Zef let out a loud yell as he tumbled forward, dropping all the datapads and causing a shower of metallic clangs and clanks to clatter loudly throughout the small room. A mouse droid, perhaps responsible for Zef’s fall, whirred in high-pitched alarm and sped out the doorway, zipping between Maila Jinn’s feet.
She sighed and rolled her eyes, flipping the switch and turning on the lights. She bent down and began to pick up the mess that seemed to inevitably follow Zef around as if he were the human equivalent (or, more accurately, the Kiffu-Arkanian equivalent) of a natural disaster. “I have no idea why I used to have such a huge crush on you, Garik.” She jabbed with a somewhat annoyed tone and the smallest hint of a smile.
“I’m okay, thanks for asking,” Zef responded sarcastically as he groaned and climbed to his feet.
Maila stacked the datapads on a nearby desk. “Okay- if you were a titanium hyperdrive booster mod where would you be?” She asked rhetorically, beginning to rummage around in the boxes of Xira Herin’s storage room for her goods of… questionable legality.
“Titanium?” Zef asked, tapping on some buttons embedded under the skin of his right temple.
A soft whirring sound buzzed from his eye as the visual enhancement implant scanned for the specified material. “Try that box,” he said to Miala, pointing to the third shelf, “I’ll look in this one.”
Maila shuddered. “I get that Arkanians are into implants and mods but did you have to get one in your eye? It’s kinda creepy.”
“Relax, Rin knows what he's doing. Have you met the guy? He's like a tech wizard." Zef responded as he grasped what his visual enhancement implant had selected.
He pulled out the item and waved it at Miala. “Is this it?”
He hadn’t expected to hear Maila guffaw and snort in unrestrained laughter in response. He raised an eyebrow and peered around the shelf, catching a glimpse of her clutching her gut and leaning over the desk by the doorway.
“What? What is it?” Zef asked, bringing the item closer to his face and glancing at it with narrowed eyes. This only caused Maila to laugh even harder, slapping the desk with an open hand as she chortled.
After a moment she caught her breath. “You would confuse a hyperdrive mod for a Huttese marital aid.” she explained, wiping a tear from her eye and pulling the right part out of the box Zef had indicated to her earlier.
Zef’s eyes went wide, “M-marital aid? What does that me-OH!” He dropped the metallic object in disgust.
“Come on, you goof.” Maila jested as she scooped up the datapds in her free hand and made her way out the door, “Xira’s going to have to launder this sale fast if we don’t want to report losses this quarter.”
Zef wrapped his jacket around his hand as sort of a shield as he picked up the now identified object and stuffed it back into the box in which he’d found it. “Yeeesh” He groaned, jogging to catch up with Maila as she made her way toward Herin’s office.
Some find unforetold opportunity in the pandemonium, spreading their seedy wears and delighting in the clink of bloodstained creds. Others struggle to survive, sensing that what used to be a steady foundation beneath their feet has dissolved, crumbling further with every step they take. Some have leadership forced upon them, their best qualities grabbed by the desperate hand of fate and pulled to the surface, as if survival of democracy itself depended on it. Others still are drenched in despair, longing for the days when life was simpler and they didn’t have to contemplate the existential grim realities of existence...
Gaven Mindar stared at his drink in the dim light of the swoop bar, watching the condensation on the outside of the glass. He wished he could be the droplets of water instead of himself; to have no awareness of the machinations at work around him, to lack the complexity to feel pain.
The foreboding was omnipresent; thick in the air like a layer of fog. Though in his youth he’d been a sensitive young man, even the galaxy’s most hardened souls now wore a barely passable veneer of nervous well-being. Life would never be the same as it had been before the invasion, and it was painfully obvious that everyone knew.
Though current events had impacted his life just as much as the others who desperately scavenged for some shred of normalcy mixed in with the libations served in the seedy establishment’s well worn glassware, Gaven had been feeling this way for a long time beforehand. Old wounds festered in the back of his consciousness. Grief tugged at his heart like a lead weight, and no matter where he looked for solace, he could not seem to find it. It wasn’t at the bottom of his glass, nor in the arms of a lover, nor in his bloodstream as the Spice affected his synapses.... But for a moment the distractions would help.
He sighed and took a sip, feeling the alcohol burn his throat on the way down.
"How was your flight?" He asked as they made their way into the meditation gardens.
"Kind of stressful- to be honest. You know how in a light speed jump you can't access radio communications well? Anyway I had to just sit there and think about all the scattered, panicked reports I'd heard about what was happening. I had no idea what was truth and what was the media trying to boost ratings..."
"Yeah," Kaido agreed, "It's been pretty crazy these past few standard days."
He took a seat on a stone bench, and Gaven continued to pace. "What about the festival? Was that good, at least?"
Gaven frowned a bit, remembering the complicated emotions which had been brought up during his trips into the fade, examining memories of those long gone and the effect they had on the people who'd survived them. "It was... Kind of stressful too, to be honest."
Kaido frowned a bit. He wanted to ask Gaven to try again to find Larana, but it seemed as though he would be unresponsive to his request right now. He decided to prod a little further, just in case. "Has it gotten any easier? Fadewalking, I mean?"
Gaven lightly kicked a rock and watched as it skittered across the pathway. "Well, I have more control over it now. I can stop myself from slipping into a memory involuntarily- for the most part. As far as it being 'easier...' It's less physically draining now, but emotionally it's still... pretty tough."
Kaido could tell Gaven was uncomfortable with the topic. Ever since his abilities had bloomed he hadn't gotten to live a very normal teenage life. Kaido shelved his yearning to make use of his friend's abilities to help himself come to terms with Larana's death, and instead decided to focus on experiencing his friendship with those he cared about who were still alive.
"Well, you won't have to do it here unless you want to. You seem like you need a break- should I see if the girls want to do another hot springs party?" He laughed a bit, "I'm pretty sure Master Firel is onto us, but she hasn't said anything yet..."
Gaven smiled a bit. "I dunno, I'm a bit worn out for that. I'd rather just sit here and watch the sun set."
Kaido laughed, "Isn't that like, the only thing you do at the monastery, though?"
Gaven plopped down beside his friend and laughed, "I guess I've just gotten so used to doing it that it feels weird not to..."
The friends sat together in silence and watched the star set behind the gas giant which orbited above them, then set again behind the horizon of the moon. After a while, Kaido stretched his arms and his stomach rumbled.
Gaven grinned, "Let's go see what they're serving in the mess hall. I can't wait to eat meat again- it's been vegetarian cuisine only since I moved to Mirial."
Kaido nodded and they stood, hungry for whatever the droid servers had in store...
He waved at a familiar face as he climbed down the ladder from the ship's elevated cockpit. "Hi Ace!"
The colonel jogged over and patted him on the back. "Gaven! We've missed you. I let the others know you were coming after I cleared the landing." He explained.
"GAVEN!" Van's undeniably excited voice echoed from the top of the stone stairs near the back of the hangar. He galloped over and embraced Gaven with what seemed like his whole body, causing him to stumble backward due to the transfer of momentum.
Gaven laughed a bit. "Heh... Hi Van. Nice beard."
