Chapter 9
Inferno

(15 years before Star Wars: A New Hope)

The fire took a lot out of Cade and Cassie. Cassie was very sad, and I did not know how to comfort her. I told her it would be okay. I think she understood my meaning, if not my words.

Cade went into a depression for a while. He was lucky that his insurance money made him break even and debt-free, but he did not have a shop or a livelihood any more. Cade invited me to stay with him at his house for the time being.

One day, there was a knock at the door, right after the fire.

Cade was out getting some parts for the racing speeder, so I answered the door. It was Mr. Alexander. He had two large humans with him as bodyguards.

I crossed my arms, and looked at Mr. Alexander. I still didn't trust him. Something about his scent. "What do you want?"

Mr. Alexander tried to look around me, as if he was searching for something or someone. I purposefully put myself in his way, so that he would be forced to deal with me.

He looked to the large thug in the business suit on his right. "Get this...thing out of my way."

The thug nodded, and simply grabbed for my arm. I was going to tear his arm off.

I didn't get the chance. The thug grabbed me, and I felt a surging jolt run through me. I was almost paralyzed. Cassie started to cry, as I stood there in pain, trying to keep from howling. I had suffered worse, and I had the scars to prove it.

I looked up, directly into Mr. Alexander's eyes. It took a tremendous effort, but I managed to bring enough strength to the surface to strike the thug and make him release his grasp.

"I take it that Cade is out. Tell him that I wish to speak to him. Immediately." Mr. Alexander walked out with his two thugs.

This business deal stunk more all the time.

When Cade returned, I told him the whole story.

"Nonsense, Kurrelgyrre. There's nothing wrong with Mr. Alexander. He may be a little eccentric, or he may be distrustful against wookiees in general. Certainly, I could understand."

"I don't trust him, Cade. There's something not right about him. I can't place it, but you must trust me on this!" I grabbed Cade by the shoulders and lifted him off the ground. I was so furious. How DARE he speak to me as if I was stupid? Or worse yet, lying?

Cade looked at me dead in the eyes. He was surprised, but he didn't waver. "Put...me...down. Now."

I set Cade down. I had no idea what had come over me. He wouldn't listen. I guess I thought that I would make him listen. I knew at that moment that I had gone too far. I had allowed my anger to overcome me.

Cade walked off, then turned back to face me. "I thought you were different, Kurrelgyrre. I was wrong. The speeder bike will be ready just in time for Mr. Alexander. With or without you."

He turned around and walked off.

After a few weeks, we headed into the Inferno. Cassie's grandmother on her mother's side had come to visit, and was taking care of her while Cade worked on the finishing touches of the pod-racer.

I have to admit that I was a bit excited about the entire event. Cade and I patched things up, and I was a part of his pit crew. Despite my uneasiness about Mr. Alexander, I had to admit that he could pick a good crew. The Jawa was a bit annoying, but he could sure find supplies when we needed them.

Mr. Alexander had even hired one of the best speeder-bike pilots to hit the circuit: Blayze Starr, a half-human/half-something. He almost seemed to glow at times, and was very charismatic. Some say he was one of the angels from the moons of Iego.

Of course, Blayze Starr wasn't his real name, but who really cared? Blayze was a crowd favorite. He combined good solid racing skills with a flair for showmanship. One was always entertained when they got to see Blayze in action.

There were a few other notable racers as well.

Shien Briel, a Sullustan, was there. Unlike many racers, she tried to race as clean as possible. She always did fairly well, although she has not won a race to date. Then again, she has never crashed.

Trel Divar, a Devaronian, was there as well. He was noted for his hotheadedness. When he lost, he did not lose well. Some say he has made a few people who bested him disappear.

The four-armed droid GC-23 was one of the most dangerous speeder racers out there. GC-23 had a good knack for controlling his bike. Some say that he has a direct link into the bike, so that he can control it with his droid mind, but no one has ever been able to get close enough to confirm this.

There were several others there that I was not that familiar with, although I could tell they were experienced.

Cade and I, along with the rest of the pit crew, were working on the finishing touches. The bike itself was a modified Corostar J-12 - a bit of an older model, but one that always performed well and was still used to this day. The bike had three engines on the back, and a sleek nose designed for minimal wind resistance. It was painted blue, and had a lightning bolt down each side.

Cade went away for a few minutes, and came back with a new part that I had never seen before.

"What is that?" I asked.

"This is a Tralscol Accelerator. It gives a boost to speed. They are usually used with podracers, but it can be adapted to a speeder bike. Improves speed tremendously. Handling is a little rough, but I'm certain an experienced speeder racer pilot like Mr. Starr can compensate."

Blayze Starr was certainly listening. "Cade, I trust you completely on this. The bike has handled well thus far - perhaps the best bike I ever flew. Don't worry, she'll hold together just fine." Blayze went over to pat the bike as Cade attached the accelerator.

