Korriban Nights: Chapter I
“This had better be the right floor.”
Slaine tried to get comfortable in the tight ventilation shaft but he had little success. Ahead, S1VR-4RM the assassin droid fiddled with the vent cover.
“It is. Hold while I disable the alarm.” When it spoke, the large diaphragm in S1VR-4RM’s chest bellowed, giving its voice an unhealthy wheeze.
In these close confines Slaine noticed the droid smelled faintly of oil. He had assumed one of the advantages in partnering with an assassin droid would be the absence of olfactory unpleasantness in situations like this. He had once worked with a Gamorrean…
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the grate popping out of its casement. S1VR-4RM lowered himself head first into the hallway and Slaine followed suit. The halls of the hotel were carpeted and the wall sconces gave off a dim blue light.
They hurried along towards the target’s room.
S1VR-4RM had accepted the job. It had come through slightly unusual channels and was not commissioned by any of their regular clients — however, the droid’s background check turned up nothing to concern either of the partners. It paid well and they were poor.
Slaine toyed with the idea of using his cut to get off Ord Mantell for good.
“Hold.” They waited as S1VR-4RM extended a probe around the corner. “Clear.”
So far things had been rather straightforward, and Slaine deeply hoped they would stay that way. The instructions were simple: enter the room; terminate the occupants with as little fuss as possible; and retrieve a holodisc. Though it seemed a little cold-blooded, he had given up on caring about the difference between bounties and contracts a few months back.
The sentry waiting outside the door practiced tossing his blaster from one hand to the other. He liked to get it to flip in the middle of the trick, when he could.
He looked up in time to see a spindly chrome-covered droid step out into the hallway. In his surprise, he fumbled his toss and the blaster landed with a thud on the carpet. A second thud heralded the landing of the blaster’s owner beside it — a large dart protruding from the side of his neck.
“How long is he going to be out for?” asked Slaine, standing over the body.
“Eternally. It was a neurotoxin. The contract stipulates no survivors, and fatal darts are less expensive than soporifics. I shall consider using them for all future needs.”
Slaine reached down and grabbed the dead man’s right hand, slicing it cleanly off just above the elbow.
“How much ‘less expensive’?”
He pressed the severed hand, palm open, against the door plate, and it opened with a woosh. Slaine breathed in the hotel room smell and tossed a pair of stun grenades into the room. S1VR-4RM slipped past him and emptied his needler into the horrified face of a dazed Rodian — throwing blood across the walls.
Slaine saw two others in the large bedroom and drew his vibro-knife — the door beside him opened and a fat pale man looked at him with first confusion and then horror before slamming the door again.
The bounty hunter cursed himself for having been caught off-guard. He left S1VR-4RM to finish the others and tried the door. Locked. Bathroom. He stepped back and then smashed his armored shoulder against it.
The flimsy material splintered on the second attempt. Slaine froze momentarily as he caught sight of the fat man pointing something large and gun-like directly at him. Then he realized it was an ionic hairdryer.
The hairdryer clattered off the side of Slaine’s armor. He stepped into the small room and grabbed the man over his jaw and began to push him down and backwards. Fingers scrabbled against his helmet and he could see his own visor reflected in the terrified eyes of his victim. He plunged the knife through the ribs and into the heart and then tore it up and outwards through the sternum. Blood splashed his optics.
“I have found the holodisc. It is in the player.”
“Be right there.”
He looked in the red-streaked mirror and saw his own sweaty and weary face. This would be it. This was going to be the last job.
With a towel he wiped the blood from his helmet and pulled it back on.
“Let’s grab it and get out of here…”
Slaine stopped and stared. S1VR-4RM stood above the pile of bodies silently contemplating the holo.
The player was a low-grade affair and the sound was bad, but still, those noises weren’t something that you could mistake. For a moment Slaine too stared at the head bobbing rhythmically in space as off-camera moans crackled from the speakers. The words “Korriban Nights” appeared followed by “starring.”
“What is that?!”
S1VR-4RM extended a probe towards the writhing phantom-bodies.
“Copulation,” he wheezed.
“Check it again.”
“It is the same. Two individuals. Lightly armed. We waste time.”
“I don’t like it.”