Seeing his best friend again caused a smile to spread across his face and he returned the hug, squeezing the muscles in his arms as he patted his friend's back. Van released him and began to walk by his side as they made their way toward what Van had dubbed, for lack of a better term, 'the war room.'
"You like it? Nessa thinks it's stupid but Roisin was supportive." He ran his fingers through the half-inch or so of goatee he'd grown since the boys had last seen each other.
"So- you felt it too, huh?" Van asked, abruptly changing the subject.
"Yeah. I've been hearing scattered reports since I left Mirial- a bombing? On the senate? Is Leia Organa okay?"
Van nodded, "She's been in better shape but she's gonna make it. That's where Master Skywalker went- to check on her. A few of the other masters who weren't away on missions are investigating. It was more than just the senate- Republic targets all over the galaxy are being hit."
They turned a sharp corner and continued down a torch-lit corridor. "They think it has something to do with Dark Jedi."
Gaven's stomach churned. Instantly it felt like there was a heavy rock in his gut. He remembered his time as a captive to the Cult of Ragnos, or at least, chunks of it. He'd been forced into reliving moments from lives of dark force users' pasts as Tavion had emptied vast amounts of dark force energy into him with her mysterious scepter. He heard she was trying to prepare his body to become a host for the soul of the ancient sith lord, Marka Ragnos. His Fadewalking abilities had made him an ideal target for such a dubious ritual.
Van seemed to sense his friend's change in demeanor and quickly added, "Nothing to do with Ragnos- Master Skywalker seems to think it might be some of his ex-students."
This, however, didn't calm Gaven. His twin brother, Gage, had left the Praxium years before and joined the Sith cult. He had heard he'd made a brief appearance on Korriban, but had vanished just as quickly after the battle.
"My brother?" He asked in a soft voice, almost afraid of the answer.
"I don't think so..." Van said with a sigh. "But I can't be 100 percent sure- no one has seen him since..." Van trailed off.
They'd reached their destination, and the awkward silence was soon shattered with greetings from friends. Roisin shot up from her seat at a table covered in datapads and hugged him. Cheklev nodded from the corner. Kaido jogged over and slapped him on the shoulder. "Finally! I was wondering if you'd show up."
Gaven said his hellos and then sat down at the table, trying to make sense of what was going on. "Okay... what's the plan?" He asked...
Though he and Kueller had seemed confident in the bombed droid's ability to carry out the wave of attacks, Brakiss had sent his understudies to oversee the event, hoping to spare himself from Kueller's wrath if anything went wrong.
"I've been monitoring the galactic news network; no one seems to have figured out our little secret. Not a misfire yet." He touched a holographic projection of the troubled-looking anchor and it switched to reveal a map of the galaxy. Little flags emerged from various star systems and blinked, signifying a Republic target had been hit.
Aja's eyes widened as she scanned the map. Kavis smirked- she was still new to carnage and death and was by far the most sentimental of them- it would be her downfall for sure.
"You're dismissed." Brakiss said with a wave as he continued to study the map.
Kavis and Aja walked down the corridor. "Could you sense it?" Aja asked Kavis as their footsteps echoed down the durasteel hallway.
For a second Kavis wondered to what she was referring. Not wanting to appear ignorant of her intentions, he chuckled. "Yes. So much death. So much destruction."
Aja shook her head, "No- not that... Brakiss."
Kavis raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
"He seemed... off somehow- apprehension? Could you feel it? He just seemed like he knew something bigger was coming down the pike- something he didn't want to deal with..."
Kavis frowned. Her eyes going wide had had nothing to do with the map- rather she was reading their new master, studying his weakness. Perhaps she was more clever than he had given her credit. Still, it was something he could use to his advantage.
"Such knowledge, if you are talented enough to acquire it, would be extremely useful to us. I trust you can get more the information?"
Aja blinked as if she'd been shaken from her own thoughts at his suggestion, "What? Oh... sure. I'll work on it."
Kavis smiled again, "Excellent."
He put aside the various chunks of money his little enterprise needed for bribes, supplies, and other costs. Thanks to Raze's and Tweak's work on the side they'd made more than he thought- enough to give his employees a bonus, even. He distributed the extra cash among the paychecks, then thought for a moment and took half of the impromptu bonuses back out of the envelopes and put it into his pockets. After all- he was the one who was sticking his neck out the farthest... he deserved it. Call it 'hazard pay, ' he thought with a smirk.
Maila knocked and pushed the door to his office open. "Hey, desert flower." Macz greeted her.
"Hi Macz. Working on payroll?" She asked as she surveyed his desk.
He kicked his feet up. "Just finished." he explained as he reached across the desk and grabbed Maila's envelope, then tossed it to her.
"Thanks." she said as she took a seat on the couch and fingered through the credits. "Oh wow- we do well this week?"
He nodded. "Threw you a little extra for your sale with that Zabrak. Nice work. You could keep an ice shack afloat on Hoth the way you pitch things."
Her smile faded a bit. "Yeah..."
Macz got up and slipped his outer coat off, hanging it on the door before joining her on the couch. "So, you in the mood for steak?" he asked as he snaked an arm around her shoulders. "I think the ballet is still in town if you wanna get dressed up. I got comped some tickets by sector security."
She looked a bit uncomfortable still. "I, I actually thought we could talk for a bit." She admitted.
Macz reached over and began to play with the dangling gemstone pendant that hung from her jacket's zipper. "Oh yeah? What about?" he asked.
Maila shifted her shoulders a little, causing Macz to stop playing with the trinket he had bought her the month before. "Well, I have seen a big increase in the slave trade since we came back to Bestine... I think the Hutts have a lot of raw talent that we could put to use."
Macz shook his head 'no.' "Absolutely not. No raids. The only thing keeping us from getting spaced is the truces and alliances I've built- one of which is with the illustrious Mr. Nuba the Hutt."
"But we're stronger now than when you made that truce- and he'd been hiring up extra muscle. I think he's up to something. I think we need to hit him before he hits us."
Macz smiled. "Aw, I love it when you try and talk strategy." He cooed as he caressed her chin, "The Blue suns aren't a threat. I think you're letting your emotions from what happened three and a half years ago get the better of you. Just leave the planning up to me, okay?" He leaned in for a kiss.
Maila turned so that he hit her cheek instead of her lips. She was livid.
Macz chuckled. "Oooh, Ice Queen... I bet a night on the town will thaw your heart. What'dya say?" He grabbed her hand and stood.
"Actually- I'm really tired... I think I'm just going to turn in for the night, but thanks." She softly released Macz' hand and made her way to the office door.
He shrugged and let her go. There was another girl from sector 3 he would rather take anyway; she had the most brilliant red hair and absolutely loved the ballet. He expected she would be in a much more appreciative mood than Maila, at any rate...
His sleepy eyes quickly came into focus and he recognized the meager bunks around him. Everything appeared to be fine; the other priest and priestess initiates were sleeping soundly around him, but still- something was... off.
He slipped out of his bed and pulled a robe on, quickly walking outside to the monastery's balcony. Gaven looked to the stars, but saw nothing unusual. He frowned, unable to shake his sense of dread.
He took a meditation stance and reached out with the force, searching...
A woman shireking. An old man ducking for cover. A child, separated from its parents, crying into the panicked crowd.
