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  1. *Your entry has earned 9 XP* Mato's Tale: Chapter VII For the first time in his life, Mato woke to the sun streaming through a window. On Nal Hutta he had slept in a room with as much ventilation as a prison cell. Not much sun to go around anyway. Here it was blinding. The cot he'd slept on was the softest bed he’d ever had, but he rose nonetheless. He had always been punctual, mostly for the sake of survival: Hutt Bosses weren’t known for their patience. But there were no Hutt Bosses here. He had slept in “the House”, an abandoned Imperial Governor’s mansion-turned community hub. Ko-Yode, the leader of the colony of Bur Wend, had put him up in the same wing that he slept in; not the house’s actual bedrooms, but what used to be the servant’s quarters. Mato imagined there was a statement being made there. Vendors stuffed the shining halls. Mato was wandering and watching people set up their market stalls when Ko-Yode found him. “Sleep well?” Ko-Yode asked. “Until your blasted sun assaulted me.” The Steward smiled behind his beard. “First time seeing a sun?” “One that bright? You bet your chob.” Ko-Yode grinned and retrieved a wide-brimmed hat from one of the vendors to give the Weequay. “This could help. You’ll have plenty of time to get used to it, don’t you worry. After all, you’ll be out in the hills.” This turned Mato’s attention. He looked up, maybe a little overeager. “Anything to earn my place,” he said quickly. “I’m ready to work.” “I’ve got no doubt,” Ko-Yode nodded. “You’ll be training with Dinnie for the week. She oversees our rice farms on the Lam Mountains. She’ll show you the ropes, introduce you around. And maybe later, you and I can go for a hunt, eh?” Mato considered it. He wasn’t eager to do any sort of violence, and he told Ko-Yode this. The dark-skinned man looked him over keenly, before finally nodding with something between understanding and approval. “We’ll go for a walk instead. Get some time to talk.” An older female Gungan, dressed in field clothes, walked toward them. “Ko-Yode! Our prophet,” she said as she approached, bowing to the man in black. “Theesa must be da traitor! The mutt from da Hutts!” Ko-Yode gave her a look. “Let’s not shout about that, Din. Our friend prefers his privacy. We’re all entitled to that, eh?” The Gungan grinned at Mato. “Sure, sure!” Except for Yigs—who saved him—and Ko-Yode—who had shown him such kindness—Mato couldn’t help but fall back into his lifelong attitudes of suspicion and defensiveness towards others. Show no weakness. Reveal nothing. Do what you are told. Know danger and avoid attention. So the Weequay, feeling attacked and vulnerable from the mention of his past, snarled back at her. “Was that supposed to be a joke? Wasn’t very funny.” To Ko-Yode, she said, “Not quite free of his old manners, huh?” then she looked to Mato. “Oh, yousa will have time to learn when I’m jokin’. And yes,” she added. “That was a joke. Good one, too! Yousa will figure out when to laugh, weesa got all week!” Mato wasn’t sure he’d last that long. Hard work he would endure, but he wasn’t used to having to endure annoying companions. The annoying ones never lasted long on Nal Hutta. They said farewell to Ko-Yode, and Dinnie led the way to a skimmer idling near the House. By now the sun had disappeared, replaced by an overcast sky. Tall mountains stood in the distance, shrouded by fog. “Might drizzle,” Dinnie muttered. “Hope yousa don’t mind getting wet!” “Whatever falls from the sky, it won’t be the stinking muck I’m used to. I’ll be fine, gungan.” “Meesa got a name! And meesa not the only Gungan here. Unless yousa want to get confused, yousa better get used to using it!” They left the community hub on the skimmer, humming towards the uplands. Mato wrapped himself in Yigs’ cloak and his new hat to shield himself from the rain. “Let meesa tell you about our farmin’! ‘Till last year, this place was controlled by the Empire! Made food for some research place on the planet. The Empire used Agrichems: spray a field, and anything grows! No hard work required! Just plant and harvest!” “Sounds real easy. Are you using Agrichems here, then?” “What! No!” Dinnie sputtered in disgust. “Agrichems