A sudden gust of wind slammed sleet into his office window and brought Stelton out of his reverie. It was late. He needed to get home despite the weather, or Blye would worry. Grabbing his cane, Stelton made his way upright and limped over to his coat. He stared through the window as he prepared to go, not relishing the idea of his imminent soaking. He paused as he reached for his hat. No. You've got to be kidding me.
From the third floor window, Stelton saw that kid- that idiot kid- out on top of her ship in the docking bay down below.
When the YT-1760 had arrived early on in the summer, Stelton admired the ship from a distance, but fully expected such a novelty to be gone within a week or so. It was now well into winter, however, and to all appearances was on the receiving end of a major overhaul from the young girl who alternatively crawled all over its hull, repairing, replacing, adding, cleaning, and generally bringing the derlict into this century, or dissapearing into its depths for weeks at a time. The gods only knew what had happened to the interior and ship's systems.
And now, here she was. Bold and stupid as any kid her age (or maybe bolder and stupider) waltzing around the top of a ship in a storm that looked like it should tear skin from bone. Stelton felt that as this appeared to be the only two things the girl was composed of, she ought to be particularly concerned.
Stelton was rooted to the spot as his paternal instinct to go yell at the girl wrestled with his gut desire to go home and have something warm and alcoholic to drink. And thus he stood as the girl lost her footing and landed in a heap on the ground beside the ship.
Damn. There went his evening.
"Kursku! Ey! Kursku!"
An amiable looking bothan poked his head around the doorframe. "You bellowed?"
Stelton was fond of Kursku. Even though Stelton was capable of being fond of most anyone, Kursku was 1- typically in a good mood 2- always game for any crazy scheme, and 3- ridiculously competent. Perhaps three of the most endearing qualities in Stelton's book. Blye shared them, as well. Though perhaps not 2 to the same extent.
"Yeah. Come on. I need you to get us in to the bays. There's a kid hurt down there."
Stelton sent a message off to Blye asking her to come to the office with her medical bag, then got on the lift Kursku was holding for the two of them. They were soaked within moments of leaving the building, but despite the rain and ice, Kursku had them past the YT's docking bay security door in short order.
The skeletal figure struggling to gain her feet was in poor condition. Rain rapidly carried blood away from gashes and scrapes she'd accumulated as her body had contacted the ship on the way down, and she seemed unable to use her right leg at all. The noise from the storm drowned out Stelton and Kursku's approach, so they were practically at her side when she finally noticed them.
Alarmed, she let go of the strut she'd been using to pull herself up, and fell as she tried to reach for a weapon, instead. Kursku pulled her to her feet as Stelton explained. "Easy, kid. We came to help."
She looked at them warily, but said nothing. She was clearly exhausted and leaned heavily on Kursku. She nodded, and the three of them made their way under the protection of the ship.
Stelton gave the teenager an appraising look, decided she wasn't at death's door and said "Come on. We'll get you back to the office and get you fixed up." Another almost apathetic nod. "Do you ever talk?" Stelton smiled as they shuffled further under the ship. "What's your name?"
There was a pause, then: "Jerin."
Stelton was delighted. He loved meeting new people. "Well, Jerin. Do you always get yourself into this much trouble?"
"You have no idea."
In her cramped quarters, Jerin clumsily put on a pot of caf, then fumbled out of her pajamas and into some clothes. The room had not originally been so small; the YT-1760 had been designed to accommodate up to 8 passengers. However, Jerin had turned the living space into cargo space, leaving only one sleeping room. She divided that room in two, on the off chance she wound up with a passenger. She had then forced a small refrigeration unit, caf maker, and the few other kitchen devices her limited culinary powers found useful into the larger of the two sleeping rooms, and done away with the galley as well.
Very few parts of the ship had escaped Jerin's (sometimes violent) overhaul. The ship was aptly christened Chaos- it was an absolute mess when it came into Jerin's possession, and it had only gotten worse before it got better. Since Jerin finished her work, though, Chaos was the fastest and most reliable ship under contract with Stelton Shipping.
Jerin finally dragged herself into Stelton's office later that morning, nursing her third cup of caf. The office was a mess, as always. There were tools, ship parts, and data pads strewn everywhere, along with remnants of old meals, and an odd accumulation of hats, which seemed to be worn in to work, but never out. Stelton's office also boasted an assortment of posters, most political, snarky, or both. Jerin thought they were weird, but Stelton termed them "eclectic," and his childlike glee in their immature slogans was endearing.
He looked up from a datapad he was perusing and squinted at Jerin. "You look awful," he said by way of greeting.
"Any time. Really, are you okay?"
Jerin nodded, and took another sip. "I'm fine. What's up for me today?"
"Ah. That. Damn. Now I feel bad. But, Jerin, Iphthieth called in sick. I need you to haul some booze to Coruscant."
Jerin nearly spit her caf. "Stelton, you know I hate going there! Get someone else to do it!"
Stelton shook his head. "You're the only one who's on planet and not hung over, and this shipment has to go out this morning. You know how the Hutts are." Stelton squinted at Jerin again, and muttered, "You're the only one on planet, anyway."
"I heard that, and I'm not hung over," Jerin fumed. There was a pause while Jerin contemplated how the job could be avoided, but she needed the money, and this job was apparently priority number one. "You sure there's no one else?" Stelton shook his head. "Fine. But Iphthieth owes me. Big time. And so do you. Go ahead and have them start loading up Chaos." Stelton nodded in response. He didn't dare tell her that loading had already begun.
"Look, Jerin. Swing by after you get back. Blye's making your favorite," Stelton had hastily orchestrated this after Iphthieth had called, "and we'd be happy to give you a late supper."
"I can't. I'm busy. Which reminds me- my payment should be waiting for me when I get back. Hard currency."
Stelton then understood why Jerin was busy. "Rok, again?" He asked. Jerin nodded. "Doesn't your brother ever make a good bet?"
Jerin gritted her teeth. "No. He's got zero gambling instinct. But that hasn't stopped him." Jirok's debt this time was large enough that Jerin could ill afford to bail him out alone. Her older brother, Jared (Jare to his friends), and the two boys' father, Thom, were pitching in, too. And then giving the 19 year old a serious talk.
Stelton had known Jerin for well over a year before he found out that she had any family at all, and a few more years had passed before she had actually contacted Rok and Jare. Jerin's youngest brother, Leucca, lived somewhere off-planet with his father and step-mother. Jerin hadn't seen him since he was an infant, but reuniting with her other two brothers had been good for her. She especially enjoyed spending time with Jared, the calmer of the two. Hanging out with Rok typically involved much more drinking and brawling, and somewhat fewer friendly games of sabbacc.
"I'll make sure the money is waiting for you," Stelton assured Jerin. He knew it was pointless to discourage her helping her brother. "You're never going to tell me why going to Coruscant gets to you, are you?"
"It was a rhetorical question, Jerin." Very rhetorical. Jerin continually refused to discuss any events before the time they had met.
Jerin shrugged and took another sip of caf as she made her way out. "Tell me if there's leftovers, right?"
Jerin refilled her cup from the pot of brew posing as caf in the corridor, hoping that Kursku had the kindness to spike it again today. She could feel her stomach churning already, and knew it had nothing to do with caf, and everything to do with who would be waiting for her on Coruscant.
Re: The FifthJerin felt bad for being so short with Stelton. Normally the two got along famously; he and Blye had filled something of a parental gap in Jerin's life. However, the day had begun poorly and only promised to get worse. That and her pounding head put Jerin in foul mood. On the way to Coruscant, Jerin tried to sleep. She tried to eat. She tried to exercise. She even got so desperate that she attempted to meditate.
That was the worst. Nothing could get Kareth Horran's face out of her mind. It was the first thing she remembered seeing after the Fear exploded, and it was quite nearly the last thing she saw, ever. As far as Jerin was concerned, she could live a happy life never being so much as on the same planet as Horran, but today, Jerin could not avoid it.
Many of Jerin's old traveling companions had been Jedi. They had struck a deal with the Empire- amnesty for helping the Empire deal with a nasty internal problem. One of their own had gone rogue with a posse of Sith. That amnesty extended to Jerin, despite her univolvement in the battle. However, when the ISD had blown up taking both the Jedi and Sith with it, Jerin was left as the prime information source about her friends and their activities. Horran had been tasked with extracting that information.
She wasn't sure how long she spent at his mercy in some dark cell on Coruscant, but when Jerin emerged, there wasn't much of her left. Horran had become hellbent on one thing: a holocron left in Jerin's posession. She and Drev had hidden it on board her ship, Fortune Smiles, in case of disaster. Horran ordered the ship thoroughly searched, but the holocron had been too well hidden. After her release, Jerin found it undisturbed.
