My latest short story! You can read Part 1: Chasing Shadows here, and Part 2: Different Paths here. Hope you enjoy it!
Alyeza Corfuna had been working for weeks on tracking her prey. A skilled assassin, patience was one of the many qualities that had made her what she was. As a Twi’lek, she frequently exploited the galactic prejudice towards females of her species, and had used her guile to get close to countless targets over the years. She had quite quickly gained a reputation for success in parts of the Outer Rim, and that reputation had put her under Vrandil’s spotlight eight months ago. Since working for the Koorivar, she had striven to make herself indispensible to his roster of criminal contractors in the hope that she might finally get steady work.
The holovids always make life on the run so glamorous, she thought to herself with a sigh. While the stereotype for her species was as exotic dancers, Alyeza’s own lithe form owed more to malnutrition than regular workouts. Her pale lilac pigmentation had only now finally begun to take on a more smooth and homogenous appearance since she had been working for Vrandil. On the whole, she could think of the Koorivar as something almost approaching a saviour for her. She wasn’t entirely sure whether he had managed to cancel the bounty placed on her by a botched job from a year ago, where she had only crippled that Bothan shipping magnate rather than killing him outright, but the past few months had seen a lot more stability for her, and she was grateful. As she was for the purely professional relationship she had with the man.
When she had first met with Vrandil, she had the vague notion that he was going to turn out to be as perverse as most of her previous employers had been with her. Turned out, he’s more interested in the credits. And that was fine with Alyeza.
Her current assignment was to eliminate a Mirialan billionaire media mogul and minor gunrunner named Naroli Varsi, and for more than just crimes against art, it seems. Varsi had made a string of unremarkable works until he had bankrolled the production of the historical epic Cohl, a dramatization of the Mirialan national hero Arwen Cohl who had led his planet to victory in some local war way before the Clone Wars. Varsi followed that hit with an even bigger success three years later, another huge historical epic on the Stark Hyperspace Wars. Rumour had it that the Imperials had had a hand in financing the project, due to its not-too-subtle allegories on the current New Order. While Varsi still produced holos on a somewhat irregular basis, he had since turned his back on galaxy-spanning epics and instead invested heavily in the local media of his planet.
But it was for his under-the-table deals that Varsi had been marked for death. Reputed to be gunrunning through Kestic Station, Anchoron and Cona, among others. Varsi’s operations had initially not been traced back to him by Imperial Intelligence, but he had recently sold a large shipment of laser cannons to a pirate group that had been effectively obliterated when those cannons malfunctioned, destroying their ships rather than the Imperial pickets that had been chasing them. The pirate chief, unable to exact vengeance with his forces crippled, had contracted Vrandil to do so on his behalf. And Vrandil had known exactly the person for the job.
Varsi had effectively disappeared from public life following this disaster, but Alyeza had picked up several clues that proved he was still alive. Her last lead had come from the Tion Cluster, where she had an erstwhile contact with Varsi’s possible location. So the Twi’lek assassin had come to Estaria to find the infochant of somewhat reputable fame to help her locate her quarry.
Estaria was the capitol world of Indrexu Sector, situated on the intersection of the Perlemian and the Tion Trade Route. It seemed to be a combination of its location and its ancient history with Xim the Despot that had given the planet a somewhat puffed-up sense of its own importance, in Alyeza’s view. However, the world was temperate, and provided no trouble was caused, the Estarian authorities largely gave you free rein – unlike the major hub of Desevro, the capitol of the entire Tion Hegemony and what could only be described as a police state these days. How long it would continue was impossible to say, but for now, Alyeza was glad to have some freedom.
The infochant was a human male who was only known as Q14, which had seemed strange when Vrandil had first put Alyeza in contact with him, but the more she had relied on his services, the more the moniker seemed appropriate. Q14 appeared to know everything that happened in The Slice, sometimes even before it happened, but aside from a passion for information, the man’s only other interest lay in seedy espionage holovids, and Alyeza was sure he got some weird kick out of all the cloak-and-blade midnight dealings he insisted upon.
As specified in the voice-modified comm message she had received from Q14, Alyeza had come to Estaria Port two hours before local midnight, and she found herself silently cursing him as she walked down the broad central street of one of the main residential areas through the pouring rain. The address she had been given for the rendezvous had been in a quiet and unassuming area south of the main port facilities, amid curious crimson-leafed trees and low buildings made from transparisteel and durasteel. The native dwellings had the curious look of starships partially-submerged into the ground, though the large expanses of transparisteel walls on many would no doubt make living within them more comfortable than the average space freighter.
