Pursuit (part two)

Hey folks!

Happy Easter! Whatever you’re celebrating this weekend, I hope you’re having a wonderful time of it! Personally, I’ve been having unmitigated awesome so far, it’s just a shame it’s only confined to the long weekend!

Remember for my 200th post, I wrote part one of a short story, and promised the second part would be along soon? Well, somehow life got in the way, and part two of said story has ended up being my post 250! That wasn’t intended, I can assure you! Anyway, you can read the first part of the tale here, then part two continues on directly from there. Hope you enjoy it, and as always, comments are greatly appreciated!

Nar Shaddaa

The setting sun couldn’t make the cityscape of Nar Shaddaa beautiful. The Smugglers’ Moon was rotten to the core, a place where most came to hide from the law. Rando and Mazzic had arrived in the Corellian Sector a little over a Standard day ago, and while Rando had been meticulous about the job at hand, Mazzic had headed over to the Lucky Star casino in the hopes of making some more money out of the trip.

Rando stood with his hands in his pockets as he ordered what passed for shasa ale at a cantina a short walk from the Besadii warehouse. The cantina was a real dive, with only three tables to sit at. Most of the patrons were stood around the narrow room in small huddles, not making eye contact with anyone outside their groups. The ale was foul, but this was the best place to survey the warehouse as inconspicuously as he could.

Besides, given how run-down the cantina was, Mazzic was bound to show up sooner or later.

During the hours he had spent watching the warehouse, he had only seen two guards – Weequay, both. He was fairly sure he had their routine down, and intended to make one final check this evening before making his move.

Taking a final gulp of his ale, he shuffled out of the cantina and onto the walkway that led past the Besadii warehouse. A chasm yawned to his right, with small, crumbling blocks of plastcrete dotted partly along the edge as a token attempt at safety. As he turned his attention to the warehouse, a long, single-story structure on the left, he noticed a pair of aliens fighting amid a pile of trash. The moon was so densely-populated that he wasn’t all that surprised he couldn’t identify the species. Walking past without pause, he passed the rear of the warehouse, and sure enough, there was the Weequay he’d spotted in previous trips, trying his best to look nondescript with a very long vibro-knife badly concealed against his thigh.

Rando kept close watch out of the corner of his eye as he shambled along, trying to appear more concerned with where he was walking than what he was walking past. A steady scuffing of boots behind him momentarily made him think he’d been unsuccessful with his attempts, but he relaxed as Mazzic nudged him and mumbled, “We need to clear out of here, buddy.”

Rando, while certain the Weequay hadn’t paid him any attention, was careful not to give up with his charade too suddenly.

“What do you mean?” he mumbled back.

“I mean, we need to get this job done and get ourselves off this rock as soon as.”

Panic crept across Rando’s chest. “Why?”

“I met some fellow smugglers yesterday, they let it slip during our last game of sabacc that they’ve got a big job for Besadii coming up, offered to cut me in. For what they offered, I turned ‘em down, but sounds like they’re getting ready to clear this place out. They do that, this Anjiliac job isn’t gonna pay squat. Think you’re ready?” Mazzic seemed oddly on edge.

“I’m pretty sure how I’m gonna do it, yeah. Tonight, then?”

“Tonight it is, my friend.”

***

Neither of them had noticed the robed Twi’lek walk past them twice while they were out on the walkway. The infochant had to be sure his quarry were who he thought they were before he called it in, and once he received confirmation that he had been paid for the information, he made straight for the lower levels.

The Empire always paid well when the information was good.

***

Rando made it a point to maintain a network of acquaintances he could rely on to provide him with the tools of his trade, should he ever need help. Nowhere in the galaxy was that easier than Nar Shaddaa, where he had learnt the art of explosives from a man known simply as Grey Lord. A legend in criminal circles, Grey Lord had had a prosperous career during the Clone Wars as a mercenary working for both sides throughout the conflict. When accused of being nothing more than ‘good at bangs’, he had used explosive charges to carve the face of his accuser into a rock mesa on Ord Mantell. He’d then killed the man, on principle.

