The Last Disco on Coruscant: Chapter III
The dream was always the same.
He stands on the shore of a still lake. It is night. The water is black and cool. Somewhere an owl hoots.
He slides one foot into the water and then the other. The rocks shift uneasily beneath his weight. He feels the water lap against his ankles and then he strides deeper into the lake. A chill creeps up his leg and, looking down, he sees the blackness of the lake has reached his knees.
One more step forward but his foot finds no purchase. There is nothing but emptiness. He realizes too late that he must have stepped over some sort of lake-bottom shelf — who knows how deep the drop-off is? As he falls, he twists his body towards the shore but it is too far away. He curses himself for coming here alone. Who might help him? No one.
He sinks faster now, thrashing at the water. He cannot swim or has forgotten how. His body, as if lead, drags him down into the water which closes over his face — a moment of pure panic.
His head and hands disappear beneath the reflective surface of the lake. Blackness envelops him. There is only one way to go and it is down.
The modified personnel-carrier hit a bump in the bombed-out road and jolted Rilk awake.
Valon looked up from his datapad.
“A little trouble sleeping.”
“Wasn’t the company, I hope?”
Rilk shot Valon a sharp look, not in the mood for jokes just yet.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Chivings and I were considering bugging your bedroom for the Mankiller case. She was with you, wasn’t she?”
Fully awake now, Rilk sat up.
“No. She wasn’t in her quarters?”
Valon read from the datapad, “‘Subject did not return to domicile.'”
“Oh, don’t worry so much, Rilk. She turned up for her morning briefings and is at her station now. We would look pretty silly if we lost her, but it’s not like she can get away, is it?”
Rilk pressed a button on the wall and the intercom buzzed.
“Yes, sir?” came Chivings disembodied voice.
“Stop here. I want to walk a bit.”
The carrier came to a halt and Rilk let himself down slowly onto the pavement.
Valon peered out after him.
“Are you up to something?”
“No. I… I just want to try and clear my head.”
Valon considered this.
“You do look a bit done-in. How’s the vacation planning going?”
Rilk slammed the door on his partner and banged twice on the hull of the carrier. Chivings, receiving this signal, drove speedily away.
Abandoning the surface streets, Rilk began the laborious process of spiraling down into Coruscant’s underbelly on foot. Reverberations of explosions and the drone of heavy machinery grew louder the deeper he delved.
He had committed the directions Chivings had given in the datafile to memory but the strange ghostliness of the city slowed his progress. He would pause now and again to examine some piece of debris — some indicator of normal life as it fluttered through the dream-shell of this waking nightmare.
He avoided several droid patrols, not that they would have caused him any trouble, but mostly out of habit. The strengthening stench of burnt flesh served as a constant reminder that the planet had not yet been fully tamed.
He slid down a service ladder and into the dark tunnel entrance. A warm breeze of vent-fans blew through his hair. He began to walk forward, holding his hand out before him — seeking with the Force.
He felt the presence of the others around him. He felt their fear, anger, expectation.
“You know what I am!” he shouted. His voice carried down the tunnel in hiccuping echoes. “I wish to speak with your leader.”
He stopped and waited.
A blue-white lightsaber sprang to life about three meters in front of Rilk. Then, another, this one behind him, followed by a third to his left… until finally he was surrounded by six blades.
By the light of the weapons, the Inquisitor could see that there were more people behind the six. For a second, Rilk recognized the boy from the club standing in the shadows.
One large, bearded Jedi stepped a little closer.
“They mustn’t be testing for brains at the Sith Academy these days. Well, one less Dark Sider on this planet won’t be missed.”
Rilk smiled. It was all bluster. He could sense the sweat on his opponent’s brow, the tremor in his hand. When the Temple had fallen, these were the ones who had run.
“If I meant to harm you, I would have come here with a battalion. I have come alone. I want to speak to the one in charge.”
“Speak to me, then,” roared Beard.
Rilk looked at him for a minute — staring into his eyes. Beard turned away.
“Enough,” came a voice from the shadow. A woman’s voice, Rilk noticed.
He listened as someone shuffled closer. Finally, a frail, white-haired old matriarch made her way into the glow of the assembled lightsabers.
“What is it you wish to say, Sith?”
“I am here to ask a favor.”
Her laughter echoed down the tunnel for a long time.
Later, as he climbed blinking into the light, Rilk tried to clear his mind. He walked aimlessly through the ransacked levels, moving always higher — back to the surface world.