If droids could sigh S1VR-4RM would have.
“I am aware of this fact. You have repeated the same phrase six times since we arrived. I have translated it into different languages for the sake of variety. Perhaps you would like to hear it in Huttese?”
Slaine checked his weapon belt once more.
“Fine. Let’s do it.”
It should be a simple exchange — the holodisc for their money. Two lightly armed men were unlikely to try anything against an armored bounty hunter and an assassin droid but Slaine could not shake the feeling that things were about to go very wrong.
“What kind of people pay that much money to get their hands on a skin flick?”
Were these guys some kind of weird perverts? That didn’t make any sense. More likely representing parents of someone in the “film.” Or maybe someone famous was in it… He had heard about that sort of thing before. He hadn’t recognized anyone in it — neither had S1VR-4RM, or if he did he hadn’t mentioned it. You could never really tell with droids.
They entered the abandoned foundry. S1VR-4RM rapidly scanned the building several thousand times for good measure.
“Allow me to handle the negotiations.”
Slaine grunted in agreement.
Two men stood in the center of the large room. A barrel had been turned upright in the middle of the durocrete floor and was acting as a makeshift table for a holoplayer.
S1VR-4RM made a small bow.
“Do you have the disc?”
Both men wore long coats and Slaine could see the outline of armor under the cloth — light armor. They looked fit. The one who spoke had a mean-looking scar running from his hairline down his cheek.
“It is in our possession. You have our fee?”
Scar pointed to a stack of credit chips beside the holoplayer and then held out his hand. S1VR-4RM bowed again and retrieved the disc from a hidden compartment in his chest. He placed it in Scar’s hand.
Slaine felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and realized he was being sized up. He caught the eye of the silent man and it was a cold blue.
Scar inserted the disc into the player and waited…
A hazy blue image appeared and then a face crying out in ecstasy.
S1VR-4RM stepped forward and began to reach for the credit chips.
“It has been a pleasure doing busi–”
Blue Eyes moved faster than Slaine had ever seen a man move — faster even than the Crystal Speed kids in the clubs. A long vibro-sword appeared from under his coat as he closed on the droid.
S1VR-4RM fired two of his poisoned darts, but the blade was there knocking each harmlessly away. Blue Eyes brought his sword down, cleaving S1VR-4RM from shoulder to hip.
The droid’s severed diaphragm wormed uselessly in the sparking chrome chest cavity as his components collapsed to the floor.
Slaine was slower than both S1VR-4RM and Blue Eyes but he had known this was coming. He had felt it so strongly that he had begun his move before Blue Eyes had taken a step. His arm had been coming up as the vibroblade had pierced the assasin droid’s frame and now it released a tongue of liquid flame.
The roar and heat of the flame-thrower filled the air. Scar and Blue Eyes leapt out of the way of the direct blast. Realizing there was nothing he could do for S1VR-4RM at this point, Slaine kicked his jetpack into gear and, soaring up, smashed clean through a skylight. He cut his thrusters and dropped running onto the roof. From below he heard shouting and then the rev of an engine.
He was jumping from rooftop to rooftop, making his way towards the only place he could think of to lose himself. A sharp screech caused him to look down into the long alley below — a swoop bike with two men on it burned a course parallel to his own.
It had been a bad day for Old Man Globbs — or, as the children in the neighborhood called him, Mean Fatty Glob-Blob. How he hated those children.
The droid at the Veterans’ Affairs office had been less than helpful when pressed on the subject of whether sinus-cleaning was covered under his health plan. Globbs had been forced to point to his large and rubbery head and shout, “I’m 90% sinus, you overgrown toaster!”
On top of that his favorite beverage vending cart had suspiciously caught fire the night before. Crime. What was this planet coming to? Maybe it was time to pack up and move — but he was too old.
The hovertram braked for its last above ground stop.
An electric voice crackled over the speakers, “This train will go express to Aquarium. Aquarium will be the next stop. We apologize for the inconvenience. The hovertram behind us will be making all local stops.”
Globbs said an extremely rude word.
“The hovertram behind us” usually meant half the city away. To add insult to injury it was starting to rain.
Globbs began to slowly rise from his seat, collecting his bundles and his loose hornfruit bunch. Carefully, he hefted his aged bulk towards the open doors.