may be easy, friend, but they destroy the soil beneath! Poison the land itself! Make it impossible to grow anything there without them. The Empire was makin’ sure no one could use the farmland without Agrichems. Ruin it for anyone that took control!” Pretty selfish. Mato didn’t have much experience with the Empire, but he’d seen plenty of pettiness in his lifetime. Taken part in some too. Mato looked out over the land as their skimmer climbed the hills. A vast swath of flatland sat empty and unplanted. The ground was dark and scorched and had a sickly appearance. Field workers were scattered about. “What’s that place, Gung—“ Mato corrected himself midsentence. “. . . Uh, Dinnie?” Dinnie was pleased he was learning so fast. She looked out over the fields. Her tone turned frustrated. “Weesa call it the Scar. The best, widest farmland! But now it’s the stinkiest farmland! It’s ruined! Weesa can’t use it until we heal the land.” Mato stared. “Karf, what a mess . . . But, fixed? You’re saying it can be fixed?” “Yes, yes, but issa lot of work. We all take shifts in big, clompy protection suits to treat the flatlands, trying to restore the soil to good health. In the meantime, we been farming up in the hills. Empire didn’t use the hills. Now, some of the colonists want to go back to buying and using Agrichems, but one spray and poof! All our work undone! Stuck usin’ ‘em forever! So that’s no good.” “You’ve got to be kidding me! What a bunch of idiots.” “Eh, yousa can’t blame them too much; doing things right is a lot more work. Issa tempting to go back to the easy methods. That’s one thing those robot salesmen—Techno Union—is offerin’. Agrichems. But weesa say no! And Ko-Yode says no,” she said proudly. Mato bared a smile. “He stood his ground. Got to watch him do it, too. Threatened to hit one with his staff, y’know.” “Heesa did? Hah! Wish I coulda seen that! Yes, yes, Ko-Yode has been teaching us all about takin’ care of the land. Heesa Bur Wend’s steward, but heesa just bein’ humble. Heesa prophet! Sent by the force to lead us. And meesa would follow him anywhere. Even somewhere hot and horrible like the Scar!” Once they had reached the top, they climbed off the skimmer with bags of seed. Small pools that dotted the mountainside were being harnessed as paddy fields for growing rice. The pools they’d stopped at were still in the process of being converted, their water levels regulated by a tall, white Irrigation Regulator. “It predicts the weather, too!” said Dinnie, slapping the side of the machine. “Lotsa tricks!” They sloshed into the pools to clear weeds and prepare the soil for planting. While they worked, Dinnie made jokes and poked fun at Mato for his obvious discomfort and clumsiness. “All yousa planting is yousa face into that pool!” she laughed. Mato wasn’t used to being laughed at. He bristled with every comment, which only invited more jokes from the gusty Gungan farmer. Finally, when her jokes had turned towards the topic of the Hutts and his past life, he was reaching his breaking point. “So what’s the bathing like? Do yousa all just stand under a grate and let a Hutt drip down slime on yousa heads?” Mato burned with anger and shame. Without realizing what he was doing, he lashed out with his fist, swinging at Dinnie’s head. She ducked away and swatted him on the back, sending him splashing into the pool. When he rose, still seething, her voice had turned hard, her manner swelled-up and serious. Despite her jokes, she was a formidable person. “Yousa try anything like that again, and yousa gonna regret it. What’s wrong with yousa?” Mato, breathing hard, was flooded with regret. He couldn’t let this kind of thing happen. He was done with that life. It took great effort to allow his anger to pass, but he managed to mutter an apology. “Meesa forgive you. But yousa watch yourself!” They worked together for the rest of the week, cultivating the new Lam Rice pools. Mato quickly learned that Dinnie wasn’t kidding; doing things the right way was hard work. He spent all day up to the calf in cold water. They warmed themselves by the skimmer’s engine in the afternoons if they didn’t have the sun. Mato tried every day to make amends for his outburst. He filled Dinnie’s canteen