Sitting on the edge of her bunk, Jerin pulled the holocron out of its new hiding place below. The small cube fit easily in Jerin's palm. She turned it over, examining it yet again, but the markings meant no more to her now than they did when she first saw it. Jerin squeezed the device, poked it, and even spoke to it hoping for some sort of guidance, but the device remained still. Jerin once witnessed it come to life in the hands of Drev and Shaggy, but for her, nothing.
Jerin couldn't imagine why Horran wanted the relic, save greed. He clearly had no aptitude for the force, and was disdainful of its users. Jerin realized, however, that the holocron could be dangerous in the wrong hands. It was also the last and only memorial of her friends.
Jerin took a deep breath, then hid the device back in its box. Screw Horran. The holocron wasn't going anywhere.
Re: The FifthCaptain Shalal took great pride in his work. He was the gaurdian of all Coruscant. At least the only part of Coruscant that mattered, as far as he was concerned. Tall, thin, and bordering on decrepit, Shalal watched the fall of the Republic and rise of the Empire with very little concern. For 45 years he had been the Chief Customs Officer for the Lower 6th Division and could execute his job quite capably without the ridiculous title, thank you very much. He would be happy in another 45 years, he thought, when the Empire fell and the customs office could be left to its own devices once more. In the meantime, he remained cozy in the same office, filling out more and more forms. That's one thing you could say about the Empire- they provided Shalal with even more rules to follow and forms to fill out. That part he didn't mind. It was the-
"Captain!" There was a knock at the door.
"Yes, come in. What is it?"
"We've had another flagged ship arrive. The Chaos. Intelligence requires notification to the attention of Kareth Horran."
"Yes, yes. I'll take care of it. See that the ship is grounded," Shalal grumbled and waved a hand to dismiss the junior officer. "Wait!" Shalal reconsidered before the young man had a chance to retreat.
"Send someone out to inspect the ship for customs. Perhaps that new fellow. Henriltoz, or some-such. Good experience for him."
"Yes, sir." The officer waited to be dismissed, but Shalal had already turned to the comm and forgotten about his messenger. Quietly, the young man stole out of the room.
Yes, thought Shalal to himself. Just because they're allowed to interfere with out department doesn't mean we have to make it easy for them. Send the new bungler in to get in Horran's way. Won't that be an education for both of them?
Jerin waited uneasily in the cockpit of Chaos. It always began this way, being grounded by customs on Coruscant. It was never customs who showed up, though, but Horran. Always Horran, with the same questions and same bloodymindedness, but never the same coercion twice. Horran was a bastard, but he was a creative bastard. Jerin took a deep breath.
She could be creative, too.
Footsteps on the deckplates alerted Jerin to Horran's approach. From the sounds of it, he brought company. She had been determined to remain seated, but Jerin's morbid curiosity won. She stepped out of the cockpit abruptly to come face to face with Lieutenant Henriltoz and two storm troopers.
Jerin's sudden appearance had clearly taken the Lieutenant aback as much as his presence had surprised her.
"Um. Hello," was all Jerin could think of to say.
Henriltoz recovered himself. "I'm Lieutenant Henriltoz of the customs office for the Lower 6th Division. We've come to inspect your cargo." He handed Jerin the datapad with orders.
"Sure," Jerin said. They could paint the cargo flaming orange for all she cared. Who cared about cargo? They weren't Horran.
"You need to transfer a copy of the manifest to the datapad before they can begin."
"Right. I'm on it." After rummaging about for the manifest and making the transfer, Jerin handed the datapad to one of the troopers, and pointed toward the cargo bays. "Help yourselves, boys," she told the them. Henriltoz nodded, and the two troopers *clank clanked* away.
Jerin returned to her seat in the cockpit. The Lieutenant followed her, and stood awkwardly in the doorway. There was no copilot's chair. "Sorry about the seating arrangment."
"Oh, no. It's fine."
There was an awkward silence. Jerin's head kept pounding out a beat for her. Despite her headache, she had managed to notice that the Lieutenant wasn't a bad-looking fellow. Henriltoz appeared to be around her own age, and somewhat awkward in his uniform. Perhaps he might even be a decent human being. It happened, occasionally, even in the Empire. Especially in the lower ranks.
"They shouldn't take much longer," Henriltoz commented, after the pause became uncomfortably long.
Jerin nodded. "Good. I need to get home on time." Force, her head hurt! But this Henriltoz fellow was interesting. And it couldn't hurt to have a friend in customs. "You're from the South Eastern Corridor, aren't you, Lieutenant?"
Henriltoz was surprised. "Yes. How did you know?"
"Your accent." The South Eastern Corridor was a very old and very poor region of lower Coruscant. Indeed, it was old enough to have at one time been south eastern with respect to some meaningful reference point, now unknown. Though historic, the Corridor was a less than glamorus place to call home.
"Not a lot of people can pick it out."
"I sold my last ship to a guy from South Eastern. You hide the accent pretty well, but you might want to work on the 'R's."
"Ah. Thanks for the tip." Henriltoz flushed a little. He'd endeavored to mask his accent since he joined the Empire. People from South Eastern didn't move up in the world without wiping out their past. He hoped his fellow officers hadn't discerned what this pilot had.
"Or," said Jerin, "you could just talk normally."
Henriltoz became distant now. "I'd rather not, Miss Puck."
Jerin shrugged. So much for making friends. She'd never been good at it, anyway.
Yet another awkward pause, broken shortly by the return of the two stormtroopers.
"Everything is in order, sir, except for this crate. It was not declared on the manifest." The trooper indicated with his foot the crate they had dragged along with them. "What do you want us to do, sir?"
Henriltoz glanced down at the crate, nonplussed. There were protocols for this, but he wanted to get off the ship, and away from the woman in the cockpit.
"An undeclared crate? I will take it. I confiscate it as evidence for Imperial Intelligence," a quiet voice took command of the situation. Lieutenant Henriltoz turned around. Kareth Horran was two steps behind him.
Re: The FifthHorran's voice continued, "See that the crate is loaded aboard my transport."
The stormtroopers, having instantly recognized Horran's rank insignia, picked up the crate between them and disappeared off the hall.
Jerin heard Horran from inside the cockpit. Her stomach and her heart felt like they were having a boxing match, but that didn't keep her from yelling "It's just liquor, Horran!"
The corners of Kareth Horran's mouth twitched upward a moment. "Then I shall have a pleasant time inspecting it." Horran glanced at Henriltoz's uniform. "Customs." He remarked. "How quaint. I am Lieutenant-Commander Horran, Imperial Intelligence, and I have come to have a word with Ms Puck. If you're through here?"
Not waiting for an answer, Horran brushed past Henriltoz and into the cockpit. In a fluid movement, he pushed Jerin out of her seat with his highly polished black walking stick. Jerin turned red in anger as Horran arranged himself in the chair. He was too tall for it. Henriltoz installed himself in the doorway opposite Jerin with the fascination of someone watching a traffic wreck.
Horran noticed the Lieutenant had not left, and gave him an almost-smile that turned Jerin's stomach. "Interested in Intelligence, my boy? Noble. But this," he pointed at Jerin with the walking stick, "is confidential. Run along."
It was Henriltoz's turn to flush red. Could the Empire have sent a more arrogant officer to come be condescending about the job he'd worked hard to get? Protocol, man. Get a hold of yourself. Henriltoz gave a smart salute, and exited, but his annoyance left him unable to overcome years of growing up in the Corridor. Once he had rounded the bend in the hall, he stopped to listen.
Jerin watched the Lieutenant leave, dearly wishing that he had stayed. Any company, even young Lieutenants putting on airs, would be preferable to being alone with Horran.
Henriltoz rotated the chair to face Jerin directly. "I was beginning to think, Ms Puck, that you were avoiding me. You do realize that if we went too long without one of our little chats, I would be forced to send someone to fetch you?"
Jerin rolled her eyes. "You can't do that. I have amnesty."
Horran chuckled. "For now, Ms Puck. For now. But one of these days you're going to slip up so badly that neither your amnesty nor your commander friend will be able to save you."
"He's not my friend," Jerin growled.
"The Commander disagrees. Regardless, in the meantime, we will continue to have our chats." Horran paused. "Everything would be much easier if you simply cooperated."
"Easier for you, maybe."
"Easier for both of us, my girl. I assure you, if you were to cooperate, you would be left alone afterwards."
Most dead people are left alone, Jerin thought to herself, but said nothing.