Suddenly he was knocked right back into his seat. He glared up at the helmeted form of a bounty hunter in blood-soaked armor. Globbs felt something wet and smushy beneath his hand.
“You’ve crushed my hornfruit!”
The bounty hunter told Globbs where he might store his hornfruit (though it did not seem a very sanitary option), all the while watching the doors. The man beneath the armor visibly relaxed the moment the doors closed with a hiss and the tram began to speed underground.
Globbs was still yelling at Slaine when they both paused to listen to a strange sound — the echoed hum of an engine reverberating in the tram tunnel. Both of Globbs’s mouths opened in astonishment as a swoop bike pulled even with the hovertram. Blue Eyes was driving with Scar behind him. A clay-like ball slammed into the window.
Slaine began to run.
The glassteel exploded into dust behind him and Scar somersaulted through the wreckage, landing nimbly crouched on the tram floor.
A single scream went up from the passengers in the car. Scar began to hack his way through the crowd with his vibro-sword, creating a stampede which crushed Slaine against the door connecting the tramcar with the one in front of it. He struck out with his elbows to give himself space and finally managed to get to the door plate.
Globbs had been sandwiched between the other passengers. He felt the pressure on his back lessen as Scar cut down one after another of the panicked riders. Suddenly he was spun around and stood eye-to-eye with the man who was about to kill him. Globbs felt strangely disappointed as he acknowledged that they were now speeding past what would have been his stop. The vibro-blade put a final end to all his sinus troubles and he crumpled to the floor.
Slaine had managed to open the door and stepped into the new car. A press of bodies tried to follow him but with all his strength he shoved them back into the oncoming blade of Scar. He forced the door shut and then smashed the plate on his side, shorting it out.
The other car was quiet now. Scar stood alone, covered from head to toe in gore. He smiled at Slaine through the observation window and then tried the door.
Slaine drew his heavy blasters and waited.
But Scar didn’t open it. He laughed at Slaine through the glass and wagged his finger “no.”
Then he lifted his arm and Slaine felt a strange pressure crushing down on his windpipe.
The bounty hunter’s toes scuffed the tram floor as he was lifted into the air. Scar stood grinning from ear to ear on the other side of the door.
Slaine had dropped his blasters and was grasping at his neck, fighting a phantom enemy — an enemy that was squeezing the light from his eyes. Blackness crowded the edge of his vision and he felt as if his lungs might explode. Scar began closing his outstretched fist.
Taking one hand from his throat, Slaine reached out and seized a small red handle on the tram’s wall and pulled with all the strength he had left.
Scar’s eyes opened wide as the hovertram’s emergency brake screamed into action and he was thrown with extreme force face-first into the door.
Across the train there were cries and collisions as the high-speed deceleration caused everyone and everything to shoot forward. Slaine sailed across the car and smashed into a wall. He groaned as he tried to drag himself to his feet. He had dislocated a shoulder but he now could breathe again.
He rolled out one of the flashing emergency exits and disappeared into the maze of tunnels as the confused and injured crowd poured out of the crippled hovertram.
In the distance he could hear the echo of a swoopbike, but it grew faint and then was silent.
Mari Kryptos had a lot of things on her mind as she entered the turbolift. Most of these things revolved around crime.
She worked for an up-and-coming street-boss in the central hub. He was just beginning to expand into some new turf, and this had resulted in the usual growth pains: decapitations, explosions, kidnappings. It was a delicate time to be a fixer in the organization. More than a little dangerous.
Mari shifted the polybag with her newly-purchased Chocoplume Decadence flavo-ice into her off hand as she punched in the code for her level. This was the riskiest point of her daily trip home. She wrapped her fingers gently around the hold-out blaster tucked in her pocket. It wouldn’t be much good for a real firefight, but it would burn a fist-sized hole through someone at close range.
You could never be too safe these days. if it wasn’t the competition out to get you it was some random fuel-head or sex pervert. Dangerous times.
The lift opened to reveal an empty hallway. Mari hurried to her door. She could never decide whether the extra security measures she had installed at the apartment were a good idea or not. On the one hand, it was a state-of-the-art system — one of the best you could get on Ord Mantell, on the other, it kept her exposed and waiting in the hallway longer.