Within no time she had arrived, and almost abruptly the rain shower stopped. No sooner had Alyeza checked her chrono than Q14 appeared from behind an ornamental display of the crimson trees, shrouded in a heavy russet cloak.
“My greetings to you, Lady Corfuna. So pleasant to see you again,” his pleasant baritone soothed across the moonlight-bathed square towards her.
Alyeza politely dipped her head towards him, but made no answer. As patient as she was, something about the man filled her with unease, and she wanted nothing more than to receive the information she had come for and leave.
“I have been speaking with our mutual friend Vrandil, and he has intimated you wish to know the whereabouts of a certain person, correct?” His arms folded across his body, hands invisible within the voluminous folds of his cloak. His face was still completely in shadow.
“I would indeed like to know the whereabouts of a certain someone,” she began, resigned to playing this game if it got her what she wanted.
“Certain people can always be found, for a certain price, of course,” Q14’s voice betrayed a slight note of amusement, as if he was enjoying this exchange out of all proportion.
“Naturally. The certain person I wish to find is of minor status, so I would hope you could assist for a modest price.” Let’s just get this over with, shall we?
Q14’s voice sounded as if he were grinning from ear to ear. “We shall have to see just how minor this person is, before deciding if the price ought to be modest.”
Alyeza’s lekku quivered slightly. “A minor celebrity from a backwater world, it shouldn’t be too much for someone with as vast a network as yours.”
“Ah, how sweet of you to say. But even minor celebrities can sometimes become major concerns. Would you happen to know the name of this minor celebrity?” Q14 was clearly enjoying every syllable of this exchange.
Alyeza silently puffed out her breath. “A Mirialan named Naroli Varsi. Perhaps you have heard of his work?” No matter how much she wanted to punch the information broker, Alyeza was determined to continue the charade.
Q14 made a disproving sound in his throat. “My dear Alyeza, it is almost a crime to dismiss the great Naroli Varsi as a ‘minor celebrity’ – his work is renowned throughout the Empire as among the best!” His words were reassuringly slathered in sarcasm.
Alyeza smiled, enhancing her exotic beauty. “I’m so glad you are aware of his work. Would I be correct to infer that you can indeed assist me with this matter?”
Q14 gestured expansively, his black-gloved hands held wide before him. “But of course – when one of the stature of Naroli Varsi attempts to disappear from the public eye, he is never successful for long. But…” he left the word hang in the air before them.
“I’m sure I could reward you for imparting this information,” Alyeza stifled another sigh as she spoke.
“I would be so very grateful if you could, thank you.” Q14 folded his arms again. “Two thousand.” His voice was suddenly much less melodious, and much more business-like.
“Five hundred.” Alyeza was glad the formal nonsense was over.
“One and a half.”
“Done. Would you care to transfer the money?”
Alyeza pulled out her datapad and initiated the transfer. A soft chime from Q14’s belt signalled the transaction had completed.
“Marvellous. You can find Varsi on Mirial, actually. There is a complex of buildings around the frozen coastline of the main continent that belongs to the Luminar Mining Company. He keeps it quiet, but Varsi is the majority shareholder in the company, and years ago had a safe house built under the surface of the planet. From what my sources tell me, you’ll find him there.” Q14 became much less irritating when he was imparting information.
Alyeza thanked him with another dip of her head, and began to head back towards the port.
“Are you a fan?” Q14 called softly after her.
She smiled wryly over her shoulder at him. “Something like that.”
No sooner had she left Q14, it started to rain once again.
Mirial was a wasteland of frigid desert mesas and small, icy seas. Located in I-Sector of the Outer Rim, it had somehow always wound up on the losing side in any war, most recently falling in with the Separatists during the Clone Wars because of strong ties to the Trade Federation. The Federation was mainly interested in exploiting the mineral wealth of Mirial, against which Captain Cohl had led his ill-fated rebellion at the height of his fame, leading to years of imprisonment. Most Mirialans now appeared to be content to live quietly out in the frozen deserts away from the mining complexes.
The Imperial presence on Mirial was largely driven by the curious religion the Mirialans practiced. Extremely similar to the Force in many aspects, the Emperor himself had been reputed to have taken a personal interest in the native population, and it was rumoured that an Imperial Inquisitor was in permanent residence at Siel Starport, ready to take possession of any Force-sensitive child.
