The Last Disco on Coruscant: Chapter II
Rilk looked over the array of shining metal implements approvingly before selecting a small hooked blade.
Valon tutted. “I wouldn’t use that one.”
“That’s because you have no breeding. This happens to be exactly the tool for the job.”
Chivings leaned closer to the table, his face a mask of profound interest.
With a flick of his wrist, Rilk slipped the edge of the hook just beneath the warm flesh and began to open a fine incision along to the surface.
“Well,” sniffed Valon, “I’m just going to order mine scrambled.”
“Aha!” exclaimed Rilk as he pulled the thick membrane off the surface of his gloriously intact Grosst egg. He waved the hooked at his partner.
“Egg hooks! They didn’t teach you about that in your year, did they?” It was always a point of pride for the Inquisitor that he had been part of a special group trained in the finer arts of diplomacy and etiquette — future leaders of the great Sith political machine. Not that it had taken him very far, he grumbled to himself.
Valon snapped his fingers in front of Chivings’ face, causing all the waiters and most of the Sith in the restaurant to turn in his direction.
“The operating theatre is closed, Chivings. Let us see the reports.”
The Agent bowed and placed a datapad in Valon’s outstretched hand. He then tucked two more pads beside Rilk’s bread plate.
“Fine, now go see about our transportation.”
“Very good, sir.”
Having finished his egg, Rilk observed his partner studiously scrutinizing the report. Before he picked up his own copy, he leaned back in his chair and surveyed the room.
One of the few buildings still untouched by fire in this part of Coruscant, the Hotel Starlight was famous as an insider’s getaway. The sort of place where the ghosts of old holovid stars might be seen wandering the atmospherically-lit halls. Like everything else on this planet, Rilk thought, it looked past its prime.
The staff had been vetted and were doing a passable job of sucking up to their new Sith “guests” – the place having become sort of an impromptu command center for the officer set. Still, he didn’t trust those painted-on grins and shoe-gazing bows. It would probably be a good idea to keep the steak knives under guard for a while yet.
Valon tapped his datapad with frustration.
“There’s nothing really useful in this. Nothing new anyway.”
Reluctantly, Rilk took up his own copy of the report and began to read. Valon was right. There was little in the way of new intelligence on Commander Shari Mankiller and although the report bragged of over fifteen forms of surveillance being focused on her, it seemed unlikely that a video feed from her sonic-refresher was going to reveal anything momentous… Then again, Rilk wondered.
“Don’t smile. You know I dislike it. You have the ugliest smile.”
Rilk smiled all the more broadly to upset Valon and then switched the first datapad for the second.
Valon munched a piece of toast thoughtfully.
“Why did you get two files?”
“Because I asked,” answered Rilk. Then, knowing this would not satisfy his partner, added, “This is about a boy I saw at the club last night.”
Valon gave him a look of mock surprise. “My, my! First Grosst eggs and then this. You do have wide tastes, my friend.”
Rilk refused to rise to the bait and tossed the datapad onto Valon’s plate, splattering his eggs. The Inquisitor lifted it out of his breakfast and whistled thoughtfully.
“So it would seem.”
“Not really our bag, is it?”
“We should pass it on though.”
“What do you mean? Something like this needs to be passed on.”
“It’s not our ‘bag.’ You said so yourself. But if it makes you happy, I’ll ask Chivings to share it with Intelligence.”
Valon was about to agree and then hesitated.
“Why are you holding it back?”
“No real reason. I think there are some things going on at that club that might be interesting to the right people. I’d like to know more before I hand it off to some Thug-in-Gloves.”
Valon thought about this for a moment.
“Do you think this might be promotion-worthy?”
“Too soon to tell.”
Valon clapped his hands like a child and reached for another piece of toast. Rilk realized that one day, if he lived long enough, his partner would become very fat.
“Tell you what, Rilk. Let’s play this one close for a while longer. See what there is to see.”
“I’m glad you agree with me.”
Rilk stood from the table, casting down his napkin like just another crushed victim of the Sith occupation.
“Where are you going?”
“To speak with Mankiller.”
“Without me?” Valon looked honestly hurt.