"So," Horran stood and leaned his stick against the chair. "I will ask you yet again," Horran tugged his gloves on a bit tighter as he took a step forward, "and I really suggest you answer," another step, "Truthfully." Horran's voice was now barely above a whisper, and he was mere inches from Jerin. He had, quite literally, backed her into a corner.
In the hallway, Henriltoz strained to hear the conversation. The humming of the ship's system in the background masked Horran's and Jerin's voices.
Jerin glared up at Horran. "What?" she asked angrily.
"Where are your friends?" Horran asked quietly, with a mocking sympathetic tone.
This was not standard Horran questioning, and Jerin was confused. She tried to look away, but Horran's knuckles pushed her chin up so her eyes met his face once more. He asked again.
"They're dead," she answered tonelessly.
"Not all of them," said Horran. "Where is your father?" Again the mocking tone.
Liar. "I don't know."
Horran calibrated his measure of her expressions after few more seconds study, then, "Where is the holocron?"
"I don't know."
"No. Are we done now?"
The corners of Horran's mouth twitched.
After straining so long to hear, Hernriltoz nearly jumped at the scream that rent the air. Jerin was yelling words he couldn't understand; Horran's voice could barely be made out yelling over the noise. The Lieutenant was frozen to the spot, torn between running to help the young pilot, and running to the safety of his office. Before he reached a decision, the screaming came to an abrupt stop, followed immediately by a dull thud.
Horran looked down at Jerin's form on the deck. That wasn't supposed to happen. He watched carefully a moment to determine if she was still breathing. Good. Still alive. He pulled a sleeve back, revealing a small panel. He glanced at its settings. Hmm. I must have the boys in engineering to take a look. We can't have prisoners passing out too early, now can we? Horran stepped over the still form of Jerin. He'd be glad to get off this ship. By the time the holocron was truly needed, the girl would be all too happy to hand it over. Horran just had to keep it fresh in her mind until then.
Hearing Horran's approach, Henriltoz ducked into a cargo bay. Once certain that the Intelligence officer had left the ship, he rushed to the cockpit, expecting the worst. Instead, he found Jerin sitting in her pilot's seat, hands moving clumsily over the controls. But moving. "Are you okay?" he blurted out, without any regard for curbing his accent. Jerin spun the seat around with a look of surprise on her face.
Now Henriltoz got a good look at Jerin. Her hair was messed up a bit, and she was whiter than a sheet- even her lips had no color. He also noticed that something had scorched through the sleeves of her shirt. A single burn hole adorned the fabric over each forearm. Hmm. Damsels in distress hadn't really been covered in basic training.
"You look awful."
Jerin's expression turned to combination of incredulity and indignation. "Who asked you? And what are you doing here, anyway?"
So maybe not a damsel. "Should I get medical help?"
"Look, unless you happen to be carrying a very strong cup of caf or some blackjacks, I'm not interested, right? I can take care of myself."
Henriltoz was annoyed. Didn't she realize he was trying to help? "Uh huh. Like you took care of yourself just now?"
"Yes, thanks for asking." Jerin's hands were regaining speed and accuracy and the hum of the ship rose concomitantly. "Good thing you were here to help." A mop would be needed to wipe up the sarcasm. "You might like to know that this ship is taking off in 30 seconds, with or without you on board. Thanks for your concern. Get lost."
Henriltoz left in a huff tempered by confusion and fear. He watched from the landing bay as the Chaos disappeared into the clouds. Henriltoz had grown up with stories about the glory of the Empire. It's nobility, and justice. But there were the other stories, whispered ones. The young lieutenant felt as if he'd just trod on the edge of such a story. He shook his head, trying to dislodge the events from his brain and steeled himself to report to Captain Shalal. The Captain would not be pleased.
Once in the air, Jerin spat a small, mangled bit of plastic on the deckplates. After her last encounter with Horran, she had purchased a Nitro capsule and stashed it in her sock drawer in case she had the misfortune to meet him again. On the upside, it had allowed her to pass out convincingly, and Horran had left. On the downside, her headache was now worse. Jerin felt 98% certain that her head would explode, and nearly as certain that she'd pass out again if she tried to stand up any time soon.
Despite this, Jerin gave a sigh of relief. All she had to do now was deliver the cargo, and get home and help save Rok's hide. Again. Then she was picking up her sophs and sleeping for two frelling days straight.
Re: The FifthJerin's return trip was mercifully uneventful. She used the time to recover from her run-in with Horran- bandaged her arms, changed her shirt, downed another pot of caf, pondered the ways she was going to kill her little brother.
When she got back to the office, her pay had been easy to find. Stelton had even cleared off a little spot on his desk so Jerin wouldn't have to rummage around. She appreciated that. Stelton's desk was the epicenter of the office mess, and exploring it was not for the faint of heart. Jerin had once found a noodle carton with a three years gone expiration date under one of his hats. Since then, she only approached the desk alone if it was absolutely necessary.
Jerin tucked the cash into her wallet, and hightailed it to Lucia's. Time was running out for Rok.
Jerin squinted as she ducked into Lucia's. She had always been of the opinion that the lighting here was stupid, and now more than ever. Whoever had designed the place clearly found white light anathema. There were spotlights both from the ceiling and beneath the floor, and all of them tinted with either orange or green tones. Jerin imagined that this was supposed to add some sort of mystique to the ubiquitous scantily clad waitresses and dancers. Yet another chief annoyance. Add to that the awful music, the place was some sort of specially designed purgatory for Jerin, though she spent much more time there than she'd readily admit. Rok claimed it was his brotherly charm and his handsome friends. Jerin maintained that it was to help keep Rok out of trouble, though secretly, she knew it was because she had another addiction:
The fried cheese at Lucia's was amazing.
If there were gods, and they ate food, Jerin was convinced they would eat Lucia's fried cheese and Blye's soup. In that order. And she couldn't help but have a basket of the stuff in the back of her mind as she searched for her brother among the green-orange shadows. Ah. There, by the bar. It was hard to miss the hair that matched the orange lights.
"Isn't 3 a.m. kind of a weird payment deadline?" Jerin asked.
A very pale and very freckled Jirok spun off his barstool and grabbed up Jerin in a painfully tight hug. "Shavvit! I'm glad to see you!" He released her. "Uh. You do have the money, right?"
Rok made to hug her again, but Jerin held up a hand. "Come on, I'm getting a table." They sat, and Jerin ordered some friend cheese and a drink from a passing waitress. "So. Do you know who's coming to collect?"
"Nah. One of Chuvvah's guys."
"Rok, you idiot! Seriously?"
Rok nodded, trying his best to look penitent.
"Don't give me that look." They sat in silence a while, then Jerin broke out her wallet to pay the waitress as the food arrived. She slapped Rok's hand away from her cheese, then sighed and handed him a wad of cash. "Here. But you're staying right here until this is over. I'm not letting you off by yourself when Chuvvah's thugs are looking for you." Rok wilted, but did not argue. Jerin sighed. At least there was cheese.
The crumbs in the basket were long gone, and Jerin was on her second drink when they were joined at the table by a landmass of a human being. "Jirok Ailey?" It growled.
Rok coughed. "Yeah."
"You have the money you owe Chuvvah, now, yes?"
A scarred, beefy hand slammed down palm up on the table, shaking the glasses. Rok dropped a large wad of credits into the waiting palm, doing his best to keep his distance. Chuvvah's man leaned back in his chair and began to count it. "Good, good," he murmured under his breath. Jerin couldn't help staring at his mustache. It demanded to be the focal point- the rest of his face and head were hairless.
He pocketed the money and turned his attention back to Rok. "This is the money you owe Chuvvah. He so kindly gave you time to pay off your debt. Now," the mustache leaned closer, "where is the money you owe me?"
"What?" Rok asked, sounding slightly panicked.
"Where is my tip? I have done you a great service here, carrying your money, all of it, to Chuvvah. It would be a great pity if some got lost on the way."
"I don't have any more credits. You wiped me out. I'm broke!" Rok gave Jerin a sidelong look. The mustache noticed.
"Maybe your girlfriend there can help you, no?"
"She's my sister."
"What you do is your own business," He turned to Jerin. "What do you say, sister?"
Re: The FifthTwo figures could barely be made out on the dune. The only illumination came from their blades, which flashed and hummed, clashed with impressive force. To an observer, the battle seemed to have gone on for ages, but neither wielder seemed to be tiring. A growl of impatience, and one lightsaber sprouted a second blade. Another single blade appeared in the opponent's hand in response, and the speed of the battle doubled. No longer could a lone saber be seen, only colorful blurs. In the darkness, it made a fantastic light show. Until the single blades flew in opposite directions, accompanied by the sound of a hard impact on sand. The double bladed saber snapped off.