Alyeza arrived at Siel one Standard day following her meeting with Q14. At first unable to believe that Varsi would hide on his homeworld, it was perhaps best to hide in the least likely of places. Donning her armoured thermal survival gear, taking care to sleeve her sensitive lekku with dermal patches that would keep them from being affected by the extreme cold, she left her ship and headed into the Starport, slightly buoyant in the low gravity.
Mirial was dark. The star charts said the planet had a 44-hour day, but the distance from its sun meant that only a short portion of any day would see significant light. Getting her bearings, Alyeza checked her chrono and saw that it was getting late in the local day, anyway. Thinking it might be a good idea to check out the mining company at full dark, she headed for a nearby tapcafe for a feel of the locals.
Turned out the locals were more interested in getting a feel of her. No matter where she went, humanoid males invariably fell over themselves in the hope of getting her into bed. Or up against a wall. Or under a table in a dingy cantina. Alyeza rolled her eyes in exasperation. But at least sometimes it pays off, she thought. Two “gentlemen” had independently verified that the Luminar mining facility had been abandoned two weeks ago, all personnel transferring to another company close by. Seems handy, she thought. Having been given this information, Alyeza had gently tapped her companions at the base of the skull, letting them fall into unconsciousness and allowing her to leave.
The Luminar Mining Company was based about eighteen miles away from the Starport. With no time like the present, Alyeza returned to her ship and broke out her speeder bike, an Aratech 74-M that was outfitted with most of the tools of her trade. She set off into the night, leaving faint wisps of frozen white sand in her wake.
The Luminar mining facility loomed before her in stark darkness. Unlike the sand-sculpted dwellings of the majority of Siel Spaceport, the mining buildings were made from duralloy imported here when the Federation were keen to start the business of mining the precious minerals from the planet. The edifice that stood before Alyeza now was slightly forbidding, a uniform dark grey in colour, with the moonlight adding almost blue highlights. Some of the frigid white sand had blown up against the portals, but neither that nor the locks were enough to keep her out. Securing her speeder bike, she set off into the complex, and hopefully to the completion of her mission.
The building remained almost eerie in its silence, Alyeza’s footsteps echoing down the long central corridor of the building. Brushing any imagined fears from her mind, she located a working computer terminal at an abandoned guard station and set to work finding a schematic of the complex. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no mention of any underground bunker in the registry, and no obvious routes to one that she could find. However, a restricted file marked ‘LU9/112’ piqued her interest, and while she wasn’t the best slicer in the galaxy, she was neither without skills in that area, and it was a matter of a half-hour before she had managed to gain access to it.
It turned out that Q14 had been correct in his information of a shielded bunker beneath the surface. The main access was gained through a disguised wall in one of the other buildings in the complex, but the safe house ran under most of the mining facility, and there was a hatchway in one of the offices at the far end of Alyeza’s current building. Removing the data breaker she had spliced into the network and shutting the terminal down, Alyeza set off down the corridor.
It was a slightly unnerving experience. Half-expecting someone to leap out of the shadows, she hadn’t realised she’d held her breath until she reached her destination door. Keying the release, she braced herself as the door slid smoothly into the wall to reveal an ordinary-looking office, with desks and terminals arrayed around the walls. She jerked back suddenly as she caught something in the corner of her eye, but it turned out to be a deactivated secretarial droid. Mentally shaking herself, she moved into the centre of the room and pushed away the console desk that stood there, revealing a beautifully inscribed seal made from some grey-blue metal flush in the floor. Attaching a magnetic hoist to the seal was a matter of minutes, and soon Alyeza had the cover off, revealing a shaft even darker than the gloom permeating the mining building. Her hand-held sensor showed no life anywhere within the nearest twenty-five meters, so she eased herself into the hole and begun to climb down the ladder affixed to the side of the shaft.
Here goes nothing…
Naroli Varsi considered himself a cultured man. A celebrated holovid director and producer, billionaire and philanthropist, he had always ensured his personal living arrangements were immaculate and palatial. When his side dealings in the arms business went sour, he had heard that his life was in danger and had immediately sought to create a refuge where he might wait out this current crisis. Years ago he had made arrangements for a personal safe house at the Luminar Mining Company following a period where he had been stalked by an obsessive fan, but now he found himself more than ever in need of the refuge. Fortunately, it had only taken two days for his cleaning staff to make the reinforced bunker more like the reception rooms in the palace of a sector governor.