before she asked, gave her some of his portions, and would offer to do extra work so she could rest. She happily accepted, sitting on the grass and pointing out flaws in his work. Dinnie noticed his shame and appreciated his work ethic. As Mato had made it well and clear that he was sensitive about his time on Nal Hutta, she injected her humor with moments of kindness and went a little easier on him from then on. She didn’t stop poking fun at him, not in the least, but her jokes stopped referencing his past. The Gungan became his teacher. She taught him well, supported him, but never let him get away with laziness. They got to know each other better on the job; Mato learned that Dinnie and her mate had moved to Wayland via a refugee program the CFS had started for displaced Imperial slaves. “Heesa not like heesa used to be,” she said sadly. “Broken by the Empire. Not much more than a shell.” “I’m . . . sorry.” “Treatments in the Core Worlds woulda had us in a gutter. Broke! So meesa figured fresh air was the next best thing. But heesa not much better than heesa was a year ago.” She gave a heavy sigh but hid her emotion by focusing on their work. “Get another bag of seed from the skimmer, yousa lazabout!” The two became strong companions. In the evenings they would gather with the other farmers for supper. Mato must have tensed up when he saw the group of people because he heard Dinnie whisper, “No one wants to hurt you! Relax!” Dinnie was the life of the party at these dinners, entertaining everyone with her jokes and stories. In the beginning, a few of these were always about Mato, but by the end of the week she had started to joke less about him, and more with him, and if anyone gave him a weird look, it was Dinnie who came to his defense. Soon, no one gave him weird looks. He had never had someone in his corner before unless they were betting on him in a fight. Never someone who liked him. Soon he found himself enjoying the suppers despite himself. He sat in the circle with the other workers, laughed at Dinnie’s jokes, listened to stories, and relaxed after the long day. For the first time in his life, he felt a strange sense of safety and rightness, one that he couldn't quite name. He was valued for who he was. Other farmers treated him with respect and affection, and he the same to them, which felt just about as good. No one wanted to kill him. He nearly threw up for thinking this, but maybe he had found a place that he could claim as home. Somewhere he could belong. Nah, that wasn’t it. Nah. It was probably just the stew. ____________________________________________________________________ The Techno Union transport, silent and dark, hovered in orbit over Wayland. Like an insect breaking from an egg, a ship emerged from within. The wide-winged lander flashed its engines, droning towards the planet’s surface.
  2. *Your entry has earned 3 XP* Mato I: A Death Sentence Mato II: Fleeing the Stench Next Post: Mato IV: Along Old Lanes Chapter III Mato saw faces and hands, blood and teeth, victims and threats, anguish and rage. With a shout, he lurched up on his bunk, out of his violent dreams. He sat still, breathing deep, staring at the gray of the wall in front of him. The air was stale, recycled. Not like Nal Hutta. That was a relief. The faces swam before his eyes, fading slowly. He would never kill again, he thought to himself. Killing was the Hutt-way. The Hutt-way was the nightmare behind him, but there was a life ahead. He remembered what had happened, took in where he was. He was on the girl-spy’s (Yigs, that was her name) ship, they had escaped from Nal Hutta. She had rescued him. Or had he rescued her? Maybe both were true. Wiping his face, he looked around and found water. The Weequay gulped down a canteen, and then after a thought occurred, filled an extra one for Yigs. Had she been flying all night? She had to be thirsty. He emerged into the cockpit, and nearly stumbled in shock. The blue tunnel of Hyperspace stretched before him, a cosmic swirl of energy, speed, and power. He had never seen such a thing. The girl smiled when she saw him enter, laughed at his open jaw. “Hey there! You’ve been out for hours! Quite a sight, isn’t it? Is this your first time in