The lights came on, illuminating a vast room full of partitions of various landscapes and room types. It was an impressive training gym, built to prepare a student for any environment. Or at least that was the intention of the designer. The victor of the battle knew that not half the places he'd found himself in combat had been thought of.
Panting, the graying Jedi half walked, half slid down the dune to help his opponent up. The young man rose, saying nothing, and looked blankly at the man who had defeated him. Baith stared back for a while, before giving up. The silence was broken only by the sound of the two regaining their breath.
Baith wiped his brow with his sleeve, and regarded his opponent again. He was definitely improving, and Baith had mixed feelings about that. He sat a moment to dump the sand from his boots, and watched as the young man was lead away by armed guards. The remaining guards eyed Baith warily. Baith smiled and waved at them, boot in hand. The Jedi, despite his age, was a force to be reckoned with, and he scared them. To be fair, Baith was probably one of few Jedi they'd ever encountered, at least this close up.
Baith stood, stretched upward, and took a deep breath. How, Master he thought, am I going to fix this one? If Baith was honest with himself (and he tried to be) getting captured was embarassing. But, considering the situation he found himself in, he couldn't wonder if it had been the will of the force. He was, from padawan to knight, a Jedi Shadow. Even with the order gone, it was his responsibility to try to purge dark use of the force from the galaxy.
He wished very much that it didn't so often involve also purging the dark force users from the galaxy. But it was inordinately difficult to get such beings to change their ways. It was obvious something evil was being developed in the facility in which Baith was now imprisoned. But here was his problem: the young pups they brought in for him to spar with were not dark force users.
They weren't light, either. They simply were.
They were pitiable, really, despite their trying to defeat him. (Defeat by a training lightsaber isn't very disasterous, anyway.) Five young men, Baith estimated them to be near 20 years old, who used the force with no emotion whatsoever. Three months ago, Baith wouldn't have believed it possible. But having seen it, sensed it, fought it- he now knew otherwise. They never spoke; they never became angry or disappointed in defeat, or exhilirated by triumph.
Baith did not know how their emotion and personality had been denied them. His attempts at communicating with them through the force were met with an apathetic "Go away." They were clearly being trained- and now by him!- for a purpose. He could not, in good conscience, kill them. The five were more victims than he was. Baith knew he must derail whatever purpose their creator intended for them. And the obvious method, killing the force users, was itself evil.
He'd been here nearly three months and, Force help him, he still had no idea what he was going to do.
Re: The FifthSol sniffed at the invitation before him. Invitation. Ha! More like a summons. Horran and his endless meetings. It was a lunch meeting, so at least there would be food, and good food at that. And, Sol grudgingly admitted, there was at least a decent excuse to have a meeting- Rula had returned from The Nursery, and everyone awaited his report. The time was drawing near for everything to fall into place.
When Sol arrived at Horran's apartment, everyone else was already there. The help had been dismissed, and Horran, Rula, and Worthington were exchanging meaningless small talk and snacking on hors d'oeuvres. Leaning on the buffet was Merrick, nursing a drink and watching quietly.
"Sol!" Horran's eyes flickered to clock above the buffet then back to his guest, "I'm so glad you could join us. Please, come in." Horran secured the door while the rest of the party congregated at the table.
The cabal had no formal guidelines nor leadership, but they had tradition nonetheless. The men arranged themselves around Horran's table as always- Horran on one end with Worthington beside him, and Rula on the other, with Sol at his right. Merrick had one side to himself. The table itself impressively withstood the weight of the feast that lay upon it; food sufficient to feed twice their number at least.
Sol's mouth watered, but no one else would begin to eat until Horran did so himself. They were in Horran's home, after all. The bastard.
Horran lifted his glass to indicate the wine before them. "Gentlemen. Our fine beverages come to you compliments of the girl who has the holocron in her possession."
Of course he would start out boasting. "You always say the holocron is yours, Horran." Sol challenged.
The corners of Horran's mouth gave a fleeting upward twitch. "The holocron is in the possession of the girl. The girl, whether she knows it or not, is in my possession. Therefore, Sol, the holocron is mine." Horran punctuated the comment with a sip from his glass.
"So then, the wine is compliments of you, too?" Sol returned.
Horran swallowed and put his glass down, preparing to respond, but was preempted by Merrick. "Oh, do shut up, Sol," he smiled.
Rula let out one of his rumbling chuckles, and patted Sol on the back. "Do not worry, my friend," he boomed. "You always worry. But Kareth will certainly have the holocron ready when we need it. Here, have your drink, and relax. Everything is going perfectly!"
Sol wordlessly accepted his glass from Rula's hand and smiled. "Of course. Why don't you update us on the progress at The Nursery, Rula?" Inwardly, Sol seethed. Horran was intentionally holding a critical part of their project at arms length, not only from the rest of the group, but from himself, as well! How could the other three be so confident that Horran could retrieve the Holocron at will? True, his interrogation prowess bordered on legendary, but Sol was not convinced Horran would make a good thief. If Horran continued to hold out, Sol felt he must find the wine donor's identity at the very least. Everyone else refused to push Horran on this point.
Sol realized with some surprise that he and the others had filled their plates and the meeting had begun. Rula's voice rolled onward. "So, as you see, the shells are coming along very well. The combat Jedi is impressed with their progress, though they cannot yet defeat him, individually. There is speculation that this may be because they cannot draw on fierce emotion as other force users can. I, myself, am not sure. Certainly more training is not a bad idea!"
Sol murmured his assent with the others, when it happened. He gasped for breath, then held it to keep himself from yelling out in pain- the searing pain, the fire through his chest and arms subsided after a few moments, but the others had noticed. Sol felt their eyes on him. He blinked the water from his eyes and cleared his throat. "I'm fine."
Worthington's brow furrowed. "Are they happening more frequently?"
Sol waved a hand dismissively. "Just bad timing, I think."
Merrick turned to Rula "How soon do you think they'll be ready?" His eyes turned back to Sol.
"In time," Rula answered quietly, refilling Sol's glass. "Have some more. You'll feel better for it."
Horran coughed delicately. "Perhaps you could continue with your report, Gerhart? I know many of us have afternoon appointments."
"Of course, Kareth. Of course."
That evening, long after the help had returned and cleared the dishes away, Horran sat alone in his study, surveying the other bottles that had come from Jerin's ship. He selected the oldest bottle to provide his nightcap. Finely decorated, attached to it was a small card: "Our sincere thanks for your many years of loyal business." He poured himself a glass, swirled it around, and sniffed it gently. Ah. Perhaps if the Empire rewarded loyalty so richly they would not be soon be facing our wrath. He leaned back in his chair, took a sip, and closed his eyes.
And was found dead in his robe the next morning.
Re: The FifthJerin sighed. She should have known the collector would pull something like this. She stared at the man; the figure hunched forward, elbow on the table, hand palm up. He waited expectantly. Jerin knew she and her brother carried between them a small arsenal, easily sufficient to put an end to the hulk, but Jerin had no desire to get on Chuvvah's bad side. And she wasn't about to leave Rok out to dry. She grudgingly dug back in her jacket pocket to retrieve her wallet, and laid a respectable sum on the waiting palm. Mustache man let out a "ennnh?" as Jerin moved to put her wallet away. She glared and jammed her now much thinner wallet back into her pocket.
"This is all?"
Jerin continued to glare, and nodded once.
"It is not enough," he said, decisively.
"Any more, and I starve."
The collector growled a little and shifted in his seat. His face contorted, as if he were thinking. Jerin decided it was best not to let that happen. "Wait," she said, digging into a jacket pocket in a flash of inspiration. She pulled from it a small clear bag of six bright red crystals, and tossed them on the table. Rok's eyes went wide. "Some rubies, to sweeten the deal," Jerin said calmly. Her dealer had been trying to hook her on the things for ages, and had gone so far as to provide a free sample. Jerin refused to touch them, but had carried them around for potential bartering. It seemed that it might pay off, now.
The mustache twitched in interest, and a beefy finger descended on the bag, pushing on the crystals. They deformed, then sprung back into shape, thus declaring their authenticity. He pocketed the cash and the drugs with a grin on his face. "That will do," he said, and left without further delay.
Only after Jerin saw Chuvvah's man exit Lucia's did she turn to her brother. "Rok, I'm going to kill you."
"No. That doesn't cut it. Not this time." Jerin rose and hauled Rok up by his shirt-front, attracting a few glances from the clientèle. Not caring, Jerin shoved him towards one of the private booths. "We're going to have a talk."
Rok shook Jerin off resentfully, but slid into the booth all the same. There was nothing there to guarantee privacy, but the seat-backs went from floor to ceiling, and virtually none of the green or orange light made its way in.