With enough thermex to more than make Anjiliac’s point, Rando met back with Mazzic at the cantina and the two made their way to the warehouse. As predicted, the Weequay was nowhere to be seen, having most likely grown bored of his sentry duty and found something more interesting to occupy his time. They still proceeded cautiously down the alleyway that ran alongside, making sure nobody was following. Much like Coruscant, true night was hard to come by on Nar Shaddaa, given the vast neon signs that illuminated the skies, and the alley had a hazy red glow to it from a nearby holosign for an upcoming shockball tournament on Affavan. Mazzic had “borrowed” a speeder truck from someone he claimed to have worked with once, and it was parked unobtrusively nearby.

Forcing a window, the two managed to steal inside without anybody noticing. Mazzic had expected to emerge into the warehouse staring into the muzzle of at least one blaster, but the warehouse was disarmingly quiet. They found themselves in what looked like a workshop area, while crates were stacked in reasonably-neat rows throughout the room ahead of them.

“Reckon they’ve just gone to bed?” Rando breathed beside him.

Mazzic crept forward further into the main floor of the warehouse, straining to hear for any sound, but the warehouse did indeed appear to be completely deserted.

“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Mazzic took one final look around, finding the quiet odd in light of what the smugglers had told him earlier. “I’m gonna take a look around. You start doing your thing, and I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

Mazzic headed off, and Rando set to work with the thermex. Not his explosive of choice, it nevertheless did a great job in the end. The downside was the fact it was a remote charge, but required the operator to remain nearby to detonate. In spite of the life he had chosen for himself, Rando actually disliked the criminal sides of his profession. It was a life of necessity, in order to pursue what he felt to be his only skill, demolitions. Thanks to the advances in droid technology, construction droids has rendered all legitimate demolitions obsolete, and so he had turned to what he felt to be the only option left open for him, crime. Fortunately, Vrandil had given him some good jobs that didn’t involve too much risk with the law, as he was often aided and abetted by other operatives who would keep the way clear for him. Jobs like this for Anjiliac, however, required too much risk for his liking, and the sooner he could collect the payment, the better.

But it had been fun seeing Mazzic again.

Methodically, Rando applied another charge to a supporting strut, and ensured the detonator was wired and in place. As he turned to the next strut, he felt a hard object poke into the small of his back.

“Having fun?” came a guttural voice somewhere near his left ear.

Rando’s first thought was the vague hope that Mazzic was just playing some kind of joke, though the unpleasant smell of Weequay swiftly dispelled that. “Well, I was…” he said, weakly.

“Put the bag down, carefully, and then your hands on your head,” the guard ordered. “And don’t try anything funny. This ain’t a funny business we’ve got here.”

With exaggerated care, Rando placed his satchel on a nearby crate, then did as he was ordered. The Weequay didn’t seem to know that he still held a detonator chip in his hand, however, so he was careful to conceal it while he thought of how he would get out of this mess.

“That’s it. Nice and easy. So let’s go find your buddy – but don’t think I won’t shoot you soon as you try anything funny.”

Slowly, Rando began to walk around the pile of crates and out onto the main floor of the warehouse, the guard’s blaster poking into his back, and a leathery hand on his shoulder. There was neither sight nor sound of Mazzic, and Rando found himself hoping fervently that meant a rescue was imminent, that Mazzic had seen the Weequay sneak up on him and was about to leap from the shadows. With each step they took, that hope died a little more.

“Looks like your friend has decided to –“ Whatever the Weequay had been about to say was cut off when the front door to the warehouse was kicked in, and a squad of stormtroopers burst in.

Rando felt sure by this point that he was dreaming, that there had been some hallucinogen in the shasa ale he’d been drinking. But no, this was no dream. The troopers fanned out, handlights and rifles coming to bear on Rando and the Weequay, and the filtered voice of the sergeant came clearly through the otherwise deserted warehouse, “In the name of the Galactic Empire, you are all under arrest!”

The remark seemed to catch the Weequay off-guard. His grip loosened on Rando’s shoulder, as he presumably tried to move to address the troopers, perhaps to announce his role here. Rando, however, didn’t wait long to find out exactly what the guard was about to do; he seized the chance and triggered the detonator he had kept a hold of. Whatever the Weequay was about to say was drowned out by the sudden explosion of half the warehouse.