Hyperspace?” “Yes. What a horrifying sight.” “Hah! Don’t worry, it’s safe. The odds of anything happening to us in hyperspace are next to nothing.” Mato frowned. “’Next to nothing’. Is that supposed to be comforting?” “Sure, that was the idea.” Bewildered, he handed her the full canteen. She glanced back at him, surprised by the gesture, and took a grateful drink while he fell into the co-pilot’s seat. “I think the water has gone old,” he said regretfully. “It isn’t blue.” Yigs smiled. “Only water in rivers and streams is blue.” Mato blinked. “Is this true? I thought all water was blue, except on Hutta.” “Not true, my friend. You should see Mimban. And even where it is blue, that’s only on clear days.” Mato scratched his chin, growling to himself. “This is a great mystery.” Yigs checked a few monitors while wiping her mouth. “You’ll see. We’re nearly there, you’re just in time.” Hyperspace began to recede in a blinding display of shattered white, and a planet—colored a wash of healthy blue-green—rushed to meet them. In moments, it had gone from a tiny pearl to a massive ball that dominated the view screen. Mato nearly fell out of his chair. “Wayland!” Yigs declared, swelling with pride. “Home. This place used to be a breadbasket for the Empire. When it collapsed, the people rose up to take control of their homes and farms. That was a little before my time. Now they’re apart of the Confederacy of Free Systems, a group of other colonies in the Outer Rim.” Mato watched with great interest, but his attention was grabbed by something else. A dark, still object hovering over the planet, a large spacecraft. “And what is that, there?” he asked, pointing. Yigs’ expression turned sour. “The Techno Union,” she said, muttering, “They’d ruin dozens of acres of soil if they ever landed that monstrosity.” Seeing that Mato was curious for more, she explained. “The Techno Union were a big deal in the original Confederacy. They disappeared when the Empire rose, but now they’re back, and they want a hand in things. They’ve been trying to win the trust of the colonists, trying to sell them ‘new and improved’ farming methods and tech. Personally, I think it’s just a different kind of slavery waiting to happen. Koyode, our leader, thinks so too. We’re trying to get them to leave, but some of the colonists like what they have to say.” Mato examined the craft, scratching his chin. “I know this kind of starship. I’ve seen it on Nal Hutta. This Techno Union has dealings with the Hutts.” The woman looked at him with wide-eyed triumph. “I knew it! But . . . The only problem is that they can deny it as long as they want. We would need proof. That’s why I’ll be going back to Nal Hutta.” Mato spun to stare at her. “Return? Don’t be stupid. You'll die if you return there.” “Not with your help, I won’t,” she grinned. A pained expression crossed Mato’s face. He shook his head slowly. “No . . . no. I'm sorry, but . . . Yigs, I will never go back to that place.” Yigs hadn’t expected that. She thought she’d won another fighter for the cause. “What?” she said, blankly. “I’m sorry. I cannot. The Hutts . . . my life before . . . “ he hung his head in shame, struggling to find the right words. “You must understand—“ Yigs watched him, her expression impossible to read. Finally, she nodded in a stiff sort of way. “I . . . get it. It’s okay. I’ll just keep working on my own.” Her brow twitched, and she fixed her attention on preparing the ship for entry. “Alright, we’re coming in now, buckle up!” Mato felt uneasy. He hadn’t realized she expected him to help. Would she not have helped him escape Nal Hutta had she known? He wanted nothing to do with his old life, but was he wrong not to help her in her cause? He had left to find a new life, not to attack his old one. He just wanted to forget about the whole thing. Eager to break the awkward silence that had settled, he asked, “Do you like Wayland?” She nodded profusely. “Have you heard me talk at all? It’s the best planet in the galaxy.” He looked out on the continents and oceans before them, brimming with the light of their sun. He felt that feeling rising in him once again: hope. “You . . . seem a happy place," he said to the planet. "I should like to live in a happy place.”