In the booth, Jerin barely contained her anger. "Jirock Ailey, I am never bailing out your sorry carcass again, got it? We should have let Chuvvah's man rough you up, since nothing else is getting through your thick skull! How could you be such an idiot? Of all the Hutts in the system, you get yourself tangled up with Chuvvah! What the hell were you thinking?"
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?"
"Sorry? I don't know how I'm going to eat til next paycheck, kid."
"Uh huh. Says my ship-owning sister who's walking around with rubies in her pockets. Those don't come cheap- lay off the drugs and maybe you'd have something left for food!"
"You lay off the gambling and maybe I'd have something left for food," Jerin hissed. "The rubies weren't mine. They're dangerous shavvit."
Jirok scoffed. Jerin leaned across the table and cuffed him, hard. Rok grabbed her arm defensively after the fact, and Jerin cursed in pain. "Let go!"
He released her, and Jerin slumped back in her seat, suddenly feeling the whole day's exhaustion wash over her. The adrenaline she'd been running on all day was gone, and she felt terrible. For several moments neither of them spoke. When Rok heard Jerin's voice out of the darkness it sounded old and tired. "Rocky, it's been a long day. I shouldn't have hit you, but you're an idiot. You've got to stop doing this. Really."
"Yeah, sorry. I know." Rok paused, then "It'd be smart for you to stay away from rubies, too."
"Rok," Jerin pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, "Trust me. They're not mine."
Jerin sighed. She always lost her resolve too quickly when trying to lecture her little brother.
"I, um, think I'm going to go home?" Rok ventured.
"Bring me a glass of water first, right?" Jerin made herself as comfortable as she could while she waited for Rok to return. The headache, the freezing, and the sweating she could handle, but a new wave a nausea was going to keep her right where she was for a while. Hopefully, the water would soon settle things, and Jerin could go on her way.
Rok returned with the water, and slid onto the bench beside Jerin. They side hugged, and Jerin rubbed her brother's head in an annoying sisterly way. "So. Never do this again, or Jared and I will murder you in your sleep."
"Right. Right. I've learned my lesson, okay?" He poked her hard in the arm, then squinted at her in the gloom as if seeing her for the first time that night. "Jerin, you look awful."
"Get out of here, Rok."
Rok left with a parting "G'night," and Jerin began considering her options. "Tipping" Chuvvah's man left Jerin's funds extraordinarily tight. She could afford some sophs and some food, but not enough of either to make it to next payday comfortably. Of course, Jerin had been hungry and sleep deprived before, but she did not relish the prospect of being so yet again. She frowned. Stealing and selling were last resorts. Maybe tomorrow she'd hit up some of her old haunts for some extra cargo. Whatever. She'd worry about it tomorrow.
Jerin unsuccessfully willed her water to be her favorite local ale, and tried to work up the energy to go down to the sublevels and pick up a few sophs.
Re: The FifthXiann uncurled from her position in the dimly lit corner booth by the door and stretched slowly, savoring the feeling as the tension left her coiled muscles. The tips of her violet skinned lekku curled in momentary amusement- the being at the next table had his eyes fixed firmly on her bare midriff. Unfortunately it was a bit more attention than she was wanting at the moment, so she gave the man a cold look that made it clear she wasn't one of the serving girls weaving their way among the tables.
It was awfully convenient that she could blend in with them, however.
Apparently, it was time to leave. The Twi'lek had spent most of the night there, slowly nursing as few drinks as possible, trying to spot her ticket out. More time than was safe, under the circumstances. Eventually someone she knew would think to check for her in the less obvious places. She needed a change of scenery- and not just for tonight. She was starting to get nervous.
There were a couple of possibilities.
A group of male pilots a few tables over were a good bet. From the way they were harassing the dancer next to their table, it was obvious what they'd want for a trip off planet, so they were definitely a last resort. Chi'kan, all of them. Perverts. There were a few others that would probably take money to keep quiet and get her out quickly, but she knew most of them by sight and she knew that they would be the first people to be checked. Not really an option at all.
No, she needed another angle. Xiann glanced up towards the bar, and saw the first really interesting thing to happen in hours. There was an absolutely massive guy threatening a pair sitting at a low table on that side of the room. The whole thing was a bit of a scene, so far as Lucia's was concerned. It took a lot to stand out here, but he was hard to miss. It didn't hurt that she'd seen him before under other circumstances- local bully boy.
The woman party to the threatening had been noted by Xiann earlier, when she entered the bar. It wasn't just that she looked like death warmed over: she'd had an interesting envelope sticking out of the side pocket of her jacket.
Xiann picked up her clear drink and downed the rest of it in one gulp. She smiled as the drink burned its way savagely down her throat.
She picked up the empty glass and some debris from the table, and wound her way towards the bar. Smiling at a few of the other dancers and waitresses, she lifted a spare tray and started picking up empty drinks and plates. Her revealing clothing was similar enough to theirs that everyone around her assumed that she was just another waitress. She'd chosen this place specifically because they didn't use droids.
If you played your cards right, it was easy to be forgettable. It was a big galaxy.
Xiann brought her tray up to the bar and set it down. She moved away from it before the bartender saw her and gave her something to do. The twi'lek carefully worked her way over until she was standing unobtrusively near the table. She didn't have to work hard to overhear the conversation- he wasn't exactly keeping his voice down.
"Where is my tip? I have done you a great service here, carrying your money, all of it, to Chuvvah. It would be a great pity if some got lost on the way."
Aah, extortion. Her old friend. The scene was exactly what it looked like.
Xiann was having trouble finding her angle until the rest of the money and the Rubies came out. She looked the woman over one more time, appraisingly. That was the look. Withdrawal of some sort. And not enough money left to get any kind of fix. As she watched, the big man pocketed his winnings with a pleased smirk and lumbered towards the door.
The anger that came over the woman's face and the small squall that followed was impressive when you looked as drained as she did. A bit of desperation is fine seasoning for negotiation. This was going to work out just fine. And she'd dragged the young man to a private booth. This was definitely Xiann's shot at getting out of here. Now to get to her before they leave.
She bided her time, and tried to keep her lekku from twitching in agitation, hoping to get the woman alone. It took a while, but the young man finally left, leaving the woman alone in the booth. At least, Xiann hoped that's where she was. It was pretty dark in that particular corner, and sort of hard to tell. Xiann took a steadying breath and checked for the tiny compact blaster she kept on her thigh. She glanced around to make sure she wasn't being watched before heading towards the booth. So far, so good.
The purple skinned twi'lek stepped up to the booth, the green and orange lights making her skin seem grey and shadowed. She approached from behind the younger woman. She had her head resting on her palm, a half empty glass of water in front of her. Xiann knew she thought she was alone, and that worked for her. She'd rather catch her a bit vulnerable.
"Can I get you a drink?" Xiann said, her voice pitched low and smooth below the music.
Jerin brought her head up quickly, startled, and looked over at her with a baffled expression for a moment before she composed her features and frowned slightly. "Uh- no thanks, I'm fine here."
Xiann smiled slightly, careful to keep her lips closed over the pointed teeth that some humans found slightly disturbing, and slid into the booth across from Jerin uninvited. "I'm not a waitress."
Jerin looked at her levelly for a very long moment, as though she was attempting to gather the venom to protest. "I-"
"- I'm not a waitress." Xiann interrupted quickly. She let the nervousness she was feeling creep into her voice. "Look, I saw that you work for a shipping company." She allowed herself to glance at the paystub sticking out of Jerin's pocket with the shipping company's logo on it. "I was hoping that means you could maybe help me get off planet." She glanced around nervously, allowing herself to look for anyone familiar. She didn't have to fake very hard here- after all, it was all true. "I could really use a lift," she finished. "I'm… in a bit of trouble. I can't stay here long." She painted her face with a vulnerable but determined look and looked into the other woman's eyes. She'd let her decide what manner of trouble it might be. She was hoping she'd assume the usual threat female twi'lek's faced- slavery.
"I can pay," she finished up quietly, and placed a small palmful of various drugs in pill or vial format down in front of her. Nothing too dangerous or too rare. Wouldn't do to raise suspicion.
Xiann looked back up and hoped she'd done enough talking.
Re: The FifthJerin was startled, then annoyed, by being joined by the Twi'lek. She didn't want company, especially not company wanting her help. Everyone was always desperate to leave Nar Shaddaa, right? Jerin hated the slave trade, but couldn't haul every damn run-away off the planet. Besides, there were some traders she simply would not cross. As Xiann continued, though, stirrings of sympathy made a bid for recognition. But when the pills hit the table, skepticism won the floor.