The door opened and she slipped inside, shutting and re-securing it behind her. Safe. Finally she could relax and enjoy a night — alone with a purportedly health-conscious dessert.
She emptied her pockets on the table and began to walk to the kitchen. Hopefully there was a clean spoon left.
As she passed the entertainment room she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, an armored figure sitting on her couch in the semi-dark. The meaning of this apparition hit her two steps later and she screamed.
She thrust her hand into her pocket. Empty — the blaster, where was it?! As Mari raced back to the table the mysterious figure intercepted her. One arm snaked around her waist and hoisted her off the ground, while a hand wrapped itself over her mouth.
“Mari, it’s me! Slaine.”
After she had stopped crying they had both sat down. Mari would glance at her hand from time to time. It still shook.
Slaine looked around the room — a poster with an Ewok swinging from a branch with the message “Hang In There!”, stuffed Ewoks in various sizes (boys and girls kept on different ends of the couch), a porcelain Ewok village rested on the corner of her desk.
“So.” Slaine wasn’t sure where to begin. Calming people down wasn’t his forte. “You like Ewoks?”
“Yeah. I think they’re cute… not in a racist way or anything.”
“Yeah, er… No. I didn’t think it was a racism thing.”
“Good. It’s not. I just like them.”
“Slaine, there is a contract out for you. It came through today. What’s going on? Where’s S1VR-4RM?”
Mari was a fixer. She got things done. Sometimes someone died.
People would come to her looking to have things arranged and she would put them in touch with the right individuals. She had been the one who had put S1VR-4RM in contact with the clients who had killed him.
“They wanted ‘4RM specifically?” asked Slaine as he licked more Chocoplume Decadence off the spoon.
“No. Not specifically. They wanted a droid. I didn’t tell them that he had a partner. I figured it wouldn’t matter and you guys could use the money.”
“What do you know about them?”
“Nothing beyond the information I gave ‘4RM. They seemed clean. I don’t know… maybe too clean, but this is all in hind-sight.”
“Yeah. Didn’t help S1VR-4RM much.”
The contract on Slaine had come through the same channels. This was an open contract, though. Anyone who could provide proof of death could claim it. The reward was generous. Slaine decided that if he was going to have a monetary value attached to his life at least this wasn’t embarrassing.
He handed Mari a heavy blaster which she needed both hands to hold.
“If anyone knocks on the door, kill him. I’m going to use your shower.”
He dropped the now-empty flavo-ice bucket on the floor and walked off with the spoon still in his mouth.
The drone of the sonic-shower drowned out Slaine’s gasps as he tried to extricate himself from his armor. Though he had “field-repaired” his shoulder he wouldn’t want to do much with it any time soon. He just hoped he had that sort of luxury.
He thought about the girl outside and wondered if he had been right in trusting her. It wouldn’t be the first time he had made a mistake but his instincts told him she wouldn’t betray him.
Slaine remembered when he had first met Mari. She had been little more than orphan street trash. He had been the one to help her get cleaned up and he even got her a job with a local strong-arm — she had moved up beyond that on her own, but still, she owed him.
Maybe it was old-fashioned but in a world where everyone is out to kill or rob you, you need to have one person to trust. Otherwise you go crazy. And Mari was a damn-sight better-looking than S1VR-4RM had been.
Mari heard the shower switch off. Slaine’s voice came through the door.
“Do you have any clothes that would fit me?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Slaine examined his gear with a critical eye. Even if it hadn’t been so battered he wasn’t sure if he had the strength to pull it on. And, he was probably far more conspicuous in full bounty hunter armor than he would be in street clothes. He picked up his jumpsuit — charred, torn and blood-soaked. No go.
Mari knocked gently on the door.
“I’ve got something, but I’m not sure if it’s your style.”
“I’m not going to a fashion shoot. Just leave them at the door.”
A minute later Slaine stepped into the kitchen. Mari had to put her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.
“Is this a joke?” he asked.
“It’s the only stuff I had that might fit you.”
Slaine examined himself again in the reflective surface of the freezerator.