Shards of glass stuck out from her side as she grasped the air, trying to signal for help. He choked on the plume of thick, black, smoke, begging for breath. She tried to move her legs and in a second of sheer terror, realized she could no longer feel them...
Panic. There was no direction, no instruction. Primal forces clamped down on every mind as punches flew and legs pumped...
Gaven gasped again as he came to. It wasn't anything specific, but it confirmed that something was happening. Gaven knew he would be unable to go back to sleep... He had to do something... But what?
The Jedi on Yavin IV would know what to do. He grabbed his belongings from the base of his bunk, left a note, and made his way to the hangar...
The entire office was in chaos. Security personel elbowed their way through the panicked campaign workers, scanning the whole floor for their client. Listain ducked underneath his desk to try and avoid a potted plant that had been flung through the air.
"What the kriff!?" He gasped as he took shelter.
He couldn't believe that just 4 minutes earlier the office was calm and its workers were going about their day to day lives. He had been returning to his desk with a fresh cup of Caf when an intern had rushed in with news of the bombings.
People had begun to murmer and switch viewscreens to the galactic news channel. When an anchor revealed that military and governmental targets were being reported as hit from all over the galaxy someone had suggested Gunstarr's office could be next.
And that brought on the pandemonium.
"We have to secure the senator and evacuate the building!" One of the security guards barked.
Listain peeked his head up. Everyone seemed to be running for the main lifts, causing congestion near the door. Screams and fists began to fly, and the situation quickly devolved into what looked like a drunken brawl.
Listain frowned. Imperial officials would never have acted like this- there was clear protocal to be followed and rank would be observed. That was one thing this new government was lacking; order.
He made his way to the west end of the office, hoping to use the back stairway to escape the scene. As he ran for safety he wondered who was behind the attacks, and a faint flicker of hope swelled in his heart- was it the Remnant? The few systems that had held out this long- were they finally making their push to re-take the Republic?
As he shoved open the door to the stairwell he made the decision to dig up his old contacts and find out...
The morning passed just like any other morning, and time flew by as it always did when she was working on prototype development; she was good with tech, especially shields, and the work she'd been able to do with Jon-Tow was rewarding. Her hands were beginning to sewat under the latex of the gloves she had to wear while she worked in the tech lab, but after so many years she had gotten used to the sensation.
She used the sleeve of her cleansuit to wipe her brow as she walked to the decon chamber and began to peel off her gloves. Her stomach was starting to rumble; she had been so caught up in her work that she hadn't realized how long she had gone without a meal. She lined up a shot to the bin with her gloves and made a shot like in airball. Before they went into the disposal, however, the building shook violently beneath her.
A loud boom encapsulated the whole room and viles skitted across the shelves, ultimately falling onto the floor and shattering at her feet. The screams of her co-workers in other parts of the building echoed through the hall outside. "BRIX!" Jo'i yelled, shocked.
She didn't even bother to shed her cleansuit, she leapt over the glass and keyed in the code for the door to the hallway to open, but nothing happened. The electronics must have been damaged. As if on cue, the lights flickered and died. Jo'i threw her body against the door, hoping to force it open, but it was stuck.
Suddenly a second blast rocked the building, this time emanating from the other side. She shielded her face as chunks of the celing began to fall onto her. After the debris had settled she took her arm away from her face. dust filled the air around her and she began to cough violently. Squinting, she was able to make out some light from the other side of the tech lab- whatever was happening had blasted a small hole in the wall, and judging by the faint glow comeing from it, it probably led outside.
Guessing that whoever Terek worked for wasn't going to bomb the same part of the building twice, Jo'i decided to take her chances with escaping the building that way. She carefully made her way back through the decon room into the tech lab, having to weave her way around jagged shards of glass which used to make up the door that separated the lab and the decontamination room. Several dark red sports were beginning to form on her clean suit; Jo'i figured she must has been hit with chunks of glass when the explosion had occured.
From what she could make out in the dim light, her project was lying in chunks around the floor. Months worth of work had been completely destroyed in a second. "Damn it, Terek." She cursed.
The hole was in the bottom corner of the tech lab and looked just barely big enough for her to squeeze through. Jo'i tried to sweep away debris and glass shards on the floor with her foot before leaning down to take a closer look. The smell of smoke from plumes of fire billowed up from below. She would have to hold her breath. She stuck her head out and frowned in dismay. Almost a third of the building had been destroyed. She could see down several flights, into rooms and offices below her floor. It looked like the dollhouse she had used to play with as a kid- you could just reach into any room from outside. The nostalgic analogy was nullified by the blood and stink of death, however.
She pulled her head back in and breathed in the relatively smoke-free air in the lab, then gasped with horror at the sight she had just taken in. There was no clear path downward; she would have to improvise. She stuck her head back through and took note of various footholds she could use to climb down, then began to work her feet through the hole.
Her body hung down as she finally pushed herself all the way through. She wiggled her legs below her and tried to find a foothold. In so doing her weight shifted enough that she lost her grip and fell, passing an entire office before colliding hard with the burned carpet of a floor below her. All the air she had stored in her lungs was knocked out of her and she began to choke on the smoke which filled the area. Coughing and hacking, Jo'i reached out, grabbing for anything she could use to help her climb back up to her feet. The fumes were beginning to get to her, though, and she started to lose conciousness. The world around her faded to black...
Startled, she sat up wide with eyes. "Oh, Van! Forgive me-"
She began trying to reposition herself to sit in a more 'civilized' manner. From what Van knew of Kida she was a bit obsessed with shunfa like that- white gloves and party manners and the like. "Oh, don't trouble yourself!" Van pleaded, hoping to save her from having to adjust herself. "I was just looking for Master Skywalker."
Kida continued to attempt to sit up straight, trying in vain to gracefully navigate around her pregnant belly. "Master Skywalker-" She huffed mid-sentence as she shifted her weight, "Left the academy last night in one of the headhunters. He said something about feeling a disturbance in the Force, but he didn't say where he was going."
"A disturbance in the force..." Van repeated, "So maybe it wasn't just gas that I was feeling after dinner..."
Kida blinked, "Sorry?" She asked for clarification.
Before Van could elaborate, however, a panicked Dar Zill clattered down the hall. "Brix! Van- have you heard? The senate on Coruscant has just been bombed!"
Van and Kida gasped. "Isn't the president of the senate..."
"Master Skywalker's sister." Dar confirmed, finishing Van's query.
"This is bad." Van grunted and jogged along with Dar toward the dormitory. They had to figure out what to do...
They had no problems exiting through the back stairway, seeing as all the senators and diplomats enjoyed their grandiose entrances for the various news networks and entered via the lifts or grand staircase, which emptied out onto a large balcony- perfect for soundbites and fishing for campaign donations.
She and her partner went different ways when they hit the street; The would meet up later on after the impending chaos and pandemonium as cover for their getaway.
Aja found a small caf shop that was far enough away to escape injury and suspicion, but still close enough to see what was about to unfold. She anxiously sipped her drink and watched from the patio where she had taken a seat, reflecting on how her life had come to this moment...
Aja had waited for rescue from the New Jedi Order, but none came. She had tried to take matters into her own hands, but her imprint prevented her from escaping or from taking her own life. Jaded and burdened by grief, Aja had slowly just come to accept that fate had chosen her role in the universe.
