The Eldest turned his palm to the assembled younglings, spreading his claws wide. “T’doshok have three claws. This way, we can account for only what is important in life.”
He folded his first claw into his palm. “Your clan.”
“Your enemies,” as he curled the second.“Your Jagannath.”
The cleverest youth, Szarl, dared to question the Eldest. “Why are there two hands, but just three aims?”
Without hesitation, the Eldest told us: “T’doshok must count all aims twice.”
My right arm twitched as Joren turned his tools within it. He made a pleased sound.
“There we go!”
Joren has had his tools in me many times. This was the first time in months my hand obeyed me as it had before Tatooine. It felt right.
Like a merchant looking for payment, he quickly bridged his words to talk of obligations. He revealed his flesh marked with new and old illustration. The first, he said was his past. Maelstrom. A storm. I understand this. The second, larger and still slick, he says is now; is us: A fist, five-fingered, clenched.
He sees us, those who have fought together a few short weeks as brothers, blood, a clan. A finger for each member. I consider what this means. Do I have one fewer aims, or is the clan of greater importance than my accounts? I understand this. I agree to share the mark.
Six days we wait for Karo. He is pleased by our work, and employs us again to kill an old ally. One hears that Hutts keep no friends who need charity, but I hold this thought. I have no debt to clear, but I think of the others. I think mostly of Sever. I owe him nothing, but he beat the life from a Wookie for sport. He lost his arm in the fight, and granted me his winnings to buy better tools. He said we needed my strength while he recovered. I give him my pay to have his arm replaced. We will need his strength added to mine.
“There is no Jagannath in this.”
Russk, Sotsch, and I exchange misgivings in Dosh in front of the Imperials, as they consider the slaves we brought on their command. There was no fight in these pig-men; they stand no higher than an astromech droid and show as much competency in battle. The Ugnaughts cower and bleat at raised human voices. They do not even bother to resist, to fight for themselves or their kin.
The Imperials are even more cowardly. They do not seek challenge; they dominate and subjugate the lesser. They do not demonstrate superiority, they manipulate and threaten. Theirs is a triumph without victory. They force us to this same dishonor.
I wait, and learn.
Karo wants Toum Garon’s business crushed and sends us to find his weakest link, a lieutenant named Kanil, in a grimy puddle in this city-jungle. We arrive at the Severed Lekku without a plan. Kanil and Garon are slavers. The others hesitate, knowing that I have knowledge of these matters. I adopt a familiar manner and language, so Kanil will not be suspicious of us. I abuse and degrade Sever, knowing he understands sacrifice. I claim he is a worthless, inept slave. My lie is to lure Kanil into a conversation I know he is listening for. He offers to trade Sever for one of his chattel and we agree to meet him the next day.
We lie in wait for hours. Kanil departs and we follow him on rooftop and in gutter, guessing he would lead us to his associates. We are correct and unsubtle. Kanil is wary and well-prepared. We exchange blaster fire and vibro-axe. We lose the advantage and I fall.
The atmosphere scrubbers sputter and struggle to filter the smoke from the recycled air. It tastes acrid from blaster fire and burning circuitry. I am wounded and it feels like living.
Nearby, blasters fall silent. Commlinks crackle to life. The Imperials have overcome Russk’s position, but with heavy losses. I reseal the hyper drive’s service panel, shoulder my rifle, and head toward the escape pod.
Two Imperial technicians are clamoring into the pod as I arrive. I press my way into the pod with them, wrestling and slashing at both with claw and tooth before they clear their service blasters. I force the wounded, squealing Imperials from the pod and engage the atmospheric seal. I release the escape pod’s moorings, and I watch their terror through the plasteel portal as I detonate the charges on the hyperdrive. They are stranded on a dying ship as the pod is blasted into open space.
Unrestrained, the force of the ejection slams me against interior panels. I break a tooth and am torn from consciousness.
I gasp suddenly and forget my pain. Joren wrenches his needle from between my scales. Sever collides with the Gamorean standing over me. Bones break and fluids spray. Cloaked in steam, Murff sprays blaster fire at Kanil as he flees. I regain my footing and senses. I pursue. There is Jaggnath in this.