to be a danger to you.” Hilgrif shrugged. “I just plan to make me a new hive. I can leave after my engines are repaired I might have the pars in my ship from my last scraving run.”
“There are some dangers out there greater than one scavenger might be to our Empire out there. An extremist faction travels the stars that poses a threat to even those or untapped potential. A power yet undiscovered echoes in you.”
“If you mean the Force, I do know of this power” hilgrif shrugged then said in a uncaring voice “ but it does not have much use other than helping to move stuff around as I work on my projects. Sometimes I will receive a brief vision of what will work and what will blow up in someone’s face.”
“The boons of the Force are far, far greater than mere visions or the ability to move things around with your mind.” There was the hint of warmth in the Twi’lek’s face as she spoke. “There are some very basic things that one can do with the Force. There are far greater things that can be done, however. Ask the likes of our Consul, our Elders, or even our own former Grand Master. There is a concern about sending out a Force-Sensitive to be killed by the Collective.”
“Who is this Collective? I have not heard of them. Also you are correct, I have seen the Holovids of what the Force can do but for a techie most of the applications are not of a practical use. For example, shooting lightning into a machine to power it, whereas it would just be simpler to care an extra power cell. Plus, with a good droid you do not need to worry about using mind tricks ”
“The Force is more nuanced than your holovids would lead you to believe. I know there are some who are able to nudge miniscule items in the Force in ways that would be much harder with normal tools. There are those who are able to enhance their natural skills through the Force to become faster, or to even lift starships using the same power you use to move bits of metal around.”
“That is why i practise moving objects with my mind. I have hopes of reaching that level of precision. As for increasing my speed or strength, i would rather use a vehicle to move around faster or use a droid’s strength to lift heavy parts. Or to use my mind to lift it.”
“There is plenty we can teach you here, at the very least. You can choose how to use what we are willing to teach you. I could not stand by knowing I let a fellow Force-Sensitive travel out into the galaxy to be cut down by a Collective that hates Force Users. You may have no interest in them, but they have a fanatical hatred of you for the fact that you can even use the Force.”
“How big is this collective? As I doubt they are able to cover the entire Outer Rim I think I can out run them easily enough. Why would I risk my new hive? Are you guys not all Force users? Why would you care about a techie who will never become anything like what a Jedi or Sith are like?”
“I care about the fate of all Force-users when it comes to the intentions of the Collective. You are gifted the same as any one of us. Even our Consul or our former Grand Master were once in a position alike yours. Many of us were left figuratively or literally floating in space or the galaxy somewhere. Just because you only so capable right now, it does not mean that you are unable to grow in strength and power. We have all walked the path some. We want to help you.”
“I care little for my personal strength. You do not understand. I care only for my hive. As they grow in number, the hive grows stronger. Ss they grow in strength, we grow in strength. What I would learn from you would only affect me. Whereas what one droid learns, all the droids could learn. I would much rather to rather grow my hive than to risk my own growth at the cost of the hive.”
Tasha’Vel considered his words for several minutes before she gave a nod. “I can understand that feeling- to protect one’s family, or hive. We have made our own sacrifices for the power and position of our own hive. A better person to talk to about that kind of thing would be someone like my husband. He is already on his way to speak to you.”
“Then let us wait for him to chime in on this topic. It would be more efficient than for him to listen to a retelling of it. So tell me more about this Collective as in one way or another as i need to need wary of them from the sounds of it. It should pass the time as we wait for him”
The matriarch of the Versea let out a slow sigh as she stared off into the distance. “It all started back about a year ago. A former member of our Dark Council’s Iron Fleet rebelled. He took many ships and officers with him. Using three pillars, three sub-organizations, they decided that the blame for the woes of the galaxy lay in the doings of Jedi and Sith. They want a supposed equality for all. That equality, however, comes at the price of death. Death for the Force-user. Death for those who befriend a Force-user. Sith and Jedi would perish in equal measure, leaving only those either blind or untouched to the Force’s currents, as I can only figure it.
“So a member of your leadership got tired of force users and decide to kill them all. That seems pretty inefficient as the Force can make life easier. Wouldn’t it just be easier to find ways to counter other force users in other parts galaxy?” The Verpine was silent for a moment. “Actually, can i get a digital copy of this so i can have my droid look for any more useful knowledge to help my hive with against this threat?”
“It is a little more complicated than all that.” An expected male voice drew the attention of both the Verpine and Twi’lek. The man stood, with arms both flesh and mechanical crossed over his chest as he studied the pair. “Seems that old Rath lost a brother or something during a conflict that he blames on our lot. And by our lot, I mean more than just the Sadow Empire. He blames the whole of our Brotherhood. He and his lot got so angry at the Dark Brotherhood they even managed to wipe a whole seventh of our number off the face of the galaxy.”
Hilgrif gave a quick verpine greeting then replied “Ah so you must be the husband of this polite and caring Twi’lek. Glad to meet you. So i hear you are more the expert on the use of the Force to help improve my tech.”