“You had your turn last night. If I recall you wasted it on dancing.”
“It wasn’t a waste, my friend. I could tell you so many things.”
“Keep it for your memoirs.”
As Rilk reached the door, Valon shouted after him, “Don’t break the skin before I get there!”
* * *
Kryptos sat in the darkened club and thought. He hadn’t liked the sound of the message he received that morning.
A little after the appointed meeting time, a well-muscled man let himself in. Even in the shadows, Kryptos could see the dark lines of tattoos that ran from the tips of the visitor’s fingers all the way up to his neck.
Kryptos set both his hands in plain sight on the tabletop. Macer grinned and sat down across from him.
“Been better. Planetary invasions can throw a guy’s week off, you know?”
“You don’t need to tell me. This thing has completely wrecked my networks. Which is why I’m here. Mr. Greel said that you might be able to give us a hand with that.”
“Yeah. He said this was gonna be like a ‘synergy.’ Something like that.”
Kryptos felt the smooth surface of the table beneath his fingers.
“So you’re gonna just start dealing spice in the middle of a club that has become the stomping grounds for our new Sith liberators? You don’t think they might have something to say about that?”
“Are you kidding? Military guys love this stuff. Think of it — it’s like one-stop shopping. Mr. Greel says–”
Kryptos slammed his hand down on the table.
“Mr. Greel sure has a lot to say for a silent partner!”
Macer sat back and folded his arms.
“I don’t think I need to remind you of the terms under which you do business in this town.”
“No. I’m pretty familiar with them by now.”
Macer wiped his nose.
“Look, Kryptos. You be a team player on this and Mr. Greel says that maybe you’ll be in for a percentage. Think of that! You’ll be able to pay your loan off that much faster.”
“I’ve never been much of a team player.”
“Yeah, well it’s a different game now, isn’t it?
Macer stood and walked to the door.
“See you tonight, Kryptos.”
* * *
Shari Mankiller stepped out of yet another interminable briefing. The Sith stranglehold on this planet was certainly strengthening, at least that much was clear to her.
She began to walk to clear her head when a modified personnel carrier drove carelessly over the ancient Theolassiod-marble steps in front of her. She stepped back quickly and took hold of her lightsaber.
A voice came from the vehicle.
“You won’t be needing that, Commander. Not yet.”
The side hatch of the carrier opened and she saw that one of the Inquisitors from the club was sitting in it.
“My name’s Rilk. We met last night.”
“So, you can speak after all.”
She realized with a chill that his smile looked like a wound.
“Hop in, Commander. I want to show you something.”
After a short drive through destroyed streets, the carrier stopped in front of an ugly bunker-like building. Rilk opened the door and, stretching, swung himself out onto the street.
“What is this place?”
Rilk said nothing, but walked brusquely up the steps and whispered something into the intercom. A moment later the heavy blast door opened.
“You really don’t talk much, do you?”
“I’m sorry. It’s a hazard of the job. I’m more used to listening to my… companions.”
Mankiller felt an iciness seize the pit of her stomach but she pushed it aside. She was a Sith Warrior. She would not be intimidated — especially by someone who looked like he could be knocked over by a strong breeze.
“What do you want from me?”
“To show you something.”
Two guards met them at the door and saluted deferentially.
Rilk led her farther into the building — the sound of two pairs of boots echoing down the maze-like halls. They came to a wide room. Mankiller tried to gauge its size but its edges disappeared into shadows. An old man sat in a crisp uniform beside the door.
Karl was bathed in a pale blue light from the hall. It made him look shrunken and perhaps mummified. He caught Mankiller’s eye and gave her a wink.
“You’ll have to forgive the lack of light. There’s a war on, you know.”
Rilk led her deeper into the room and then stopped.
“This should be far enough.”
She could feel his enjoyment spreading through the blackness.
“Behold, Shari… The riches of Coruscant.”
She was caught off guard, initially by his use of her first name and then by the crack and blaze of his lightsaber. Her eyes flinched at the brightness and without realizing it she fell into a combat stance — her own blade now humming by her ear.