He had refused to do without his habitual luxuries, even while forced to live underground. The main living area had been decorated to his impeccable taste, a cool blue on the walls with hints of darker greys and black in the furnishing. The lighting was soft, as was the furniture itself. Decoration was minimal, as he had unfortunately left much of his artworks at his home on the surface, but a few pieces were secreted tastefully in corners or on the walls. His prized possession was a holo of the famed Jedi Luminara Unduli, to whom he believed himself related. His first major holovid was a dramatization of an episode from the Clone Wars that had been re-told to him years ago, but the vid had almost immediately been censored by the Imperial Security Bureau. This censorship had only served to make the holovid even more popular, quickly making Naroli’s name in the Outer Rim.
He had been relaxing to the calming Haroola Sonata, one of the later works of the immensely talented Bann Shoosha, sipping at a cup of warm and soothing paricha, and generally contemplating the cosmos, when a proximity alarm had rudely interrupted his reverie. The entire mining complex had been fitted with alarm systems when Naroli had first taken over the complex and moved people away, the better to alert him should anyone come calling. Mentally crossing his fingers that the alarm would turn out to have been triggered by nothing more worrying than a Rentish, Naroli strode to the command centre that had been set up in the next room.
His cup of paricha smashed on the floor as he watched in numbed shock as a female Twi’lek was slicing through the computer system in the main building above him. Terrified that the end was near, he scrambled into a nearby locker and activated the K4 security droid within. While the droid powered up, Naroli quickly ran throughout the bunker complex and ensured all entry hatches were secured, then returned to the command room and saw that the Twi’lek was now in the office above, about to make her way in. How did she get through the files so quickly? he thought in wild panic.
The security droid was fully alert now, and ready for orders. “Droid, I’d like you to stand in front of the south hatchway and destroy anyone who tries to enter this compound that way, is that alright?”
“Affirmative, sir,” came the mechanical response. The droid immediately set off to take up position in front of the door, while Varsi returned to the monitors. The Twi’lek had disappeared, but the exit seal had been removed, so she was most likely on her way down. A cold sweat had broken out on his olive-skinned brow, and he hastily dabbed at his face with a pocket square. I thought this base was supposed to be secure! he thought wildly. But with the security droid in place, and the fact that there was indeed only one person coming down the shaft towards him, his pulse managed to return to a steadier beat. With increasing calm came the odd thought that nobody was supposed to know he was down here anyway, so Naroli tried to think that maybe this Twi’lek didn’t know what she was doing after all. She might not be looking for me, she might just be a thief, out to see whether anything has been left here, he thought desperately. But somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that was unlikely to be true.
Alyeza reached the bottom of the shaft in short order, where she came across another hatchway portal. Taking out her portable scanner once again, she detected a ray shield of some sort on the other side of the hatch, as well as a complex electromagnetic locking system. For a moment she sat back on her haunches and thought what could be done. A frontal assault might work, but she didn’t really know what she’d be getting into on the other side, as the ray shielding was fouling up her sensors. Using her field disruptor was the going to be the best route, she decided, so got to work on slicing the lock.
Naroli stood anxiously behind his plush conform lounger as he waited for the intruder to do something. The security droid, in comparison, stood placidly three feet away from the hatchway with its blaster rifle pointed directly at the door.
Suddenly, the something happened, as the ray shielding flickered and died with a subdued whump. Naroli felt as though he was about to be sick, and clutched tightly to the soft cushion of the lounger. Here it comes!
The sensor indicated that the shield had gone down, and immediately told her that there was a single life form behind the hatchway. Varsi, presumably. More alarming, however, it also told her that there was a powered-up energy source comparable to a small blaster cannon also on the other side. Shrugging aside the mental picture of a holo director manning some sort of land artillery, Alyeza decided it must be some sort of security droid he had guarding the place. Time for some tricks, then.
As Naroli was anxiously awaiting the worst, perhaps the last thing he was expecting happened. The K4 security droid slumped forward, deactivated. What in the name of…? Naroli was completely confused, and during this momentary stupor, his world began to collapse. The hatchway door swung open, and the female Twi’lek that he had first seen on the security cam stepped out. Dressed entirely in black, with black sleeving over her lekku, her pale lilac face was even more striking.
Naroli gulped audibly before finding his voice. “I take it you’ve come to take me to the pirates?” He was pleased to have kept his voice fairly steady.
The Twi’lek frowned slightly. “No.”
Naroli’s mind whirled in confusion. “Then…why are you here..?”
The Twi’lek woman reached into a thigh pouch for something as she answered him. “To kill you.”