Jerin stared at the woman a moment. Then, silently, she pulled out a small flashlight and shone it on the pile before her. Some pills were familiar; maybe the others were favored by Twi'leks? Her fingers roved until they found a soph, hidden among everything else. She held it between her left index and middle fingers before Xiann's face.
"These are what I want. But it would take more of them to get you off this moon. The rest of this is shavvit." Jerin tossed the lone pill back on the pile, and shoved the lot back toward its owner. The light clicked back off.
Let's see what we're dealing with, here.
Re: The FifthXiann fought a smile of triumph off her face, and held her lekku still with an iron will. Easier than she'd hoped.
Keeping the worried look on her face, she nodded a couple of times. "Okay," she said softly, gathering up the drugs with an expert swipe. She slid the single Soph back across the table to the young woman. "I can get more."
She could practically feel the dubious glare the other woman was giving her, so she elaborated a bit. "The schutta like to keep my sort well drugged. Keep us tame and happy." She gave the other woman a challenging look. "Me, I don't touch any of it. They didn't know that, though. I guessed it would come in handy," she finished, allowing a touch of wryness into her voice.
"Where is it then?"
Xiann took a deep breath, thinking quickly. She didn't want to give it all to her now, who knew if she'd follow through? Frankly, I'd rather not give it to her at all, but I suppose I'll need enough to get us where we're going… and likely the promise of more. "Not here. I'll need some time."
"How much do you have?"
Xiann wondered what the other woman would consider fair pay. Finally, she decided if she didn't plan on following through, it didn't much matter what she promised. I just hope Marak's stash is where it was last time I snooped around. "What do you ask?" she finally ventured.
Re: The FifthJerin hardly kept herself from snatching the lone pill off of the table. She didn't know of many owners who would go to the trouble of buying drugs for slaves when a few good kicks would do. Then again, there were other… situations.
"It depends," Jerin said, noncommittally. She added nothing more, waiting for the Twi'lek to ask.
"Who you're running from," Jerin paused for a breath. "I'd rather spend the next three weeks living hell," she wiped cold sweat from her pale face, "than cross a trader like Arnic or Holde, or a pimp like Rasthau. You couldn't get me to do it for all the frelling Sophs in the galaxy." With no small measure of self control, she pushed the pill back across the table for emphasis. "But if you're in "trouble" with some small-timer who wouldn't have the brains or resources to come after me, and you can pay, well, that's different, right?"
Re: The FifthXiann let a reluctant frown come over her face as she rapidly considered her options. She wasn't going anywhere near the truth, not this time.
That's what'd landed her in this frotz in the first place. Generally lies salted with the truth were the most convincing, but she'd just experienced first hand how misjudging someone's intelligence while using that technique could land you in a universe of hurt.
If only that schutta hadn't decided to be loyal to Kalesh for the first time in his life- they'd think I was dead right now, and I wouldn't be looking over my shoulder.
So, someone Kalesh had dealings with then. Someone she knew just enough about to be convincing.
A moment had passed. Finally, Xiann shook her head. "Wrong circles." The twi'lek smiled slightly, waving a lekku. "Wrong sort of dealers," she clarified. "I was turned over as payment a while back. To Terrack." She watched the other woman's face, hoping she would've heard of the man, and wouldn't consider him a threat. Fine line she's asking me to walk.
Terrack was on the smaller side of the drug running scene on Nar Shadda- important only because he had a few connections for a couple of drugs that could be hard to get ahold of. He wasn't fabulously wealthy thanks to an enormous gambling addiction and a lifetime of bad luck. Most of that bad luck was generated by competitors a bit better at the game than he tended to be. He had been one of Kalesh's favorite suppliers- easy to take advantage of.
"I doubt he's looking very hard. He's got plenty of other problems to deal with," Xiann finished wryly. Best of all, it was true. Terrack likely would've been caught in the fallout when Kalesh discovered the missing shipment.
Re: The Fifth"Terrack, huh?" Jerin finished off her water, and absently rotated the empty glass on the tabletop.
She knew some about Terrack. By all accounts he was annoying and weak, only holding on to his position by nature of his few source monopolies on Nar Shaddaa. Very occasionally, he had shown himself to be too aware of this advantage, but only when he wasn't in debt. Since he spent most of his time owing local crime lords, the drugs moved freely enough, and no one bothered having him removed from the picture. Trade in his drugs would have to be re-established from off planet, and that took too much effort. Easier to keep him alive.
Terrack was undoubtedly a scum bag and a dangerous man. But a threat for just one runaway? Jerin gave the twi'lek an appraising look, then came to a decision. "Fine, fine. Whatever sophs you have- maybe some other shavvit if you don't have much- and we'll get you off this rock tomorrow. Deal?"
Jerin had a twinge in her gut that she knew wasn't from withdrawal. Something about the twi'lek made her uneasy, though she couldn't put her finger on it. But she felt too awful to turn down sophs over a gut feeling, now.
Re: The Fifth"You did what?"
"I said, we authorized the destruction of the fifth shell. And keep your voice down, Worthington. Sol needs to sleep- Doctor's orders," From over the top of his reading glasses, Rula glared at the man standing before his desk. In the crisis, the four remaining conspirators had congregated in Rula's study. Worthington arrived somewhat late.
"Why wasn't I consulted?" Worthington had lowered his voice, but there were rasps of anger in it. His gaze shifted from Rula, the large man enthroned behind his correspondingly large desk, to the thin and wiry Merrick, seated calmly beside him in an elegant wingback chair.
"We couldn't reach you. We did try," Rula explained.
"And you couldn't have waited?"
"No, Worthington. And do sit down," Merrick indicated the chair beside him. Worthington sat down stiffly, and Merrick continued, "Sol was livid. If Horran were not dead, I do believe Sol would kill him." He smiled.
Rula waved his hand in annoyance, "Now is not the time for your jokes, Merrick. You are right, though," he leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands over his stomach. "When Sol arrived, Worthington, he was in a rage. There was no other way to calm him. Merrick arrived, and we tried to contact you. When we couldn't, the three of us put the order through. Sol's anger threw him into several attacks, to the point we had to call his doctor and send him to rest. Now you know what has happened in your absence."
"But why not keep-"
"For whom?" Rula boomed. "For what purpose?" Worthington made no reply. "No. There was no reason to keep it alive. End of discussion. It is time to focus on retrieving the holocron."
"We must find who murdered Kareth," Worthington said emphatically.
"After we have the holocron, Worthington, we will find them and make them pay," Merrick assured him.
"What do you mean? Don't you think it's the same person?"
"Not necessarily. Horran had many enemies- we all do," Rula replied.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that yesterday he commented about the drinks at his table being from the girl with the holocron and that later that very evening he died from poisoned wine!"
"He has a valid point, Rula," Merrick commented.
Rula saw he was outnumbered, and sighed. "It is a lead, but we will not pursue it exclusively. Since you feel so strongly about it, Worthington, it is you who should follow up on it. But remember, we are seeking the holocron. Revenge can come later. Merrick, Sol, and I will begin going through Horran's old prisoner records. We will let you know if we find something. I trust you will do the same for us. I've made it clear that this is a matter internal to Imperial Intelligence, so for now, we will not be bothered by the ISB. We must keep it that way, gentlemen. Is there anything else?"
"No," Worthington murmured. Merrick simply smiled.
"Good!" Rula clapped his hands together enthusiastically. "Then please, join me for lunch."
Re: The FifthDerian sat at a table in a corner of Lucia's bar. "Another Nar Shadda pest hole," he said to the Bothan sitting across the table from him. "Can't these chumps ever meet in something that even vaguely resembles civilization?"
The Bothan made a grand gesture of looking around the room. "I see life forms. This is a bar. Doesn't this classify as civilization?"
Derian threw back the remainder of a very large glass and slammed it down on the table upside-down. "It would appear my furry friend," he said, his voice wavering slightly, "that we have significantly different definitions of exactly what 'civilization' means." He gestured to a passing Twi'lek carrying a tray for more drinks and was promptly ignored. "Besides, the service in this place sucks."
"Perhaps your standards are too high my friend," the Bothan said in reply. "Then again, if they were that high, you probably would not find yourself in this situation. One does not fall out of favor with my employers easily. The fact that he is so interested in you makes me wonder what sorts of things you meddled in."
Another Twi'lek with a tray walked passed. This time, instead of merely gesticulating, Derian grabbed her playfully around the waist and pulled her half into the booth. "Say there sweetheart," he said, alcohol making him nearly unintelligible, "how's about you procure a couple more drinks for me and the angry carpet over yonder." He released his grip on the serving girl and set a small amount of money on the tray that would cover at least another four rounds.