At one point he came across a long procession of war-droids and armored vehicles storming down one of the few intact boulevards. There wheels and treads threw up gravel as they wore down the road. The engines of war, he thought. He turned to leave but then spotted a shape near the middle of the street — a child, lying motionless. He watched in disbelief for a few seconds as machines rumbled within inches of the body. The child didn’t stir.
Dead, he thought, but found himself stepping into the path of the machines. Dead. No point in checking. He weaved through the traffic, some of the vehicles passing so close the breeze swelled his robes.
It was only a matter of time before a tread or a wheel would drive right over the body. What does it matter now? The child is dead.
He knelt down beside her; he could see it was a girl now. She looked asleep, her pale hair soft against her cheek. Tanks and destroyers passed within a few feet of him as he slid his arms under her tiny frame and lifted her. She was light and plaint.
“Come on, darling. Up we go.”
For a instant he wondered if maybe she wasn’t just asleep or unconscious, but then her head lolled towards him and he saw the side of her face that had been pressed against the concrete.
In counterpoint to her one closed eye, her other eye stood plunging out of the socket — pressed almost entirely from the skull by some massive head trauma.
“Oh, little baby…” he said.
It looked, he realized, faintly ridiculous. As if it were some kind of joke. The one crazed and exaggerated eye, inviting him to join in on the punchline — deforming the face until she looked like some stock character from a children’s animation.
Carefully, he navigated through the traffic and back to the side of the street.
Rilk lay her down in the doorway of a destroyed apartment unit.
“There, there. You’ll be okay now, princess.” Covering her face with bits of trash, he sat down for a moment.
An emotion tried to well up in his throat, but he held it in check. He felt an overwhelming sadness, but also the futility of feeling such a thing.
She was dead. He was not. Feeling one way or the other wouldn’t change things. Life, as always, went on.
He stood and walked away, leaving the dead behind him.
* * *
It was night when Rilk arrived at the club. He watched Sith and civilians line up beneath the sign: Korriban Nights.
Valon was at the usual table. Shari was with him. An empty glass sat next to her hand.
As he approached, Rilk realized they were both speaking to someone – possibly the owner of the nightclub.
“Well, Mr. Kryptos, I was just telling Commander Mankiller some interesting things my Agent turned up about you.”
Kryptos didn’t return the smile.
“Really? If you come across any good pictures, I’m starting a scrapbook.”
Valon ignored him and focused his attention on Shari.
“Did you know, for instance, Commander, that Mr. Kryptos has a sizable bounty on his head back on Ord Mantell? Or that his real name isn’t Kryptos at all?”
“Really, what is his name? Wait, let me guess. I’m going to imagine you’re a runaway prince, Mr. Kryptos, fleeing from a murderous uncle. Your name is… His Royal Highness, Prince Alexanderaious Goldenpockets. Am I right?”
Kryptos frowned, and turned to Rilk who was just sliding into his seat.
“Is this some kind of Sith comedy routine?”
Rilk shook his head.
“Sith don’t do comedy. We work in tragedy.”
Valon raised his eyebrow as Rilk stole his drink and polished it off in a few gulps.
“Rough day at the office?”
Kryptos used this as an opportunity to slip away.
Rilk looked at Shari.
“Do you know how to swim?”
Taken aback, she answered, “Yes. I was…”
The two Inquisitors waited intently. Shari realized that she could not help but finish what she had begun.
“I was a lifeguard one summer at the Academy pools.”
Valon laughed. Rilk said nothing and then stood.
“Would you care to dance?”
“But I thought… you said..” She looked to Valon for support but he just shook his well-groomed shoulders.
“Stranger things have happened,” was all the Inquisitor could think to say.
Rilk held out his hand, and after an instant of hesitation, Shari took it. He began to escort her to the dance floor.
They passed the nightclub owner again, and Shari paused to ask, “Mr. Kryptos, whatever happened to your cousin?”
“He wasn’t feeling well, I gave him the night off.”
She nodded and they began to move once more.
Just as they were about to enter the dance floor, Shari stopped again and shouted, “Mr. Kryptos, it looks like he’s feeling better.”
Kryptos followed the line of Mankiller’s grin to her arm and then to her finger, which was pointing across the club to a guilty-looking Stavril.
The song changed and they began to dance. The music was slower now, which suited Rilk. He was never much for the ecstatic flailing of limbs that seemed to prevail amongst the other patrons. In fact, as Shari soon realized, he was a bit of a traditionalist.
Their dance was closer to a waltz than the animalistic gyrations she had shared with Valon on that first night. She noticed Rilk was fairly graceful — something she had never associated with an Inquisitor.
A few couples away, she saw her aide, Reddrake, dancing with one of the entertainment girls. Wiley, she thought was the name. Reddrake was so lost in the girl’s obvious charms that he didn’t even realize his commanding officer was staring at him.
