Korriban Nights: Chapter VI
Slaine eyed the Departures screen. In his hand he held the ticket and ID chips that he had taken from Mari’s handbag. She had dropped it just outside her door. Not that there was a door now. Not that there was a Mari now.
His memory conjured up the stench of burnt flesh, ozone and betrayal that had hung heavy in the apartment’s destroyed front-hall.
He only had one set of tickets on him now. He had tossed the pair in Mari’s name into a trash-unit outside the launchport. No point in leaving clues as to where he was heading.
Where was he heading?
He checked the pamphlet again. Three suns. Blue waves. Carnivorous trees. Paradise. But right now, any place he could forget about the contracts on his life, the murder of his partner, or the instant the wide beam of energy evaporated 90% of his girlfriend’s body would count as paradise. Beggars can’t be choosers. Neither can bounty hunters.
A hospitality droid approached him and asked if he was comfortable. Slaine lied.
This was it. The end of this nightmare. All he needed to do was get on the flight and remember to apply extra sunscreen.
The droid returned a few minutes later and registered the empty seat. It lifted a pair of abandoned tickets in its claw. Obviously that concerned-looking guest had left these. It would have him paged. Otherwise he would never make his flight.
* * *
Ord Mantell was a pretty rough place, and consequently, the Jedi Embassy didn’t stack up looks-wise to its well-healed cousins on planets like Coruscant. Still, it was there. A lonely outpost, clinging on to provide at least some symbol of a Jedi presence.
Slaine sighed and walked through the door.
“May the Force be with you.” A serene-looking bodybuilder in robes bowed to him. “Welcome to our Temple.”
“Thanks. I’d like to report a Sith murder plot.”
The Jedi stared at Slaine and smiled sadly. With one arm he indicated a small terminal labeled “Suggestions”.
“You will find a stylus and datapad over there. Please check off Sith plot at the top of the form. May the Force be with you, friend.”
Slaine bristled and wished he wasn’t unarmed.
“Look, pal, I’m not a freak. I got a problem. The Sith have a contract on my life!”
The Jedi nodded his head as he returned to his greeting-podium.
“I understand, friend. You may rest assured, we shall look into it. May the Force–”
Slaine slammed his fist onto the podium.
“Force? You want force? My friends have been killed. There is a contract on my head. There’s this vid called “Korriban Nights”…”
A voice came from behind Slaine’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Brother Navian. I will help this man.”
Slaine turned around as the newcomer was lowering his brown hood to reveal a pair of familiar bright Blue Eyes.
“May the Force be with you.”
* * *
The wind was strong on the roof of the small Jedi Temple. Blue Eyes gave Slaine a shove which sent him sprawling across the flagstones. An old man with a white beard and thick eyebrows stood atop a rickety ladder pruning leaves from one of the rooftop garden’s Thornia bushes.
Slaine tried to stand but a punch from Blue Eyes sent him down again.
The gardener tsked. “Enough of that. Leave us, my child. I will summon you when it is time.”
Blue Eyes stared up at Gardener and seemed to be on the verge of saying something when he suddenly closed his eyes, bowed and exited through the reinforced door.
Gardener watched him go.
“In all of us there is conflict between the Light and the Dark. The key is control.” He looked down at Slaine. “I hope he didn’t hurt you.”
Slaine managed something between a laugh and a cough. He wiped the blood from the side of his mouth.
“Don’t lose any sleep on my account, grandpa.”
Gardener snipped a withered branch from the bush and examined it critically. He was silent for a minute and then said, “I must admit, you have caused us a great amount of frustration. It has been an extremely unfortunate situation for everyone involved. Brother Rathe, who you killed yesterday, was a very valuable man. Very well-liked.”
“I liked him better dead, personally.”
Gardener grimaced in distaste.
Slaine tested his legs. He could stand. Barely.
“So, I don’t get it. Why you guys? What do you want with some Sith smut? Or does it get all lonely up in this “temple”?
“How much do you know about Korriban Nights?”
“Not much. I know it shows a bunch of Siths doing it the natural way… and that you guys were willing to kill to get your hands on it. Blackmail?”