"Should I bring you several more then?"
"You should bring us one more, and then put the rest in your pocket. Or in your shirt. Or wherever else you'd like to put it. But if it gets too interesting, you have to promise to let me watch you do it."
The Bothan rolled his eyes and turned his head away, obviously discomforted by Derian's awkward advances on the serving girl. Derian turned to look at him as the girl walked away and laughed out loud. "You really need to lighten up, um… what was your name again?"
The Bothan looked over Derian's shoulder. "Actually, I never said," he replied, standing up out of the booth. "However, my friends are here to help me deal with you. Though, judging by your behavior, I"m going to assume they're just going to be helping me carry you. Good thing they are so large." Derian looked up to see two overly-muscled humanoids standing at the end of the table. The Bothan slid between them, dwarfed by the two massive men standing on either side of him. "Care to come along willingly?"
Derian kept looking up, and up into the faces of the two men. His head tipped back so far that he keeled over backward into the booth. One of the large, muscled men leaned down to collect him. "I can't believe the boss sent two of you for… this," the Bothan said to the other, the distaste and disappointment more than obvious in his voice.
The large man collecting the crumpled form in the booth closed his hands around Derian's shoulders. There was a soft thud, a sharp cry and suddenly all of their positions had changed. Before either the Bothan or the muscle could react, their friend was on the ground beneath the table and Derian had maneuvered between them. The Bothan found himself spun around, laying on his back on the table with a blaster in his face. The muscle stood there, not willing to risk moving with a vibro-blade a hair's breadth from his throat.
"Time for you to start talking," Derian said to the Bothan, all traces of drunkenness gone from his voice. "Give me the drop-off point and the door codes, or I'm going to be into your boss for three more goons instead of just one."
"Instead of one?" the Bothan stammered.
"Yeah, your buddy under the table has bullied his last victim. You're next unless you give me the codes."
The Bothan gave him the directions. Surprisingly cool under the circumstances. Derian guessed this wasn't the first time he had a blaster in his face. He could respect the creed, if not the profession. "Ok, here's what happens now," he said, eyes flicking between the Bothan and the Muscle. "I'm going to lower both of my weapons, you're going to collect your buddy, and you're leaving. If you warn your boss, it'll be the last mistake either of you make. Understood?"
"I'll tell you what happens," the Bothan replied, trying to stand up.
"Hey, hey, easy there now buddy…" Derian tried to get the man to back down.
"I've killed people far cockier and more skillful than yourself. You lower that weapon and I will find you and put you in the ground. I suggest you get your money back from that waitress to put toward a funeral."
Derian's eyes flicked briefly to the unnamed tough who was moments away from receiving an impromptu tracheotomy. The man's eyes read confusion and concern, but not the murderous resolve of the Bothan's. Derian sighed slightly. "Fine then," he replied after a moment's consideration. He pushed the man backward slightly with the barrel of the gun and pulled the trigger, unloading the weapon into the Bothan's face.
He turned and looked directly into the eyes of the only man left standing. "How about you beefcake? What's your loyalty level looking like right about now?" The man's eyes showed only fear. Derian could read the desire to get himself out of the bar as quickly as possible. "Good man," Derian replied. The vibro-blade and blaster disappeared beneath the calf-length coat as quickly as they had appeared. The blaster was holstered in a holster laced across his waist, where the blade went was anyone's guess. Derian took a step back. "Collect your friends and get yourself out of here."
Derian reached into another pocket of the coat and extracted more money. He took off a sizeable chunk and gave it to the remaining man. "That should cover your troubles this evening and take care of cleaning up the mess."
The man pocketed the money and set about picking up his friend's bodies. After they had been collected and were being carted out over the shoulders of the big man, Derian sat back down on his table. He raised his hand and flagged down a waitress, who brought him another drink. "Just once, I would love it if something went according the shun fwah plan." He tipped his head back and emptied the drink at a draught He set the empty glass on the tray before the girl had a chance to even walk away and ordered another one. He had a distinct feeling this night was going to be longer than he had expected.
Re: The Fifth"Lieutenant Henriltoz! My office, now!" Captain Shalal's voice cut through soft droning of the office, causing Henriltoz to jump as if he'd been stung. The young man hurried into the small office. "Shut the door and sit down, Lietenant."
Henriltoz seated himself, and looked expectantly at Shalal. This sort of meeting was highly unusual; typically lieutenants were called in based on whomever Shalal could see from his doorway. The captain stood near his desk, gazing pensively out the window. After a few moments, Henriltoz snatched a quick glance out the window to make sure he wasn't missing something.
He wasn't. The silence remained for several moments. Henriltoz shifted uncomfortably in his chair, waiting.
Abruptly, the captain began, "Once upon a time…" He stopped and scrutinized the young Imperial's face. "Too patronizing?"
"Ah, well. Um-" Henriltoz stammered.
"You're right, of course. Let me start again." Shalal cleared his throat, and looked at Henriltoz with a grave expression. "Son, there comes a time in every man's life where he needs to learn when he must follow orders, and when he must- how do you say it?- 'stick it to the man.'" He paused for a moment, still watching the lieutenant carefully. "Am I right?"
"You're the Captain, sir."
"Hmm. I see where you could get that idea," Shalal quipped, glancing down at his insignia. "I am the Captain! And, more importantly, I am right."
"Yes, sir," Henriltoz was getting nervous. Shalal had always seemed a bit daft, but now his behavior was completely loony.
"Good. A few other matters now that's cleared up," Shalal's voice regained its normal tone, "Intelligence contacted the office earlier this morning. They want a list of any ship flagged to Kareth Horran's attention in the last year that was carrying alcohol. They want the ship name, the pilot, any passengers, and a detailed manifest. I order you, lieutenant, to compile and transmit that list. They wish to locate the origin of an item Horran confiscated while bypassing customs!" Shalal threw up his hands in disgust, and seemed to grow taller in the same moment. "Bah!" He spent a moment glaring at unseen customs-bypassers, and then resumed, striding back and forth across the room with unusual confidence.
"Incidentally, I've been told there is a rumor going around that Horran was killed by a bottle of poisoned wine last night. I trust that neither you, nor anyone else in the office will be spreading such pointless gossip. The hundreds of other rumors about Horran have equal merit, and are worthy of much more consideration. Perhaps you might contemplate them while you're working on that list. That would help keep your mind occupied," here, Shalal stopped and spoke more slowly, "and focus it on the implications of what you are doing." Henriltoz felt Shalal's glare boring into him, "Do you understand me?"
Henriltoz's eyes widened, "Sir, the young woman yesterday-"
"Quiet, lieutenant!" Shalal rasped. "And yes. That's what I've been telling you. Now, go do something that restores my faith in your intelligence!"
Henriltoz rose from his seat, "Yes, sir."
Shalal smiled absently and seemed to wither back into his usual self, "I'm glad we had this little chat, Henrolitz."
Re: The FifthXiann pushed the sophs she had across the table to the other woman, and smiled broadly in her relief. "Arni'soyacho-" she murmured gratefully, Thank you very much. The other woman tried not to look uncomfortable and mostly failed.
The twi'lek hesitated a moment. Wouldn't do to give this woman her real name. "I'm Hirani," she finally said, holding her hand out. It had been her sister's name.
The woman looked at her hand for a moment before taking it reluctantly in a quick handshake. "Jerin," she finally allowed.
Mother, this human is twitchy. Xiann- Hirani, she reminded herself, smiled again. "Well, thanks, Jerin. I'll get… my things." She allowed her nerves to show through a bit. "They're nearby. Where should I meet you?"
Jerin frowned a minute in thought. "Um. Do you know where the B section of docks is?"
Xiann thought about it a moment, and nodded. Shouldn't be too hard to find either way.
"Right. Well, that's not where my ship is, but it'll do for a meeting place."
Xiann's lekku curled slightly in amusement. The girl was smart enough to hold some cards close. Worth remembering. She nodded. "By the section entrance. Ma’allesh." Travel safely. She held up a hand in a causal wave as she turned to head for the door.
As she headed out, she passed a very drunk human who had practically pulled a waitress on to his lap. She kept her face straight, but did give the other twi'lek a sympathetic glance. The other woman smiled back as she left the booth- apparently one who reveled in Kuri'au. Each to their own- The Game wasn't for her- not unless it was part of a much larger con. She liked to think she had better currency than her looks. Xiann hoped the waitress made a handsome tip.
Xiann took a deep breath of the night air, and hoped hard that the next few hours would go smoothly. Now, to get back to Marak's emergency stash.