She had followed her orders and had done her part to ensure that Ragnos would be ressurected, according to Tavion's perverse fantasy, but the mission had failed. Aja had been injured and left for dead on Korriban a little over three years ago. She could still remember the hollow feeling of her life force draining as blood trickled from her onto the sand, her body becoming colder and colder in contrast to the desert heat. A strong arm hurled a body off of her seconds before she had lost consciousness.
When she awoke she found that some of Tavion's minions had survived and gone to great lengths to revive her, explaining that the power Tavion had foreseen in her (as well as the information stored in Aja's mind from Tavion's imprint) would aid them in the future. She had begun studying under Kavis Isoder, whom she had met briefly in her service to the Cult of Ragnos. He had also survived the Battle of Korriban, albeit barely. Isoder had grudgingly accepted to serve a new master, an enigma named Kueller.
It was Kueller's quest for vengeance against the New Jedi Order and the Republic which had brought them to Coruscant today, and the dawning of a new age was what she and Kavis had set in motion. She took another sip of her caf... it would be any minute now.
"Can you switch the channel?" a woman asked of the caf clerk, "Leia Organa Solo is scheduled to speak today."
The clerk nodded and reached for the remote, which shifted the channel to feature the senate in its current meeting. Leia stepped up to the podium and the crowd hushed. She parted her lips, as if she were about to speak, when suddenly disaster struck.
Light filled the city. The pressure wave hit Aja before the sound of the explosion did, causing her to nearly fall out of her chair.
Screams erupted as people began to flee the senate chambers, running from free falling debris. The news showed only static; no doubt the camera was destroyed by the bombs she and Kavis had set earlier. "HOLY KRIFF!!" The clerk yelled as people in the caf shop began to react to what had just happened. People scrambled to the windows of the sop, pushing each other to try to get a better look at what had happened. Several ran outside, running into Aja as they scurried.
Aja finished her caf and smirked before setting her empty mug down and turning to walk away. "The die has been cast..." She thought to herself.
Zef recoiled a bit as the straw broke away from his lips at the force of her touch. "Hey!" He objected.
"That sound is like nails on a chalkboard- there's not enough drink left to get a sip so just go get a refill." She frowned and looked away.
Zef moved the plastic Dewback-shaped novelty cup away from his face and looked around for another stand. "Man- I don't wanna have to walk all the way back to the Nexu habitat to get more..." He complained.
Risa stayed quiet and continued to glare at Xira and Rin as they walked ahead of them, Rin holding hands with his son as they walked. Zef raised an eyebrow. "Are you okay?"
Risa blinked and looked back to him, "Yeah- why?"
Zef leaned onto a nearby railing and looked out across the Tauntaun enclosure. "You just seem... upset."
Risa leaned on the railing as well and looked out at the animals. "I'm fine."
Zef shrugged and accepted her assertion before looking back toward the creatures. A baby tauntaun cooed and poked its head out of its mother's pouch. Another adult reached its head down and offered it some grass from its mouth. "Aaaw- look at the little family!" Zef squeaked and pointed as he nudged Risa's shoulder with his empty novelty cup.
"Yeah. Adorable." Risa muttered, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
She scoffed and pushed herself away from the railing and began walking after Xira and Rin. Zef frowned and followed. "You're just not a zoo person?" He asked, trying to figure out what was wrong with his half-sister.
She put her hands in her pockets as she walked. "Meh- Zoos are fine."
She fell silent again and her eyes narrowed as Rin bent down and wiped his son's mouth with a napkin. He looked back to Risa and Zef, then prompted his son, Rell, to wave at them. "Hurry up, Aunt Risa and Uncle Zef!" Rin said in a patronizing tone, "We're gonna get to the Rancor befoooore yoooou!"
Rell burst out giggling and Rin scooped him up in his arms, laughing as well. Risa scoffed again. Zef bit his lip and tried again to figure out why Risa was acting so strangely, "Is it because Xira and Rin went without us the first time? Are you upset about that?"
Risa looked back to Zef. "I'm not upset, Zef. Besides- you were the one who threw a fit when you found out they'd come here, not me."
He looked down at his empty cup, watching the ice melt. "I just wanted to see the animals..." He defended in a barely audible childish voice.
"Anyway- You just seem... tense." He prodded. "You've seemed pretty tense for a while. Are you and Rin fighting?"
Risa raised an eyebrow. "What? No. I... I dunno."
She sighed. "It's just- he's been so different since the baby came."
Zef contorted his face, "Are you jealous of Rell?"
"What? No! I just... I don't know. Hey- there's another slushie stand." She grabbed Zef's wrist and dragged him off the path, pushing him toward the vendor.
Zef looked sideways with a hint of embarrassment. "I uh... I spent all my money already." He confessed.
"What? How?" Risa asked.
"I, uh... spent it all at the arcade trying to get Tak a stuffed animal."
Risa sighed, "You should know by now that romantic crap like that would just confuse her." She reprimanded him and shelled over some credits for his refill. "Blue please." He instructed.
As the vendor was pouring the drink he looked back to Risa, "Are you mad at Rin for changing his behavior when he's around his kid?"
"No. It's nothing."
Risa looked back to Rin, who was holding Rell in one arm and had wrapped his other arm around Xira. They were looking at the Womp Rats. Rell giggled and Rin nustled his face against his son's before planting a kiss on his cheek.
Zef thanked the teenage Reelin who was working the slushie stand and looked back toward his sister. "Are you angry because your dad never treated you the way Rin treats Rell?" He guessed as he studied the family.
Risa sighed with annoyance. "I don't know."
Zef and Risa walked silently over toward the railing, meeting up with Rin and Xira. "Ra-korr! Ra-korr!" Rell squealed and swung his arms in the air.
Rin laughed, "Rell wants to see the Rancor, guys- you're slowing us down!" He joked.
"Why don't you guys go ahead. Risa and I will catch up. I really wanted to watch these guys for a bit." Zef explained and motioned toward the Womp Rats, who were just lying there idly.
Rin looked from the Womp Rats to Zef, who had a very badly feigned look of extreme interest on his face, and then back to the lazy Womp Rats. "Okay... Well if you can't find us let's just rendezvous at the front around 1700 hours?"
"Sounds good!" Zef said with an overly enthusiastic grin on his face.
As soon as Xira and her family were out of earshot Zef continued his line of questioning. "You're bitter because seeing Rin being a good father every day reminds you of how crappy your- well, I guess our- dad was?"
"Wht the kriff- are you my shrink now?" Risa snarled at him.
"And since I paid for it I'm taking some of this." She snapped and grabbed Zef's Dewback cup full of blue slush drink.
She took a long sip and handed it back, sheepishly realizing how she was taking her own frustration out on him simply because he was trying to help.
They stood in silence for a few moments. "Sorry." She offered after the silence had grown awkward between them.
"And Zef..." She looked toward him.
Zef patted her on the shoulder and took a long sip of his blue drink. "No problem." He grinned back at her, revealing blue stained teeth from his drink.
Risa laughed at the sight. "You're such a dork." She said and punched him on the shoulder.
"Come on- these Womp Rats are boring. Might as well go see the Rancor." She said with a smile as they tried to catch up with Rin...
