Stellar Pathways, Part 5
By Michael J. Pfeffer

March 29th, 1998
3:30 PM Local time
New Republic fleet Red Zulu One
At the starport of Trakai

The crowd was a massed fleet of civilian ships, flanked by New Republic X-wing and
A-wing starfighters. Several masses of Calamari star cruisers were resplendent,
decorated with New Republic logos and greetings. At the center, a solid cloud of
transport ships lay dormant. From bulky Freighters, to swift Modular Conveyors and
fish-like Cargo Transports, they waited outside a large floating structure.

The port of Trakai.

The cross-trading route was just about to open, and it was the largest scheduled route
in New Republic history so far. Galactic HoloNet channels were tuned across the galaxy
for the event. Billions of voices came to a hush as Internal Minister Leia Organa Solo
stepped to a podium and began to speak.

"As we struggle to form control over our still-growing galaxy, the most important means
of acquiring funds is through trading. Before we of the New Republic contracted private
traders, inter-galactic commerce was a confused affair. Now, we can rest assured that
anyone wishing to travel the space lanes will never have to contend with trade ships
getting in their way. Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of the New Republic, I am proud to
declare the Trakai-Yaga Minor cross trading route open for business!" With a smile and
a wave of her arm, the group of transport craft lit up and headed towards the starport.

Daria and Jane were watching the ceremonies from the bridge of the Calamari cruiser
Triumphant, and seemed to take in the entire event as an everyday occasion. Jesse
was, once again, lost, and Trent was looking for him, while Michael was trying to regain
the use of his legs, rather unsuccessfully, even with Mara's help.

"I still don't get it," Jane said. "We haven't seen any of this? I mean, how hard could it
be to miss space-navy fleet operations?"

"How far are we from Earth?" Daria asked.

Jane shrugged. "All I know is that it's a really big exponential number."

"And how far have our space probes gone?" Daria asked again.

Another shrug from Jane. "Jupiter, I think."

"I rest my case," Daria said with a smile.

The cargo ships jumped into hyperspace. The cross-trade was on.

A controller spoke up. "Stand by... radio patch transmission coming through."

There was a fizzle of static, and a voice came through. "... is Romeo One, flight of one
hundred, calling Yaga Minor. Request docking and trade clearance."

"Roger that, Romeo flight. All dock ports are clear. Welcome."

"Copy all, Yaga. Stand by. Romeo One out."

A six-ship flight of X-wing fighters swooped low over the _Triumphant,_ followed by the
XM-2 Missile Boat, and the MJP-911 in tail.

Daria and Jane picked up headsets. "How's it going, guys?" Jane asked.

"If Eddie bugs me for food one more time, I'm going to reprogram his database with a
flamethrower. Other than that, we're fine," Trent sent back. "At least we found Jesse.
Had to lock him in his room for a while, but he'll be all right."

"About the computer- too late. I already shut Eddie down. I told him that I didn't want a
leather chair made," Mara radioed.

"I though you were with Michael," Daria said.

"He wanted me up here. He can't even move around, and he didn't want to drag me

"Good old war-horse."

"Could be worse. You're not his girlfriend," Mara said with a laugh.

Ten light-years from the Triumphant
Starport Yaga Minor
Transport flight Romeo

"R group, this is I-one. Cleared to depart, report clear on frequency, over."

The captain of the lead Modular Conveyor in the massive cross-sector trade group
checked off marks on a list as all one hundred of his ships called in. The computers
took over, and the ships were just about to jump into hyperspace as laser bolts flew by
the lead ship. Red lights began to flash all over the massive ships, but to no avail.

A large triangular ship emerged at high speed from hyperspace. Turbolasers immolated
four of the cargo ships, and an image of a tall, gaunt man in Imperial uniform cut across
the HoloNet.

"This is Admiral Karian of the Galactic Empire. All ships will surrender to our forces
immediately. If we detect any communications to your Rebels, all ships will be taken by
force. This is your only warning."

The captain of Romeo One panicked and rushed down to the hangar bay of his ship.
There was nobody else on board, advanced computers had taken care of excess
personnel needs. His last act before evacuating in a shuttle was to deploy a rescue

Trakai Starport
A few minutes later

Controller Samoc Farr propped her feet up on the console. The cargo ships should
have been back by now, but nooo... those swaggering trade captains probably wanted
to get in a round of turbo-golf. A small purple triangle popped up on screen, with a
caption: "Small starship, type unknown. Unable to determine previous vector."

Hmm, what have we here, Samoc thought to herself. She put on her headset.
"Unknown rider, this is Trakai control on channel one. Identify yourself, over."

The face of Captain Larnax, commander of Romeo One, popped up onto her comm
display. "They attacked! They took the fleet! Get help! They..."

"Captain, slow down! What happened?"

He took a breath. "The Imperials... some Admiral with a Star Destroyer attacked the
entire cargo fleet. They've all been destroyed. All of the ships... all of the equipment we
loaded... they've all been vaporized!"

Smuggler's Alliance Headquarters
Planet Kessel, Stellar Coordinates 204,3291
4:00 PM Standard Galactic Time

Mara Jade looked over the figures once again, but she couldn't believe it. Over a
hundred expensive transports, plus the equipment that they had just bought to trade,
had been destroyed. Over one million credits spent, all for naught. She slapped the
datapad down on the table and turned to face the representatives of the New Republic.

"How did this happen? That was the largest defeat in Smuggler's Alliance history! Why
weren't there any escort ships? No fighters? Not even a lousy blaster rifle!"

"Hey, Mara, take it easy," General Han Solo said, standing up. A veteran smuggler,
space pirate, and cheat at cards, Solo was the main civilian envoy of the group. Also
present was the Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker, Minister Leia Organa Solo, and Admiral
Ackbar of the New Republic navy. "We know that was a big loss. Nobody's going to get
anywhere if you keep shouting about it."

Jade sat back down. "Okay. Fine. What are we going to do about this? Long range
sensors confirmed about ten Star Destroyers. Our Alliance ships aren't geared for
heavy combat, only defending themselves on cargo runs."

"That's why we're here," Ackbar said. The fish-like Mon Calamarian was of a major
spacegoing species- they had designed and built hundreds of star cruisers to aid the
cause of the Rebel Alliance against the Empire. "I have two cruisers each guarding
Trakai and Yaga Minor, but they won't work very well. We could use those two
ex-Imperial Missile Boats..."

"We can't put the travelers in danger," Luke said. "They don't know how to fight."

"Oh, yeah?" Han said. "One of them... what's his name, Trent... he showed me the
MJP-911. They've taken it into combat more that once."

"Well, the craft is fine, but Michael, the pilot, can't move his arms or legs."

"What happened?" Jade asked.

"Imperial assassin. He had some neural stunner. Anyway, Michael is conscious, but he
can't fly. We can run through the computer, but none of our professional fighter pilots
want to. They can't stand Eddie. Everyone's always saying that it's tough enough to fly
combat, but to keep Eddie from talking is worse."

"Fine, then. We'll have to ask one of the travelers, then," Mara said.

"I'm not sure about this," Leia said. "We're trying not to look like an overbearing
dictatorship. The New Republic can't have its image tainted from the inside."

Mara nodded. "Okay. We'll see how your image holds up under Imperial

Leia rolled her eyes. "Fine. We'll ask the travelers. I just hope they don't mind."