This statement drew the twisted hint of a smile in the human Sith’s eyes. “I am the husband of this kindly Twi’lek.” The man gave a bow that Hilgrif was unsure was meant to be respectful or mocking. “My name is Kairn’tel Versea. Most people know me by my non-family name, however. In most circles, I am Bentre Stahoes, the leader of this Clan and Empire.” Rising from the bow, the Corellian gave a more open smile.
“Ah yes i forgot to introduce myself.” then HIlgrif with a bow said “I am Hilgrif of the hive”,and with a smile said ”right now guest of Kairn’tel Versea, hoping to get permission to fix my ship.”
“I am more than willing to let you fix your ship, fair Verpine.” The Consul motioned with his left hand, stretching out the mechanical digits in a placating gesture. “I had hoped to convince you that you have a greater destiny than traveling the galaxy blindly, in the hope that you will strengthen your hive. The Force travels around you like a river around a stone, and it would be a shame to see that stone plucked from the waters of the Force and cast into an unknown abyss.” His words were spoken with grand flourish, but the effect was put off by the manic manner in which the Corellian watched Hilgrif.
Hilgrif blinked before he asked his next question. “In what ways could I grow my hive in a group with Force users when my own hive can not use the Force. I mean, unless Lord Versea has learned a way for droids to use the Force as well ”
Bentre’s expression did not falter at these words but for a moment. The twitch was momentary but unmistakable. He took a heartbeat to compose himself, and spoke carefully, losing none of his priorly-held mirth. “The issue at hand is less a question of ‘can Master Jedi teach even a droid to use the force?’ as it is whether the galaxy at large is a safe place for a particular Verpine and his makeshift hive. If one member of the hive falters, does the hole hive not suffer? Similarly, if one of my family falls in combat, does it not weaken the rest of our number?” Bentre shrugged slightly, resting his flesh-and-blood right hand on the lightsaber attached to the right side of his belt. “I am offering a place of safety to you, to your hive, and a chance to enhance the power of both in time.”
Hilgrif thought for a moment then asked, “If I join your clan, what would i need to do to earn my keep or show my worth? I am sure that no one wants a do-nothing. That would not be efficient.”
“Maybe,” Stahoes drew the word out, “I am looking for an entertaining time. Maybe training up a new kiddo would be a good way to put off the boredom that comes of leading an Empire in recovery? Maybe my last apprentice, while efficient enough, did not offer me the kind of stimulus that I had preferred. Maybe I think that, given the time and training, an investment in you would pay itself several times over. I have heard of the Verpine’s skills, and maybe a hive in one form or another would be for the good of the Sadowan Empire.”
“I do not mind learning of your ways but,” Hilgrif paused for a second before continuing, “I do not plan to be a Jedi or a Sith. I prefer to be and will be a techie first as well as the leader of my hive. If I join you, is there a way for me to get parts of droids or fully built droids to help grow my hive?” Hilgrif asked as he stared intently into Bentre’s eyes.
Bentre leaned against the open doorway of the cell, a kindly smile on his lips. “There are plenty of places that we can get some droid parts for you, I am sure. I mean, we will have to acquire them. The trade sectors of Arx have plenty of ways you can get whole droids, if you prefer. It will cost, of course, but every little one in our Clan gets an allowance, I assure you.” The Sith gave a playful wink at these words.
“So what is this clan called and is there a digital copy of some basic files for the clan i can have my droid download? If not, could I have some compiled for me?” Hilgrif then added with a shrug “Also, is there somewhere to park my ship in a more permanent location until i get the money to buy the proper parts for it and the time to fix it”?”
The scarred Corellian gave a nod. “I am sure that I can give you some copies of portions of files found in the Holocron Library until we are able to grant you access to the Library with your own credentials. That will not be hard to put together for you. If you complete some coursework with the Shadow Academy, you will also get some equipment to help you store more information remotely. In the meantime, I can give you access to some consoles here on the Perdition so you can start learning. As for the ship, I will have it put up into the back of one of our hanger bays until you can get that all taken care of. Is there anything else you would like to have or to know? Or do you still have doubts?”
Hilgrif gave a quick smile then replied, “Doubts, yes, but we will have to wait and see if they will clear. As for questions, none at this moment till i look at the files. However, I would really like my hive to be brought out from the ship so i can keep them busy and so they can continue to learn more for the good of the hive.” He paused. “ Oh, and to be let out of the cell would also be nice.”
“Your release from this cell is a given. You are not a prisoner within our Clan, but a fellow in our midst. A member of our larger hive if it comforts you to think of it that way. Your droids will be provided to your new residence on the Perdition, for now. After Tasha’Vel and I discuss your situation, we might be assigning you to one of our House ships. Though,” Stahoes chuckled, “do not be surprised if you find yourself with a second home on the flagship here.” Motioning with one hand, he bid the Twi’lek Rollmaster to follow him. “I will have one of the Warhost take you to your new quarters so you can become more comfortable. If you desire food or access to anything else, you can also contact me through the commlink network. If you need help doing that, you should have access to a comm panel in your room.”
Hilgrif gave a bow before walking out of the cell. He looked for the member of the Warhost who would lead him to what would be his new room. Soon, he would expand his knowledge, to go forward learn more of his new Clan.