After the business with The Blue Suns, she and several other mercs had fled to The Smuggler's Moon in hopes of hiding from Central Command and the mess Kaul had gotten them into. Jo'i was able to put her techincal skills to good use working for the research and development department of Nar Shaddaa sector of the Jon-Tow Economic Development Group, which despite its previous problems had made an admirable resurgance in the past decade.
She sighed and sprawled out on her couch, exhausted from a long day of trials and tests she had to run on prototypes in the lab. Jo'i closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to relax. Before she could reach a calm mental state, however, her commlink began to buzz.
She raised her brow as she studied the number- one with which she was unfamiliar. "Hello?" She answered.
"Jo'i?" A familiar voice spoke. "It's me, Terek."
"Do you have an item of significance from the deceased?" Gaven asked, studying her hands to see if she had brought something to help him connect to the spiritual realm.
"I..." She looked uncomfortable, "Can't you just speak with him?"
Gaven frowned and shifted his weight. "It doesn't exactly work that way..." He began.
The truth was that though some of the high priests did indeed posses the ability to seek out individual souls and make a connection, such an ability was only achieved after almost a lifetime of spiritual dedication and motivation.
She looked discouraged, "Can you... can you please try?" She begged, then described her late husband to him.
He sighed and closed his eyes, breathing in the incense which was burning around him, and tried to make his way through the veil and into the fade.
He opened his eyes slowly, "I'm sorry, miss- it seems I cannot enter the fade without a catalyst. You have nothing which belonged to your husband?"
An expression of worry and guilt fell over the young woman's face. She looked behind her, slowly, as if she were making sure the coast was clear. " I... I have his wedding ring..."
"Yes, that should work." He held out his hand, prompting her to offer the ring.
"I... so you will see only his memories?" She asked, sounding somewhat worried.
"I'm not sure. Whenever strong emotions exist, nearby items have the ability to be touched by them." He explained.
She looked behind her another time, as if she were searching for something. "Are you waiting for someone?" Gaven inquired.
She masked her worry with a false smile and then spoke, "It's nothing, go ahead."
Once again Gaven closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of incense around him. He rubbed his fingers against the ring and concentrated his energy onto it...
Stress pumped through her veins as her heart pounded against her chest. Guilt clawed at the back of her mind like a starved animal. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing her energy on calming herself and stifling the culpability which whispered its presence along with each of her thoughts.
She glanced behind her, making sure the clerk was occupied, and slipped the ring she had been admiring into her pocket. If she had had the money she would have bought one herself, but Wurthen's family was not easily impressed and nothing she could afford was so fancy as the piece she now held.
She quickly pulled her hood up over her head and tugged it down so it was covering her eyes as she sprinted away, through the crowded streets.
"Wait! THIEF!" the clerk screamed and tried to push his way toward her through the crowd, "THIEF!"
His eyes opened slowly and the light from the day crept into his vision. He was breathing heavily and his heart was beating fast, a leftover result of his vision.
The young widow looked at him with wide eyes. "Did you see him? Did you find my husband?"
Gaven released his grip on the ring and offered it back to her as his heart rate began to fall. "I..."
He wasn't sure what to do in this situation. A thief had unwittingly revealed herself to him, yet he could understand her motives. So what should he do? Does a crime committed in the name of love deserve to be punished?
"Uh.. sorry, sometimes I have to rest a bit after a vision..." He exaggerated, hoping to buy himself time to think.
He looked back at her. Lines from grief, not age, were beginning to make themselves permanent. She had really loved this Wurthen, and the toll of his loss showed on her face. "Well?" she asked, gripping her husband's ring to her chest as if she were begging for an answer.
"I... I saw your wedding day..." He lied, "Wurthen, the emotion which filled him when you slipped the ring on his finger was pure ecstasy, unadulterated love for you- an emotion that would not fade until the moment he left this world. What he always wanted for you was happiness, whether or not he could always be at your side he wanted you to be happy."
Tears of joy formed and she wept. "Oh Wurthen... I love you too!" She brought the ring up to her face and whispered to it, "I love you too..."
She looked back to Gaven. "Thank you... You've given me peace today." She slowly stood and walked to the edge of the temple.
As she walked past the guards,Gaven wondered if he should call out to them, but before he knew it she had faded into the crowd attending the solstice festival.
He looked at her with an expression which read "sorry," before setting them down and turning for the door. "Brix- I just finished the last pile!" she complained.
She sighed and walked over to the mini fridge she kept in her office and grabbed a Juma Juice. Though her skills were being put to good use, she missed the down time she'd been able to enjoy under the Hounds leadership. Macz' new fledgling endeavor had saved her from a life of backbreaking labor and starvation wages, but she missed the good old days.
She popped the cap off using the edge of her desk and looked at the first request- a forged NRSF badge. She frowned a bit. At least with Xira she knew her skills wouldn't ever be aiding someone TOO seedy, but with Macz she had no idea the kind of clientele her skills would benefit. Since their newborn group was still struggling for a grip on Bestine she guessed she'd have to take every job that they cold get... at least for now.
"Don't work too hard." A friendly voice suggested from the doorway.
Maila walked over and picked up a datapad. "If you need help I can do the simpler jobs like IDs." She offered.
Siri nodded and took a gulp of her Juma Juice. "I won't fight ya, ha ha."
She opened a drawer to access her tools and began looking up the specs for the badge as Maila started crafting an ID for an underage girl. "Not out with Macz tonight?" Siri asked.
Maila sighed. "I know we owe him for getting us back here, but.. sometimes..."
"Yeah, I know." Siri empathized.
She could tell that Maila seemed uncomfortable, so she thought about changing the subject. Before she could, however, Maila continued. "He made me sell stock to a kid in the Blue Suns."
Siri nearly dropped her tools. "No."
"Yeah. He said we could get revenge by ripping this kid off. Can you believe that?"
Anger surged through her. "So payback for killing Olan and Xax and destroying the Hounds is overcharging some kid? Even though in exchange we're giving the suns more advanced weapons so they can kill other people we may know?"
She cold see Maila's face contort. "Kriffed up, huh."
"I can't believe that. Well, I mean I can, but..." Siri shook her head.
Maila frowned. "I wish it'd been Val we'd found." A tear began to form on the edge of her eyes, "I really miss him."
Siri reached out and patted her friend. "We all do."
Vora waited until she was close, then leaned against the wall near the tramm stop. "Gotta light?" She asked as she pulled a pack out of her jacket and hit it against her hand a few times to pack the active ingredients tighter.
Raith smirked at her and offered her his lighter. "No problem."
"Crazy weather we've been getting, huh? See the forecast?" She asked; it was their code for Raith to fill her in on the city's goings on.
"Well, I've heard sectors 1 through 5 should get nice, comfortable sunshine, but there's this spot in sector 6 where it always seems to rain, you know? Heard there might be a storm on Thursday." He explained in code.
"Hey- you got some spare change? I don't have enough for a round trip ticket for the tramm."
Vora presented him with a credit chit, filled with funds from the NRSF. He'd been relieved of duty a while back but had found he could make quite a comfortable living as an informant. Vora always tried to cut him as much as she could; she didn't want the other side to make him a more attractive offer. An ex-cop knew quite a bit of information and it was better if it stayed with NRSF agents like herself.