Alyeza had never seen a Mirialan in person before, and despite the situation in which she had met her first one, she found them an attractive species. Humanoid, with olive-green skin, Naroli Varsi had a pattern of small blue triangles tattooed down the bridge of his nose. It intrigued Alyeza, who had never seen another species quite like him before. Professionalism was a hallmark of her trade, but she regretted not being able to try her seductress act on this particular mission. If things had been different, I would probably see it through before finishing the mission.
His first question to her had mildly offended her, however. Implying she was a mere bounty hunter? When she told him she was here to kill him, his skin seemed to lose some of its colouring, leaving him looking more sickly than attractive.
She reached into a pocket on her left thigh and was about to withdraw the small stingbeam blaster kept there when something impacted with her right ankle. She barely looked around to see the security droid’s finger pressed into her foot when darkness took her.
When she regained consciousness, Alyeza was bound with a pair of stun cuffs on the floor of the bunker, looking up at a much calmer Naroli Varsi, who had taken up a casual seat opposite her and looked down with a vague smile.
“Ah, welcome back,” he brought his hands together as if delighted at the turn of events. “Let’s start again, shall we. Why are you here?”
His mocking tone infuriated her. She took a brief assessment of her situation. Bound on the floor, all her weapons arrayed on the table next to Varsi, and the security droid next to them. All in all, it could be better. “As I said, to kill you,” she grated out. There would be a way out of this, there had to be.
“And, uh, how do you propose you’re going to do that, exactly?” he crossed his legs, resting his hands on his knee, and favoured her with a look of intense mock-interest.
She didn’t answer. She tested the bounds of the stun cuffs and discovered her way out: the cuffs weren’t properly locked. Rolling casually over as if she were trying to get into a comfortable position to talk to him, she managed to slip one wrist free without difficulty. Careful not to show either Varsi or the droid what had happened, she now sat on the floor across from the two of them with her arms behind her and her knees pulled up in front as if in defeat.
“Face it, my dear, you’re hardly in a position to make good on anything anymore.” His astonishingly green eyes bored into her. “Was it the pirate gang who sent you, then?”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter now,” she mumbled, still playing along with the defeatist routine while she planned her escape. “Yes, they sent me.” Confident she could overpower Varsi, she didn’t know what she was going to do about the droid.
Varsi had a grimly satisfied smile on his face. “I thought as much. Perhaps your mutilated body sent back to them might serve to get them off my back, however…”
It was, Alyeza thought, like she were in some appalling espionage holovid, the sort Q14 would probably have lapped up. Varsi was doing an impeccable job of being a hammy villain-type, perhaps a relic of his long history with the media.
A thought then occurred to her, while Varsi was busy steepling his fingers and doing his villain routine. If the droid had secured her, and it hadn’t secured the cuffs properly, perhaps that wide-spectrum disruptor blast she’d triggered before opening the hatch was having some residual effect on it. It was a long shot, definitely, but if she was fast enough, she might be able to take it out before it could react – Varsi, she was fairly sure, would revert to being terrified behind the couch again.
“Well, you know…there are other things you could do with my body…” she breathed haltingly, trying to put him off-balance enough before she struck.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work. “Whatever could you mean?” he asked, beetling his thin brows together and causing his facial tattoo to crinkle slightly.
“I’m here, entirely at your mercy…you could do whatever you wanted to me…” she couldn’t quite believe she had to spell this out for him. But then he made it clear why.
“My dear, you really aren’t my type.” He lounged back, putting his hands behind his head. “You Twi’lek women, always assuming that men of every species can’t wait to ravish you.” He shook his head with theatrical disbelief. “It never occurs to you that there are some men who prefer to stick with what they know best, if you take my meaning?” He raised an eyebrow as he looked down on her, before throwing his head back again with a chuckle.
At that moment, Alyeza struck. She leapt across the room at the security droid, using the force of her body to push it against the wall. The light armoured weave of her thermal suit was enough to cushion the blow, and the droid was caught completely off-guard. She had no problem flicking the activator switch at the base of its cranial casing, and the droid slumped, again deactivated.
She turned quickly to Varsi, who had reverted to type immediately and crouched at the end of the couch, eyes wide in fear. She reached over to the low table where her weapons had been arrayed, and picked up the stingbeam blaster she was going to use earlier.
“To answer your earlier question, I propose to kill you with this.” She shot him at point-blank range, right above his nasal tattoo. His body slumped backwards, dead.
Two days later, Alyeza received confirmation that Vrandil had deposited the rest of her fee for the completion of the Varsi job. Maybe I’ll head to Euceron, she thought vaguely. Should be able to pick up something there to keep me going. And The Wheel isn’t too far from there, should be enough to keep going…