Rando dived to the limited cover of a nearby pile of crates. Evidently he was just in time, as a moment later the guard was knocked prone by a falling metal beam. The stormtroopers, obviously confused, decided to open fire on the warehouse at large.

I sure hope Mazzic got out while he could…

***

Mazzic had indeed gotten out of the warehouse, and was in the process of loading a sixth crate onto the speeder truck when he noticed a second vehicle pull up near to the warehouse. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the stormtroopers disembark, though after taking a moment to calm himself, he realised there weren’t any Imperial warrants out on him at the moment. Either Besadii had come under the scrutiny of the Empire at last, or they were after Rando.

Unsure of what to do, Mazzic checked his blaster before heading back into the warehouse, cursing himself as he did so. Rando was a friend, and he still felt somewhat obligated to him after he had saved his skin back on Corellia.

Just as he ducked back in through the side door to the warehouse, everything went to hell as the place blew up, and the stormtroopers started firing at random. A few blasts came alarmingly close to where Mazzic stood, and he quickly ducked behind some sort of workbench area as he tried to make sense of what was going on. Had Rando triggered a blast by accident? Was it something the Imperials had done? Whatever the reason, he had to find his accomplice, and quickly.

“Rando!” he risked, though it was difficult to be heard over the inferno. He moved further into the back of the warehouse, where he had last seen Rando setting charges, and found a Weequay on fire. Slightly taken aback, he began to move again before choking back on the smoke. Squinting to see, he was about to give up hope and leave when he saw the demolitionist moving towards the main doors. Quickly, running at a crouch to avoid the Imperials’ fire, he grabbed a hold of Rando by the arm and made to pull him back to the side door.

Rando’s eyes widened in momentary horror, until he realised who had caught up to him. Visibly relaxed, he followed Mazzic out into the alleyway and the speeder truck, both men grabbing another crate as they left the burning building.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Rando coughed, as Mazzic began to manoeuvre the truck out of the alley, and hopefully away before anything else could go wrong.

“You and me have got different ideas of what’s fun, Rando, that’s for sure.”

***

As it turned out, Zietta the Hutt was pleased with the way things had turned out on Nar Shaddaa, and Rando was paid the 1500 credits that had been agreed. Mazzic had managed to secure enough spice to make the trip worthwhile, though it had been phetaril in that specific store, while he had been hoping for something a little more lucrative. “I’ll take the credits where I can,” he had said, and, combined with his gambling while on the Smugglers’ Moon, had more than covered his expenses.

Rando still hadn’t the credits to replace his ship, however, so had followed Mazzic to Junkfort Station to sell the phetaril. Thinking he might be able to hitch a ride to Murkhana from one of the spacers there, things went from bad to worse when Mazzic caught up with him at the station’s cantina.

“You’re not gonna like this, but you’ve got a bounty on your head.”

Rando felt suddenly cold and clammy. “Me? What for?” The question was almost instinctive; he assumed it was for having blown something up, but nobody had ever specifically come after him for retribution following a job. He was like a tool – his employers were the ones who had the bounties posted on them.

“Well, turns out the Imperials have a special interest in you. I think it’s time you took off someplace quiet, disappeared for a while.” The two left the cantina and casually made their way back to the dock.

Rando felt light-headed. This is why I hate the criminal side of the job.

“Got any thoughts?”

A harsh, rasping voice came from the right. “I’ve got a thought for you; you can come with me now, quietly, and you get to live.”

Both men whirled around, Mazzic’s hand automatically going for his blaster.

“Don’t even try it, Mazzic, or I’ll blow that hand right off.” It was the croaking, filtered voice of an Ubese, that much Rando knew. Mazzic, however, seemed to be more familiar.

“Solvek! What’s going on?”

Solvek held a blaster carbine levelled directly at Rando’s chest. His breathing mask made a quiet ticking sound as he stood, eerily still, regarding the two.

“Your friend here has an impressive bounty on him for a first-timer. Luckily, I seem to have found you first.”

Mazzic hadn’t made any further move towards his blaster, though his hand remained halfway to his holster. “Gonna tell us who’s splashing the creds?”

“The Empire, who else?” Solvek still hadn’t moved, the carbine held unwaveringly in front.

“The Empire? Why?” Rando was convinced the squad had survived the warehouse explosion, though admittedly he hadn’t hung around to check on the troopers’ welfare.