She walked back to her hover car several blocks away, making sure she wasn't being followed. "So?" Her partner asked as she climbed into their patrol car, "The strip joint in sector 6- something's going down on Thursday. We'll have to go over Cartali's file again when we get back to base. My bet's on money laundering or Spice dealing."
Her partner smirked. "You're pretty good at this for only being with us two years."
"Two and a half," she corrected him and revved the engine before flying away...
She debated on whether or not to knock on the wall which separated her and Zef's room in a vain attempt to stop his uncouth mid-coitial grunts and squeals. On the plus side they'd stop, but on the negative side it'd be really super awkward seeing him and Tak around the ship afterward... well, awkward for Zef. Tak didn't get awkward. Tak would probably give Risa an emotionless lecture concerning the ordeal and offer to make a spreadsheet with scheduled times she and Zef could engage in lovemaking when it wouldn't bother her... which would be super awkward for Risa.
She decided not to do anything about it. Instead she got up and left her quarters, making her way to the cargo bay, which was far enough away from the bunks that no sound carried.
Truth be told, it was lonely being on a ship most of the time with two other couples, and in a weird sense even lonlier being on a ship where the only two men were her brothers.
She had slept around a lot after Duran had split, but hadn't had another boyfriend since then, well, unless you counted Kyr. Since she'd been traveling on The Desperate Measure she hadn't slept with anyone.
She sighed and wondered how Kyr was doing. She wished she would have taken him less for granted, but the past was the past.
Risa walked over the the punching bag which hung in one corner of the room and threw a few jabs. At least she could still get a cardio work out this way...
Rin grimaced slightly as his son pulled on his hair. "Okay, that hurts daddy, let's not do that." The boy laughed, throwing his hands in the air and forcing Rin to shift to keep the child on his shoulders. Xira trailed behind, smiling.
"Let's wait for your mom, okay?" Rin said as he slowed his pace. as Xira caught up to him, she took his arm.
"So," she intoned, "this zoo is somewhere in this star system right? Not all of us have adrenal implants that give us unlimited energy." She joked.
"Seriosuly, though, my feet are killing me. I've spent too much time walking on sand. Allt his hard concrete and steel is punishing me."
Rin frowned slightly. "It's just around this next bend, hon. We'll be able to take the tram to the main area. That should give you some time off your feet. I'm sorry, sweetie. You can rest here if you need."
"it's fine, Rin. I want to see the animals. This is important. Rell's hardly been outside of the ship lately. It's his birthday, and he's never seen these kind of animals. Don't worry so much."
Rin's smile returned. In spite of everything that had happened three years ago, things had finally turned around. He and Xira had built a sucessful smuggling and raiding endeavor, hijacking supplies from imperial remnant ships that had escaped the battle on Korriban, as well as raiding personal supply routes for the galactic senate, particularly those belonging to Gunstarr and his Chronies. So far, the senator had been blind to the raids, as the shipping guilds would never admit to being pillaged by pirates.
He and Xira had grown close as well. Rin had always wanted to be a part of his son's life, but he was unsure whether Xira would still be with him. It had taken some time for her to recover from the shock of Kaul's death. It had scarred both of them deeply. Kaul was a good friend, and he had loved Xira as well. There was no way around their guilt over the loss. In time, they found comfort in each other and in the life they had created.
Rin handed Rell over to Xira, who held him under her arm like a rolled up sleeping bag. For some reason, the boy loved this, cackling gleefully as he bounced up and down as Xira walked. As he watched his son and his partner, he found himself pulled back into the memory of this same day, three years before.
Rin had found a hospital outpost in the terminus systems. It was still 2 days out, and Xira was due at any time, but it would have to do. There was nothing closer.
He was sitting at the galley table of the Desperate Measure. The radio hummed intermittenly, catching bits of broadcasts, but nothing intelligble. Xira entered the room, rubbing her eyes, and holding her enlarged belly as she gingerly waddled toward him.
"Hey, gorgeous." he said.
"Oh come on, I look like a Hutt" she said. "This kid needs to come out soon." she huffed as she sat across from Rin at the table.
"Rin, there's something I want to say to you. When we first got pregnant...I was scared. I liked you, but I didn't know the first thing about you. I wasn't really sure why I wanted to keep the kid, but now that I've had time to think, I realized I've been trying to have a family for years. The gang was always an attempt at that. But here was something that was literally a part of me. And I started thinking, maybe it wouldn't be so bad..." Her eyes started to tear up.
"Rin...I'm sorry I've pushed you away...you're a great guy, and I don't deserve you. You've been here for me through all of this, and I know it's not just because of the baby..." she paused again and sniffed.
"I know how you feel about me, so you don't have to say...but I wanted to tell you. I feel the same way. Rin, I...I love you."
She grabbed his hand and squeezed tightly. Then tighter, and tighter.
"Xi...my hand." Rin squeeked as she gripped harder.
Her eyes grew suddenly wide. "It's time, Rin."
"Rin! Hey!" Xira's voice shook him out of his reverie. "It's time! The tram's here!"
"Oh, yeah." He said, jogging to catch up with his family. "let's go."
Maila sighed. The shrill shriek of the Womp Rat scavenging the trash in the alleyway was now only the second most annoying thing going on. She thought she would have been used to this by now, but the reaction was still just as irritating as it was the first time. "Yes. So- what kind of performance wold you like from your pistol? What is it- a standard issue Hand Cannon?"
It was as though she was speaking Huttese, he just stared blankly at her. "I didn't expect you'd... be... uh, so feminine."
She rolled her eyes, stood, grabbed her sidearm, and twirled it around her trigger finger. Suddenly, in one fluid motion she grabbed the grip of her blaster, extended her arm and shot through the glass-less arrowslit of her small office, hitting the Womp Rat in the center of its forehead, all without breaking eye contact with the Zabrak. She blew the smoke off off the end of the barrel and sat back down. "I know guns, okay?"
The Zabrak blinked and ran to the window, surveying her handiwork. "Wow- good shot."
"I know." She responded, her voice dripping with chagrin.
He seemed to take the hint and dropped the gender issue. "Uh, well anyway, yeah- it's a standard issue." He explained, taking a seat across the table from her and placing his gun down for her to examine.
She picked it up and looked it over. "What's giving you the most trouble?"
He leaned his chair back so his weight balanced on two of its legs as he answered, "Well, sometimes when we have to go after targets with better armor it takes a lot more rounds to take them down."
"'We?'" She asked, "You on a team?"
He nodded. "Yeah I'm a merc- with the Blue Suns."
Her eye twitched involuntarily as scenes from that night flooded her mind. Xax and Olan's bodies lying in the middle of Exile, never to wake up. A last fleeting glimpse of Zef... of Val...
"Sorry. There's nothing I can do for that problem with this model," she lied.
"Really?" He asked, surprised, "I thought you were the best mods dealer in this sector."
"She is." a voice chimed in from behind her.
The door creaked as Macz made his way in. "She just meant it'd take a bit more than a merc's salary to access our rare stocks."
Maila shot him a cold look, trying to convey that she didn't want to sell, but Macz ignored her.