Garnderner seemed offended. “Certainly not! We don’t blackmail people. We aren’t thugs.”
Slaine spit more blood on the ground by way of disagreement. The old Jedi ignored it.
“You are nearly correct, Mr. Slaine. Korriban Nights does show Sith… as you say… but it also shows a Jedi. You see, one of our operatives had infiltrated the Sith Academy on Korriban. Quite a coup, let me tell you. He was very well-placed. Given time he would be an excellent source of information for us…”
“And then somebody went and filmed him waving his lightsaber around.”
“Quite. This was not his first operation. We couldn’t risk letting that holovid get out. We couldn’t risk someone seeing it and, as they say, ‘blowing his cover’.”
“That’s not all that got — ”
“Please don’t be crass, Mr. Slaine. Anyway, to prevent the mission from being compromised we spent great effort in removing Korriban Nights from existence. Which is where you and your associate, the droid, come in.”
“I’m guessing that you’re telling me this because I’m gonna be joining my ‘associate’ real soon, right?”
“No. I am telling you this because it no longer matters. Our deep-cover operative with the Sith was killed in a random purge two days ago. They never cracked his cover. Someone had him killed for being too popular.”
Slaine laughed, which earned a look of disapproval from Gardener.
“And Brother Rathe came to tell you that yesterday. He was going to tell you that the contracts would be called off if you would leave the planet and never return.”
The smile faded from Slaine’s face.
“Yes. He mistakenly approached you as one might a man, when in reality we know you are more like a cornered animal willing to bite at anyone — friend or foe. I still can hardly believe you killed the girl.”
Slaine felt as if his blood was on fire.
“Look, your holiness, I understand we mortals must look pretty low to you up there on that ladder on top of your little temple, but some of us spend our days just trying to keep on living. And don’t you even mention Mari to me, when you’re the one who set up all these deaths! How long do you wash your hands at night?!”
Gardener climbed down one step of his ladder and pointed his pair of pruning shears at Slaine.
“It is true. I have issued orders that have resulted in death but I have not done it wantonly. When I have killed it has been to save others. I do not take life for my own pleasure or for my own safety. When a difficult decision comes my way, I must choose between one death or ten deaths. Ten deaths or a hundred deaths. The loss of a hundred or the death of a civilization!”
“Sure, and how many died to preserve your big Jedi secret – your undercover lover?!”
“On this planet? Five in the hotel. Thirteen on the hover-tram. Three in the shoot-out between you and that other assassin. I assume you killed the slicer. And then your friend and my assistant. Twenty-four.”
“You’re forgetting S1VR-4RM.”
“No. Droids are not of the Force. They do not count, which is why–”
“Why you chose him for the job to begin with. Couple of murders, then destroy the tool. Clean operation. Only you didn’t know he had a partner.”
Gardener looked at the horizon for a moment, wondering if there was a storm coming.
“No. I didn’t know he had a partner. In hindsight, I should have just killed those men at the hotel myself. But we cannot change the past, and we must live with the future.”
“Or die with it.”
“Mr. Slaine, I am old and very tired. This discussion is at an end. You will be taken down and released from this Temple and given the… bounty money for your work. The contracts on your life shall be left open. Leave Ord Mantell and never return.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to kill me now?”
“Perhaps, but that would serve no purpose. Another death will help no one. It would be an evil act. Go. Take your payment and leave.”
Slaine considered this for a minute, and then turned and limped towards the door.
It was getting late when Master Gregyros was satisfied with his work tending the bushes. He began the laborious descent down his ladder, pausing for just a moment on the penultimate step.
A ceramic slug fired from a block away exploded out the side of his skull and he dropped heavily to the ground. As his body lay twitching in an expanding pool of its own blood, the forcefield that surrounds all living things wavered and then shrank into nothingness. The first drops of rain began to fall, washing away the splatter of red from the branches of the Thornia bush.
One block away, S1VR-4RM the assassin droid replaced the cover on his sniper rifle’s long-range scope. He wheezed as he slid the weapon into its case. A long solder-scar ran across his chest and his left arm was now a different color from the rest of his frame.
He looked towards the Jedi Temple one last time and said, “Amateurs.”