He was wearing a pair of skin-tight Zebrephant-Stripe spandi-tights which revealed more about him than his medical records ever could. He modestly attempted to tug down the shirt — nightshirt, really — she had given him. It was pale yellow with a happy Ewok shouting something in one of the Rim languages.
“It brings out your eyes.”
“Give me that blaster.”
“What’s wrong with that one?”
Slaine blushed and pulled vigorously at the front of the shirt again.
* * *
The streets were full of people and Slaine tried to blend into the crowd. He had added a pair of swoop goggles to complete his disguise and he looked… well, he knew what he looked like — a freak.
He had sent Mari off to meet one her contacts, a slicer who asked no questions if the money was right.
Most of the faces in the crowd studiously ignored him, though he got a few encouraging winks. A few blocks away from his own apartment he made a quick turn down a side alley. He waited in the dark for a few minutes before continuing on.
He was heading for a safe-drop S1VR-4RM had set up. As far as Slaine could tell he was now the only person who knew of its existence.
He began to head into the more dangerous areas of the Ord Mantell undercity. The only people he saw now were street kids, addicts, demobbed droids. He got a lot of looks here, but so did the vaguely blaster-shaped thing he carried with him under one of Mari’s towels.
He let himself down an open grating gently, trying not to strain his already-delicate shoulder. The shapes of desperate people of all species were crouched on either side of the vents wearing nothing more than rags.
Slaine draped the towel around his neck and held the blaster openly. There wasn’t anything in the way of law here to be concerned about anyway.
Music came drifting from up ahead. Along the tunnel wall appeared decorations: cloths, blankets, ribbons. A large bald man with a chained Bullpith beside him guarded a door. He looked Slaine up and down and sneered.
“We’re not hiring.”
“Great. I’m not applying.”
Baldy didn’t seem impressed by the blaster. Neither did the Bullpith which began to growl.
Slaine brought out a datacard and held it towards Baldy.
“I’ve got a compartment here.”
The Red Lady was perhaps the most vile flophouse on Ord Mantell. Whatever perversion of circuitry had caused S1VR-4RM to store their extra gear here was beyond Slaine’s understanding. Vermin and disease hung to the wall like a fine varnish.
He climbed down a small ladder into a sublevel, really just a storage space, divided into closet-sized rooms.
Rumor had it that some of these compartments housed the decaying remains of some of the city’s most famous crime bosses. Gagging on the air, Slaine could believe it.
He entered a code and a thin door swung open towards him. The light gleamed off the polished metal of assorted laser-carbines, droid parts and various implements of destruction.
Slaine smiled unconsciously.
Back on the streets he adjusted the weight of the large cylindrical parcel he wore across his back. Pulling up the hood of his new longcoat, a wave of positive emotion regarding his late partner swept over him. S1VR-4RM may not have been much of a conversationalist but he had an understanding of man’s fashion unusual in an assassin droid. In all the bags in the storage unit there had been no tights and no Ewoks.
But S1VR-4RM was dead, or deactivated, or whatever happened to droids — and at this rate Slaine would be next. It wouldn’t be long before someone, maybe a lot of someones, tried to collect on that bounty. Ord Mantell was getting too hot to hang around… but he had one or two things to tie up before he left.
“Slaine! Hey, Slaine!”
The voice echoed down the busy street. Slaine tensed imperceptibly when he heard it, but he didn’t turn and he didn’t slow down.
“Slaine! Stop. I want to talk to you.”
Oncoming pedestrian traffic was staring at something over his shoulder. They began to clear out of the way. He kept walking
“I said, ‘stop’!”
Slaine reached out and seized passing Weequay. He spun around, using the startled alien as a shield while he slung out his sawn-off blaster carbine from under his coat.
The Weequay struggled for an instant but a hot blaster bolt struck him in the chest. Slaine began firing even before he had a good look at his target — stray shots hitting some in the crowd and sending the others scattering for cover.
It was Vansenn — not the world’s greatest bounty hunter, but not its worst either. He preferred a two-fisted style of heavy blaster firing, the impact of which shook Slaine right through the Weequay’s body.
Vansenn was armored and, perhaps feeling this gave him enough advantage over his enemy, did not seek cover.
Slaine shoved the Weequay, now literally dead weight, forward and dove through a shop window, throwing glass and holiday displays everywhere.