The Zabrak sighed in exasperation. "Yeah- I've been getting that a lot on this planet."
He dug out his credit chit and tapped a few buttons, which displayed his available balance. "Does this change your tune?"
Macz grinned. "Show him our premium stock, Tweak." he commanded.
Maila narrowed her eyes. "Fine. I'll go grab some samples from the back." She growled through her teeth and grabbed Macz' wrist as she stomped to the back room.
She slammed the door shut behind her and spun around to face him. "Are you crazy?! He's part of the Blue Suns! The same group that attacked Exile!"
Macz shrugged. "That was a long time ago, Maila."
"They KILLED Olan and Xax! Maybe more!" She was beginning to raise her voice.
Macz placed his hand over her mouth to quiet her. "Don't let emotions get in the way of a big sale like this. You want revenge? Then take this sucker for all he's worth. Make him think he needs every goddamn upgrade you can shove onto that pistol- got it?" His voice conveyed an unspoken threat.
She sighed and nodded, prompting him to take his hand off her mouth. "That's my girl." he said with a smile and a pat of her rear.
"I've got a few deliveries to make. Make sure you clean him out." He instructed before leaving the shop through the back entrance.
She frowned. There were days when she really hated Macz.
The durasteel door clicked shut and Maila opened the safe, pulling out several mods that would help with the Zabrak's problem (many of her own design), and a few that wouldn't but she felt like she could sell to him.
"Okay- as far as pistols go these are going to be the best bet." She said as she walked back into the room and set the mods down on the desk. "This piercing mod has a capacitor that boosts kinetic coil generators, increasing the penetration of each shot." She picked it up and explained how it would attach to the blaster and explained how it amplified the energy output.
She spent nearly an hour and a half with the young Zabrak and followed Macz' instructions. He left with more equipment than many of Tatooine's small swoop gangs, and with less money than most of Tatooine's street urchins.
She'd done her job, but felt like she needed a shower...
He left his office, switching off the light as he exited. As he took the elevator to the private hangar where his personal skycar was parked, he briefly admired his reflection in the reflective glass of the outer wall. The years had been kind to him. Despite nearing 40, he still had a youthful handsomeness and a charmingly rakish smirk that suggested a playful and charismatic side. he had long ago traded his chin length locks for a more "senatorial" side swept look.
It had taken years of toil and compromise, but he had nearly everything he wanted in his grasp. He was one of the most respected senators in the galaxy. A war hero, a man of virtue. His constituents saw him as a family man. His beautiful wife and young son helped seal that reputation.
As he approached the luxury tower that housed his palatial estate, he saw his wife lounging by the large swimming pool. She was beautiful, proper and maternal. He supposed that he loved her, in the way he loved his favorite brand of Turisian Ale. She was a perfect accessory. She was aware of his affairs, as he was of hers. Their marriage was a partnership of power. He had never expected her to remain faithful after their son had been born. This was just how things worked.
Soon, he had parked his skycar. He kissed his wife on the cheek as she informed him dinner would be ready in an hour. "Will you be joining us, dear, or do you have work?"
"I have just one more thing to do and I'll be looking forward to it!" He responded.
He entered his bedroom, went to the private comm on the wall and dialed in a frequency.
"Ahhh good evening acolyte Gunstarr." A crackling voice responded from the holo-screen "The Order of the Canted Circle welcomes you."
Gunstarr bowed briefly "Thank you, Grand Mage. I am honored."
"We have been observing your actions over the past three years, Senator. We are very happy with the way you have maintained order in your sectors, as well as your efforts to tame the outer rim. As you know, the Order has long struggled to maintain a hold in those systems. We are no closer than ever to wrestling control away from the Hutts and their uncivilized crime syndicate. This is all thanks to you." The Grand Mage continued.
"Not to mention your work crippling the blue suns and the imperial remnant. Your own father was never able to accomplish this, and thus was never admitted to the higher ranks of our noble society, sadly. Well, to make a long story short, Senator, the Order has decided..."
Duran held his breath as the Grand Mage paused.
"...That you will be inducted into the Order of the Canted Circle on the 15th of this month. Coordinates will soon be transmitted to you for our secret meeting place. Congratulations, senator."
Today was the day his friends Van and Kaido would be celebrating becoming full fledged knights, but unfortunately he would be unable to make the ceremony due to his religious obligations here at the temple. Gaven felt a pang of guilt, seeing as they had been there for his knighthood one year ago, but it was simply impossible for him to travel to the moon of Yavin during the fall solstice.
He possessed a rare gift among his people- not just a strong affinity for The Force but also the ability to transcend the veil which separated the spirit world from the reality they knew. Master Skywalker had suggested he travel back to Mirial to hone his skills in this art as sometimes it was somewhat of a hinderance to his jedi journey.
Since he had been back home he had learned to have better control of his gift, and had been able to resist slipping into what the Mirialians called "fade walking." There were several times before that Gaven had lost himself in the hidden memories of the galaxy- once on the Remnant ship which had imprisoned him and again when exposed to dark Force energy from Tavion's staff.
He had been told that this ability was why he had been hunted by the Cult of Ragnos and taken to Korriban. He remembered very little from that part of his life, either from being constantly drugged or from blocking out the pain. Van had told him that in the end Gage had abandoned the Cult to save him, but had taken a fall in the fighting.
After that he had taken to meeting with Master Firel several times a week to work through the physical and emotional trauma of the event, but it still hurt when he thought about it too much.
Gaven placed the incense in the ceremonial burners and sat on a thin pillow in a meditation stance. Today was the first day of the solstice festival, which would put his fadewalking skills to the test. According to Mirialian tradition, the veil became thin on the solstice, and those who had lost someone in the past year could pay fadewalking priests like himself a small indulgence to be able to connect with their loved ones in the spirit realm.
He would have to be well-rested and mentally balanced for such an undertaking. Gaven breathed air into his lungs, filling them as much as he could, and then slowly exhaled, clearing his mind as he did so...
With her other hand, she reached into the back pocket of his trousers and quickly removed his wallet. In one fluid motion she handed it off to her human compatriot who stealthily backed into the crowd.
"No, but seriously," Nile continued as she tossed the bone to a hungry stray Kath Hound on the street outside the casino and walked around the back of her prey, "Weren't you wearing a scarf when I stopped you?"
He brought his hands up to his neck only to feel nothing. His eyes grew wide as he noticed that it was securely around Nile's neck. "When did you- how did- what is happening?" He asked in between giggles.
Nile took the scarf off of her shoulders and handed it back to the man with a small bow. "Let's give a hand to our volunteer!" Nile said and began clapping, followed by the crowd.
She then took the hat she was wearing off her head and held it upside down, prompting the crowd to tip her. "If you enjoyed what you saw today, please fill up my hat. Unfortunately I can't make food magically appear- well, at least more than chicken bones!" The crowd laughed and slipped her money before slowly filtering away from her.
Her victim was none the wiser; he took out his commlink and appeared to be updating his social media page to explain about Nile's magic tricks. Nile made her way into the casino, mixed with the crowd, and weaved her way to the back entrance where her accomplice was waiting. "Well?"
She asked, her eyebrow raised. "Guy had about two hundred and fifty credits on him. I'm sure he has more in his bank account if we wanted to-"
"No." Nile cut her off, "Just cash. It's untraceable."