Marak. Xiann sighed as she walked down the busy street, sticking to the shadows. One of Kalesh's street dealers. She'd had a lot to do with him. More than I should have. Well, he'd stabbed her in the back, so there was no point in feeling remorse about emptying his pockets. For a while, she'd thought she might have a partner in crime- not intelligent, Xiann. She'd trusted him with more detail than was wise.
"Turns out everyone's on their own side," she muttered, ducking down an alley. It was a mistake a rookie would've made. She was angry at herself. More angry at him. Lifting one of his "retirement accounts" would make her feel better and accomplish a goal.
Marak had trusted her with a few things, too.
The alley just kept getting narrower. This part of town wasn't a great one- slums tacked on to slums. Then again, this is Nar Shadda. Not exactly a good part of town to be had. There was a hatch in the pavement just past a door. She had to count doors, there were a bunch. And more than one service hatch. She finally found the one she remembered, and lifted it. The hatch itself was easy, it was getting in the rest of the way that was harder.
Grimacing at the filth of the alley floor, she lowered herself into the hatch using the strength of her arms. Xiann reached with her right foot blindly, far to the right of the hatch, until it finally landed on the rungs that weren't otherwise obvious. She carefully lowered her weight on to the rungs, worried about the slime covering everything ruining her quiet entry, and then shifted her grip. She pulled the hatch shut behind her. Xiann paused a moment to let her eyes adjust, and to listen.
She heard dripping water, scuttling of some insects. Nothing terribly unusual. To be sure, she shifted the holster she wore on her thigh until her mini blaster pistol was within easy reach. She couldn't help but have a bad feeling about this.
The twi'lek's eyes adjusted slowly, but finally, she saw what she was looking for. Down below her, lower in the access tunnels, was the soft blue glow of a forcefield. Not cheap, but the goods were expensive enough to warrant something to keep out moisture and pests of all sorts. Letting out a shaky breath, she lowered herself down carefully to the bottom of the small well, taking care not to stick a stray elbow into the forcefield next to her, which blocked entry into a small room. Reaching down with one hand, she found the keypad to deactivate it stuck in the wall- a messy job, wires everywhere, but it did what it needed to do. She keyed in the code quickly, and listened another moment.
So far, so good.
Xiann entered the darkened room, her eyes missing the dim light of the forcefield. She fumbled at her holster for a glowrod. The room was practically a closet, barely big enough to move around in, all she needed to do was find what she needed and get out.
"Gotcha." A low voice purred at her shoulder. "Hello, Love."
Xiann's stomach dropped as she felt the blaster in the small of her back. She cursed. He must've been waiting here for her, in the dark. She switched from the glowrod to her mini blaster, hoping she'd have a chance to use it.
"Marak." She said quietly. "I figured you'd be running errands tonight."
The human man chuckled, his breath warm on her neck. "Well, that's sort of what I'm doing. I was hoping you'd need… immediate… liquid funds." He switched on a glow rod of his own, and gave her a grin.
"Couldn't let me go without rubbing it in, Pika?" She used the endearment like a curse.
"Just wanted to say goodbye properly," he rejoined, running a possessive finger down one of her lekku.
"I wouldn't even be here if it weren't for you," Xiann spat, pulling it away from him savagely. She knew she was letting her anger get the best of her, and her chest heaved as she attempted to get herself under control. She knew this was a very dangerous situation- he was hoping she'd do something stupid. Marak would turn her in without blinking. And he'd rather turn her in alive. Keep him talking.
Marak snorted and let her go, pushing her away to the other side of the tiny room. "I figured you'd be the last person to take this personally, Xi." He shook his head. "You gotta understand, you steal from the boss, you're ultimately cutting into my bottom line, too."
Xiann got herself under control, glaring hatred at the man across from her. "I'm not taking it… personally," she finally ground out. She kept her hand near the blaster at her thigh, hoping to hide it from view. "That doesn't mean you aren't extremely annoying professionally."
Marak laughed. "Understatement, Xi." He shrugged, almost apologetically, but kept the blaster on her chest. "Look, you didn't leave me much choice. We were involved. Therefore, it's assumed I'm involved. The only solution to my little problem-"
"-is to turn me in. Right." Xiann shook her head. "Look, the money's not even here. Not even accessible."
Marak looked amused. "All he needs are the codes and the right people. He gets you, he gets the codes. The rest is a matter of calling in some favors. Don't be stupid."
Xiann wasn't, but she was rather hoping he might be, for old time's sake. Too much to ask, apparently. "Marak," she finally burst out, a bit desperately, "with you it was never about Kuri'au. Never about The Game. Come with me instead." She was hoping to knock him off balance. It worked after a fashion, just not quite the way she'd hoped.
Anger seized his features and he roughly grabbed her nearest arm to pull her towards him and his blaster. "Conning bitch to the end, huh X-"
His voice trailed off abruptly as Xiann fired the bolt from her mini blaster into his gut at point blank range. He fell against the wall of the small chamber, and slid down slowly. Xiann fired another shot into his forehead.
Xiann's eyes slid closed and she swallowed hard.
She never liked killing people, but… "I meant it, Marak," she said quietly, looking at his face. She realized that unfortunately, it was true. She had liked him. Being lonely was an occupational hazard. And apparently, it was starting to mess with her ability to see situations clearly.
Swearing, she threw down the blaster pistol in disgust. She spun away and grabbed Marak's case, sitting in one corner. She opened it and started gathering things to throw in, starting with his relatively small stash of sophs. What was small for a drug dealer should look like a decent amount to a junkie. There wasn't much left in the room, but it'd be enough and then some.
Well. She'd gotten what she came for, right?
Before leaving, Xiann bent to pick up the blaster pistol off the floor where it'd slid to. She stuck it back in its holster.
It was a dark climb back to street level.
When she emerged from the alleyway, it started raining. She was glad of the rain and the dark. With her purple toned skin, she'd blend in well. It had to be getting close to morning. She had to meet Jerin- the last thing she needed now was for her ride to leave without her.
Xiann was so preoccupied, she didn't notice the being across the street head into the alleyway she'd just left. Failed also, to notice when that same being emerged a few seconds later and began following behind her a ways.
She'd forgotten, in fact, to check Marak for his comlink.
Re: The FifthJerin felt relieved when the twi'lek finally left. The woman made her nervous- induced some gut feeling Jerin couldn't quite put her finger on. At least I'll sleep soon, Jerin thought as she pocketed the few pills Hirani had given her. Deciding it would be at least half an hour before she might expect to see her passenger at the docks, Jerin stretched out on the booth bench. Leaning her back against the wall, she stared vacantly out into Lucia's.
That's when the room erupted. Lucia's poor lighting left every face in shadow, but that voice, that fighting style! There could be no mistaking the smallest of the three humans in the fray: Derian Tai'pek.
So, the Empire didn't execute him after all. He's alive! Alive, we had no backup from the Wind at the Fear. Jerin sat motionless, teeth clenched, mesmerized by the scene despite knowing how it would end.
Alone, Derian held the remaining two thugs at bay, still trying to negotiate.
Alive! Jerin's heart pounded the word as she recalled her run-in with Horran earlier that day.
"Where are your friends?"
"Not all of them."
The bothan crumpled to the ground.
Alive! And no contact for seven years! Apparently he couldn't be bothered to send a frelling note to mention it.
The only remaining thug struggled to recover and exit with the bodies of his companions.
Alive! And, like a damned Imperial, he left us all to our fates!
Jerin's pain and fatigue were gone. Her anger carried her across the room, but she had no sense of it until she slid onto the bench opposite her old traveling companion.
"Derian Tai'pek," she growled, glaring at him.
Derian's eyes went wide as he nearly spit his drink back into the glass before managing to recover. "Jerin?" He asked, and examined her face a moment. His own broke into a wide grin. "Jerin! You look-" he faltered, "You look angry. Let me buy you a drink." He moved to flag another waitress.
"No," Jerin protested, "I don't want anything from you. Even… yeah-" Her movements were so fast as to be indiscernible from each other. In two flicks of Jerin's wrists, knives appeared in her hands and then embedded themselves in the back of Derian's bench, mere inches from his ears. "Those are yours. Now look," without giving him a chance to speak, Jerin rose and leaned across the table. "You've manged to stay scarce for seven frelling years. This is a big moon, right? How about you get lost and try for a new record."
Jerin moved to leave, but Derian caught the sleeve of her jacket. "Wait just a minute. I let you speak your piece, now you could at least let me speak mine." His voice was angry, but not threatening.
Jerin jerked her sleeve from his grip, but didn't walk any further. After considering a few moments, she returned to the booth. "Fine. But if you get all fatherly on me, I'm out of here."