Kryptos made his way over to Stavril. He noticed the boy had changed into some new clothes. These fit better at least.
“What are you doing back here?”
“My friends… I couldn’t find them.”
“Still, there must be a million places to lie low on this planet and you wanna choose Sith central?”
As he passed her from one of his hands to the other, Rilk leaned into Shari’s side.
“I want you to listen to me,” he whispered.
She said nothing but closed her eyes.
“You know you are under surveillance. Your quarters are bugged. They will have someone on you at all times now, so that you don’t pull any more tricks like last night.”
He let the words sink in as he gently spun her on her feet.
“You’ve only got one chance. There are some Jedi hiding in one of the sub-shafts of the undercity. They’ll hide you. Help you get away somewhere.”
“Jedi?” she hissed. “Are you crazy? Why would Jedi help me?”
“I told them you wanted to defect. Don’t you?”
Their eyes met and the song changed.
Kryptos looked Stavril over.
“Look, kid, you’re gonna get yourself and the rest of us killed. Go help Jedd tonight.”
Stavril nodded and began to head for the bar but stopped.
“Mr. Kryptos, why are you helping me? I can feel… I know that you don’t want to. Sometimes I think you even hate me. I can sense the conflict in you. So, why are you helping?”
“Don’t worry, kid. It’s nothing personal.”
Kryptos walked away, leaving Stavril more confused than before.
“Why would you help me?” asked Shari.
Rilk thought about it.
“Maybe if I help you, it will help me.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I’ve forgotten how to swim.”
A loud noise behind her caused Shari to disengage herself from Rilk. She turned to see Wiley stomping away from Reddrake, who stood with a look that mixed anger and confusion. His left cheek was rapidly reddening.
“I only asked her how much she wanted…” he muttered to no one in particular.
Suddenly she felt very self-conscious.
“I’m done dancing.”
Rilk said nothing, but stepped away.
Mankiller made her way back through the crowd.
Kryptos turned to see Macer coming his way with a big smile on his face.
“Didn’t I tell you these Sith guys would go crazy for my stuff? We’re making a mint here.”
“Great. Let’s have a drink to war-time capitalism.”
Kryptos threw back a shot. Macer noticed he wasn’t sharing.
“You know, Kryptos, you are a strange one.”
“You sound like my mother.”
Macer checked his commlink for messages.
“So, Macer, when do you think things will be back to normal enough that you and your boys will be able to get outta my club?”
“As if! Man, this place is going to be our headquarters. You’ve got a good thing going here. In fact, Mr. Greel was saying that we could all really expand here. Like what kind of cut are you getting from those dancers?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, these officer types are looking for a little companionship, right? Well, the club needs to be getting a cut of whatever deals they are making. Mr. Greel says, he has some real nice professional types that would fit right in here.”
“I’m not turning this place into a brothel as well as a drug den. Forget it.”
“Fine, stick to the ones you got, but we want a cut.”
Kryptos put down his glass.
“I don’t like you, Macer. I think you’d better go.”
Kryptos smashed the empty bottle of Tongan Gin across Macer’s face, sending the big man to the ground.
Macer rolled and drew his heavy blaster from beneath his coat. The first shot exploded against the table as Kryptos flipped it for cover. The second shot never came, as a lightsaber sliced the blaster in two.
Macer looked up at the Sith woman standing above him, and then at the long red blade.
“Is there a problem here?” asked Shari Mankiller.
“No problem, Commander,” whispered Macer.
She glanced at Kryptos. He shook his head.
“I think you had better leave.”
Macer began to get to his feet.
“Reddrake!” shouted Mankiller. In a flash her aide was at her side.
“See this man out and make sure he never returns. I also want to know the names of those on security duty tonight. Blasters should not be slipping through our pat-downs.”
Macer faced Kryptos.
“Mr. Greel is gonna hear about this.”
Kryptos refilled his slightly broken glass from a new bottle.
“Sure, Macer. Bring him on down. I’d love to blow his fat head off.”
Macer followed the Sith Trooper to the exit and disappeared outside the club.
Mankiller stared at Kryptos for a few seconds.
“You are a strange man.”
“Must be an echo in here.”
Kryptos kept his eyes focused on his glass for a long time, and when he finally looked up he noticed that Mankiller was gone. So was Stavril.
He watched the crowd for a while. Reddrake was sitting in a booth with Wiley. Evidently they had both cooled down. He watched the Sith slide something towards the girl which she quickly pocketed with a nervous smile.
Kryptos raised his glass.
“Here’s to war-time capitalism.”