She snatched the wallet up from her dark-skinned partner and walked back inside to the lost and found, turning in the rest of its contents. She refused to steal personal information from her victims, even though on the black market it was worth more than the cash he'd had on him. She guessed it was Val's influence- she had seen what cold happen to a person if their info fell into the wrong hands. Val was always working side cases of identity theft- nasty business.
Shalla Turringa, her partner, followed her three steps behind until they made it out of the casino district. "We could be hauling in four times as much, you know." She announced once they'd put enough distance between them and the casino as they could.
"I said no." Nile repeated. "If we up our haul we could land on the radar- we'd move from misdemeanor petty theft to felony. Besides, in 15 minutes we just made twice what I'd make in a day at my old job. It's a sweet gig- getting greedy gets you caught. I've seen my roommate find the info to put away dozens of men and women who started out like us and bit off more than they could chew. Trust me- I'm trying to cover our asses."
Shalla nodded after a while. "Okay. We'll stick to what we're doing now." She agreed, then held out her hand for her cut of the money.
Nile shelled over half of the credits and waved 'goodbye' as Shalla walked off toward her sector of town. Nile began to walk home and thought about what an unlikely partnership had blossomed between them. She had met the human about three years ago. She was begging for change outside of the office complex where Val had gotten Nile a secretarial job and Nile had made a habit of talking with her on her way to and from work.
Eventually they had become friends and Shalla had revealed that she had faster than average reflexes for a human. She'd said it had something to do with her past, but would never elaborate on the subject. Though Nile was curious, she respected her friend's boundary and put her questions on the back burner.
Though Nile was grateful to Val for getting her a job, she really, really hated it. Everything inside the office complex was cold, gray, and sterile. 8 hours on the clock sometimes felt more like 16, and the endless bureaucracy she had to deal with made her feel insignificant and inconsequential. She had quit about a month ago, but hadn't told Val. Now she would work the strip with Shalla. As far as her victims knew, they'd lost their wallets and someone had turned them in to whatever casino they were nearby that day. It could have been anyone who'd taken the cash- from whoever found it to the clerk who worked the lost and found.
It was a victimless crime, really... or at least that's what Shalla told herself as she keyed in the entry code to her apartment.
"Oh!" She jumped when she saw Val sitting on the couch, watching the news, "Hey! When'd you get in?"
"About 45 minutes ago. Sorry, I should have told you I was coming back early." he said as he sat up straight and patted to the couch near him, signaling for her to take a seat.
"That Miko character sure has kept you busy. You still haven't found the people you're looking for?"
Val shook his head, looking exasperated. Nile frowned, "Have you ever thought... what if these 'people' you're looking for- what if they don't even exist? Like- what if she's just using you? I mean... I don't know."
It had been something she had thought of before, but hadn't ever brought up to him. Even now she was surprised that she'd been able to say it. "I mean..." She felt her face flush with embarrassment, "I just don't want you to get yanked around, you know."
She tried again in vain to unlodge the spanner which she had somehow gotten stuck in the casing of the drive. "I WILL END YOU!" She threatened the stuck tool and gave it a kick.
"Uuuhhh..." She heard from behind her. Her face flushed with embarrassment that someone had heard her tantrum and she turned around toward the door. "Oh.. I- oh, it's just you." her voice fell flat when she realized it was Zef.
"I thought everyone had gone on board the station." She explained, trying to hide the mess she had made by adjusting her body to be in between the core and Zef.
The impossibly red haired kiffar craned his neck as he slurped up some noodles (which he was eating out of a large measuring cup). "I got bored and came back. What's the problem, sis?"
"You mean what's your problem. What are you eating out of?" She asked, trying to divert her half-brother's attention.
"We were out of bowls." He explained quickly, "You okay? I thought I heard screaming..."
"Zef!" Risa exclaimed, exasperated, "if we're out of bowls it means you have to unload the dishes from the sterilizer. Everyone else does their fair share of unloading. What if Rin wants to make something later?" She asked, pointing to the measuring cup, "is he supposed to use that?"
Zef wasn't listening. He craned his neck again. "The core acting up?" He asked before taking another slurp from the cup.
She sighed and gave in, moving her body so Zef could see. "It's doing that buzzing thing again. I've been able to fix it before, but this time I..."
Zef plopped down next to the hyperdrive and handed the measuring cup full of noodles to Risa. "Kriff." Zef exclaimed before she could finish.
His eyes widened as he studied the stuck piece. "I thought Arkanians were supposed to be good with machinery." He joked, smiling at her.
She mimicked pouring the contents of Zef's meal onto his head and he raised his hands in surrender, "Hey, chill, Risa. I was just giving you shit."
Zef tinkered around with the drive, eventually getting the spanner out from where it had become stuck. He twirled it around his fingers and stood, offering it back to Risa. "Don't worry about that. I've done it a few times myself with this unit. The casing's a bit wonky on the starboard side. Try the port." He suggested.
"Thanks," Risa said, smiling.
Zef had a way of cheering her up and keeping her level headed, which was nice. Though she still did Spice secretly, she found that having him around had helped her not to use as heavily as she had before... Not that she wanted Rin to find out she was still using or anyhting. He thought she was clean.
"No problem, my lady." Zef said as he bowed slightly, his voice muffled by the bite of noodles he had just taken.
Risa hit him playfully with the spanner, "Go empty the sterilizer." She commanded.
"Yes, my lady..." Zef said as he walked away and Risa began to attempt the repair on the port side of the unit's casing.
He waited another moment before entering to give the senator time to hide any evidence of whatever had just happened with Sherri before knocking on the door frame and poking his head inside the office. "The report you requested, sir."
"Ah, yes, come in, Voz." Duran instructed, slipping his wedding ring back onto his finger.
Listain brought the datapad to the senator's desk and slid it to him. "Your reform efforts are having an impact in the mid rim worlds, but crime remains at the same levels on the outer rim. Some have hypothesized corruption in local law enforcement."
Duran looked annoyed as he scanned the report. "How do the polls look?" He asked with concern.
Listain sighed. "You're only favored in midterm elections by 45% at this point. Your critics still seem to be obsessed with the increase in piracy in the Terminus and the lack of improvement in the other rim. It's as though the mid rim and the core improvements haven't counted for anything."
"That's politics for you." Duran groaned under his breath.
"Okay, for starters I want more New Republic Security Force troops out there so we at least look like we're doing something. Double what we have now..." He set the report down and took a sip of Caf.
"But when it gets like this, " he gestered to the report on his desk, "we're gonna have to go off the record and get our hands dirty to get results. I need a mole. Do some digging- find me an ex-NRSF cop who can get results."
Listain nodded. "Yes, Senator."
He sighed as he walked out of the office. He was grateful for the amnesty provided by Gunstarr in exchange for information on the Imperial Remnant, but his stomach churned every second he spent working on the 'solutions' the senate came up with that he knew were just band-aids.
Under the Empire there was no need to jump through hoops or dance around poll numbers- if something needed to be done it was dealt with.
He closed his eyes and reminded himself that it was only for now, and when the time came he could really do his part to make the Galaxy a better place and restore the order which had been uprooted by the rebellion 17 years ago...