“Turns out they don’t like their troops being blown up. You have two counts against you, crimes against the Empire on Felucia and Lianna, and they want you to answer for them.”

Rando’s head swam. This can’t be happening! “They were just jobs, I have nothing against the Empire!” he heard himself say, as if it would make everything better.

“Irrelevant. The bounty has been posted, so I’m collecting it. Mazzic, don’t try to interfere.”

Mazzic stepped back as Solvek, making his first move since this nightmare had started, expertly threw a pair of stun cuffs over Rando’s wrists with one gloved hand while keeping the carbine levelled at his target with the other. “Good. Don’t try to resist, and this will be a lot easier.”

Rando was in complete shock as the Ubese bounty hunter dragged him off to his ship, Mazzic stood awkwardly behind.

***

Captain Faise stood on the bridge of the Bayonet-class light cruiser Dauntless, in a slow orbit around Jabiim, and waited for the prisoner to be brought up. He hadn’t really expected the bounty to have been claimed so soon, but then, being in the Outer Rim Territories, where hunters were plenty, perhaps he should have.

The blast doors opened with a hiss, and Ensign Bick entered, followed by four stormtroopers who escorted the criminal between them.

“Captain Faise,” the Ensign came to a smart attention. “The criminal, as ordered, sir.”

“Thank you, Ensign. You may leave us.” The Ensign came to a second salute, then marched off to the duty officer’s station, no doubt in search of something else to do. Faise ignored him, giving his attention instead to the wide-eyed, scruffy human in front of him.

After what he felt to be a suitable length of time, enough to unnerve the man, Faise finally spoke. “You’re the demolitionist who destroyed Jianzi water station on Felucia?”

The man looked terrified, but nodded.

“Tell me why.”

The man gulped audibly, then managed to stammer out, “It was just a job.”

“Who asked you to do it?”

“My boss. A Koorivar. He’s like a broker. Don’t know who wanted it doing, he just assigns the jobs. Nothing personal,” he added, almost hopefully.

Faise looked him over once again, drawing it out to unnerve the other. Normally he wouldn’t interrogate a prisoner on the bridge of a ship, but he didn’t anticipate being that long with this criminal. As a testament to the discipline of the crew, no-one on the bridge had neglected their duties to watch. The four stormtroopers stood silent guard around the criminal, unmoving white-armoured sentinels.

Finally, he asked, “Why did you accept the job?”

He shrugged, clearly uncomfortable with everything about his situation. “I like to blow stuff up,” he mumbled.

“Really.” Faise returned to his silent stare, drawing another audible gulp from the criminal.

After a few more heartbeats, the criminal stammered, “So, what do you want from me?”

Faise wasn’t entirely sure what his prisoner meant. Did he think the Empire wanted to hire him? “You are responsible for the deaths of twenty-seven stormtroopers, that we know of, due to your recent activities here in the Outer Rim. What do you think I want from you?”

“It was just a job,” he mumbled in defence.

“Whether it’s ‘just a job’ or not is irrelevant. I do not spend my troopers lightly, you piece of filth. Twenty-seven men died because you ‘like to blow stuff up’. Twenty-seven men who lived, and breathed. Twenty-seven men in whom the Empire had invested, twenty-seven men whose job it was to keep the people of this galaxy free and safe from criminal low-lives such as yourself. But you killed them, because you ‘like to blow stuff up’.” Faise was angry, though had managed to keep himself under control as he delivered his diatribe.

When the criminal made no move to speak, Faise continued. “This ship is poorly equipped to deal with prisoners, so I’m afraid you won’t be a guest with us for long.” He paused, enough to give the criminal hope for his future. “So here’s what we’re going to do with you. Twenty-seven of my stormtroopers will take you to the cargo hold, and show you the effect your actions have had on them. These four troopers, in particular, are no doubt eager to make your acquaintance more fully; they lost brothers-in-arms to your little hobby back on Lianna. Sergeant, you know what to do.”

The four stormtroopers snapped to attention as one, then hauled the criminal out from the bridge. Faise had no doubt that his decision would be viewed with scepticism by some, but he also felt it was the right thing to do for his men.

“Navigation, plot a course to Sriluur. We still have a job to do.”

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