“I suppose two blades are better than one for this.” He turned away from her and held his lightsaber up. In the red glow, Shari could just make out shapes in the darkness. She moved her own weapon closer to his… She gasped.
The light of her blade was reflected a million times in the glimmering surfaces of countless treasures: mirrors, statues, jewels, priceless metals. It was like the tales of magical caves full of endless wonders she had heard as a child.
Rilk walked closer to the hoard and she followed.
“All stolen. Every last bit of it. Soon it will be packed up and shipped back to Korriban. Stuffed in vaults. Sold. Forgotten.”
“Who owned it?”
Her eyes jumped from one masterpiece to the next. Generations of art lay piled before her like so much trash. She held her blade farther from her eyes, blaming it for their wetness.
“Here. Hold this.”
Rilk carefully passed Mankiller his own lightsaber and then knelt down to examine something on the floor. She felt the power of both weapons in her hands — the energy coursing through her arms. All she needed to do was bring them down upon him and end this once and for all.
He looked up at her, his expression thoughtful, and then, seeming to have decided something, he turned his back on her and began running his fingers over a painting.
“Bring that light a little closer, will you?”
She stood directly above him and looked down at the canvas he held.
The painting was of a lake in the country. Trees hung over the water’s edge and a lonely mountain rose in the distance.
Rilk seemed to be lost in the image and hardly seemed to breathe. Finally, Shari asked again, “What do you want from me?”
“You know why we are here.”
“I have been nothing but a loyal servant of the Empire. I have been decorated. My father was…”
“Yes, but who are you?”
The Inquisitor placed the painting down on the ground and stood.
“The net around you is tightening, Commander Mankiller. Don’t let it close.”
“Take this back.” She held out his lightsaber.
He took it from her with a sigh.
“Your father won’t matter. Nothing will protect you. You met Valon. Do you think he’ll care about your ‘decorations’? If anything, it will make it more enjoyable for him.”
“I’m not some fresh-faced cadet just out of the Academy. If Good Sith/Bad Sith is the best technique they teach you Inquisitors these days, I am a little disappointed.”
Rilk deactivated his lightsaber. She brought hers closer.
“I’m not speaking to you as an Inquisitor. I’m speaking to you as another living being. I’m asking you to turn from the path you are walking.”
Now it was her turn to laugh.
“You don’t know anything.”
“We know a great deal more than you believe. I would suggest that you rethink your position. We will destroy you.”
“Do you say that as an Inquisitor or a living being?”
“As a realist.”
He stepped closer to her.
“Have a breakdown,” he whispered. “Confess to having unnatural urges, or being a glitterstim addict. You will be disciplined, broken, but there will be mercy. After a time you will be rehabilitated. Maybe you will be able to teach at the Academy.”
“If I don’t?”
“Commander Mankiller, there are only two ways for you to leave Coruscant. In a box or in an Inquisitor’s detention cell. Were I in your position, I would choose the former.”
* * *
Kryptos watched as the crowd poured into the club. Korriban Nights had seldom been this full. Every desperate child of the planet who could still find suitable clothes was out trying to catch the eyes of the jaded Sith. Macer and his assistants sat at a large table in the corner conducting their business. The music played. People got drunk. The world went spinning along.
He turned to Wiley.
“That kid you told me to look out for didn’t show tonight.”
Kryptos nodded and went back to watching the crowd.
“You waiting for something, boss?”
“Yeah. I’m waiting for it to stop spinning.”
Wiley looked at her employer with real concern, and then, with an old street kid’s trick, she palmed his Starlac glass. A minute later, Kryptos heard her warning Jedd not to give him anything else to drink.
Kryptos smiled and Macer smiled back.
“Sometimes,” the nightclub owner told himself, “you’ve gotta stop it yourself.”
Across town, Rilk sat in his room putting off going to sleep — delaying, if only for a while, the arrival of the nightmares that came every night.
He stared at the painting on the wall. Its ornate frame looked ridiculously out of place in the spartan little room.
He hoped that Mankiller would take his advice but knew she wouldn’t. The Inquisitor tried to imagine himself as part of the lakeside scene. He began to count the trees…