Two hours later, the race was just about ready to start. All the bikes were brought out onto the track. The track itself was a custom-made marvel. It was a combination of several different types of terrain. The first portion of the course was the way out of the city. CorSec always blocked off the area, but one never new when a straggler might get through to get a better look at the race.

Down the course, the racers went into a forested area. Trees abounded everywhere. New trees were planted or moved each year to keep the course unpredictable. The main obstacle here was the wildlife.

Next up was the lake. Speeder racers had to go over a lake, then go through a waterfall that hid an underground cavern. Of course, there were three waterfalls, so one had to be careful to pick the right one.

The underground cavern presented a problem all of its own, as there was no light and stalactites and stalagmites were a constant problem.

Finally, the racers emerged back above ground for the final stretch, which included a series of flame-jets and an immense fireball at the end. Ergo, the Inferno! Racers always wore flame-retardant clothing and treated their bikes against the fires.

We had the bike in position, and Cade and Blayze were going over last-minute details and instructions. While Blayze was a showman, he was also a professional. He listened intently and followed every detail.

The warning beacon sounded, letting us know it was time to clear the track. We moved our equipment to the side, and waited in the pit crew.

The announcer had been going on for a while about the racers and what sort of opposition they faced. Blayze was the crowd favorite, and most people put their money on him.

The racers were being introduced one by one. Blayze was the last.

"And finally, the Light of Corellia himself - Blayze Starr!" The crowd went wild. Blayze waved in gracious motion towards the crowd. Groups of fans held up signs that cheered him on, and I thought I saw a Vadirian expose herself. Certain rumors about Vadirian females were confirmed at that moment.

The ready light lit up, and you could hear the bikes revving up. Blayze got his goggles in place and checked over the equipment one final time. He looked over at us and gave a thumbs-up sign. We all smiled and congratulated each other.

As I sat there, looking at the racers, I started getting that uneasy feeling again. It was real strong this time. I looked over at Cade, and decided not to bother him. He was in ecstasy over the race.

The final light was illuminated, and the racers took off. Blayze always stayed back by a couple of bikes until towards the end of the race. He would let others make mistakes before he could.

The city part was fairly easy, although you had to watch the winding streets. Trel, the Devaronian, bounced off of a force field at one point, and you could almost see the steam rise from his horns.

After a couple of minutes, the racers exited the city, and entered a solid stretch of grassland that headed straight into the artificial forest.

The forest was a tricky terrain, as branches hung low everywhere. Some trees were purposefully chopped down to create obstacles. Some wildlife stayed about, but generally got out of the way once they heard the speeders.

Pretty soon, the racers came out of the forest and headed towards a lake, with three waterfalls at the far end. This was the tricky part. One of the waterfalls had a cave behind it. The other two didn't. The wrong decision could prove fatal.

The racers all eased off, and the one in the lead headed towards the waterfall on the left. He headed towards the waterfall, and hit rock behind it. A fireball came from behind the waterfall, creating steam as fire hit water.

Number 39 was next in line. She headed towards the middle waterfall, but with the same effect.

Blayze was up next. We all smiled, knowing he would be safe with the waterfall on the right. As we watched him, he was heading towards the middle one! The same one the last crash was at!

Cade got on the comm and started shouting, "Blayze, what the hell are you doing? That's not the right one!"

Blayze called back, "No, it is the right one. Trust me."

The comm went dead. We waited there, knowing that Blayze would be dead. The crowd started whooping and hollering, knowing as well the racer's fate.

At the last minute, Blayze adjusted his angle, heading 45 degrees downward. We watched, dreading the outcome.

As we sat there, Blayze entered the waterfall. We all awaited the explosion, but it never came.

The crowd started to go wild. Cheers erupted from the crowd, and Cade's comm link started to chirp.

"I told ya to trust me!" Blayze's voice said. We all cheered, but that feeling kept tugging at me. Something was wrong.

We continued to watch the race from infrared cameras. Blayze navigated the underground cavern with ease. One of the racers bounced off of a stalactite, then spun towards a wall and exploded. The camera lit up with heat.

Finally, the racers were in the final stretch. Flame jets erupted from the ground, causing the racers to swerve left and right to avoid them.

Blayze had a solid lead on the rest, who were hard pressed to keep up. He was heading towards the fireball. The crew had worked hard to make certain everything was flameproof, so this should be a cinch.

Blayze headed towards that fireball, and called us on the comm.

"Tell Mr. Alexander that he's buying dinner tonight after I win this race. I'm in the mood for something spicy hot..."

Right then, my uneasy feeling came to a boil. He was in big trouble.

"Cade, tell him to veer off. Tell him..."

It was too late. The fireball burst forth, consuming the racer. From the fireball, came another one - this one much larger and shooting forth black smoke.

Blayze Starr never emerged from the other side of the fireball.