Slaine groaned as he rolled across the mess on the floor. Vansenn was firing intermittently into the shop. It would only be a matter of time before he decided it would be worth expending a grenade on the job.
“I want to make a deal.”
Slaine tried to worm his way to an overturned desk. He dragged the long parcel he had taken from the storage unit with him. If he could keep this idiot talking maybe he would have a chance.
“I got money, Vansenn. Lots of money. That contract that’s out on me is nothing!”
A laugh came from outside the shop. Not far from the window now.
“Seems like plenty of money to me.”
“It’s nothing! Chump change! I ripped off the Z-Score Casino! That’s why they are after me! I’ll give you half.”
Slaine could almost hear the sound of greed spinning the gears in Vansenn’s tiny brain.
“Are you for real?”
Slaine unwrapped the long cylinder, exposing a deep black tube. He manipulated its underside and swung down three tripod legs.
“I’m for real, Vansenn. We can be rich, both of us.”
The ion-cannon purred when he powered it on. Using the table for cover he took aim at the shattered window.
“You know what, Slaine?!”
Vansenn stepped in front of the window and levelled his twin blasters.
“I think you’re full of –”
The cone of energy that erupted from the front of the ion-cannon tore through most of the remaining storefront and instantly incinerated Vansenn. A sizable section of the carry-out across the street was destroyed along with all the windows in that building. A thick cloud of ozone wafted from the cooling muzzle of the cannon.
Slaine gently blew the acrid curls of smoke from the barrel and smiled.
“What was it called again?”
“Like the planet?”
“No, like the…”
Slaine caught Mari’s look. This slicer-guy was doing them a favor after all.
“Yeah, like the planet.”
The slicer nodded and readjusted his neural-web.
“This will take a few minutes.”
“Great. I’ll be in the little bounty hunter’s room.”
Time is catching up with me, thought Slaine. He pressed the small vapo-tube to his nose and fired a charge straight up his left nostril. The powerful burst rocked through him like electricity. He was awake again now. How many days had it been since he had slept?
It didn’t matter. He splashed cold water on his face and tried to get a grip on himself.
Outside, Mari was nervous. She was confident that Mack the Slicer wasn’t going to try anything funny, but Slaine was another matter. She wasn’t sure what was going on in his head — she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know.
“That’s funny,” said Mack as he opened another view.
Mari turned to see Slaine behind her. She hadn’t heard him come back.
“Your ‘Korriban Nights’ doesn’t exist anymore. On the surface it looks like it never existed — but that’s impossible. There should at least be random combinations out there of the words Korriban and Nights… or weather bulletins and stuff… the phrase ‘Korriban Nights’ should exist out there somewhere but it doesn’t. It’s, like, impossible.” Mack didn’t seem to enjoy impossibilities creeping into his work. He grabbed for another powerdrink.
“So,” asked Mari, “what does that mean?”
“It means that someone is blocking searches for it. It means that someone doesn’t want people finding anything to do with it.”
Slaine peered at the screen. It looked like gibberish.
“Can you get around it?”
“Maybe. It will take time.”
They agreed to split up and meet again at Mack’s office/crashpad in a few hours. Mari would borrow Mack’s speeder as she had the largest area to cover. She needed to see if she could arrange some last-minute fake documents for Slaine and his ticket off world.
“What are you gonna do?”
“Check out some skin shops.”
Down in the redlight district, Slaine didn’t have trouble finding people who wanted to talk about sleazy vids. It was getting them to say something useful that was a problem.
He left the sixth store with nothing more than a headache and a solid offer on “Ithorian Nights: Twice the Mouths, Twice the Fun”.
He looked up and down the street for a minute before making his way with low expectations to the next “entertainment emporium”.
The flashing sign above the door read “Terminal Pleasures”. The store itself was like every other he had seen, a mix of toys, discs, vids, outfits…
“Welcome, customer. How may I help you meet your needs tonight?” asked the merchant droid behind the counter.
“I’m looking for a vid…”
“Excellent, may I offer ‘Twin Twi’leks in Twouble’?”
Slaine regretted coming in already.
“I’m looking for something called ‘Korriban Nights’.”
The droid stared at the ceiling.
“Accessing inventory records. Please, be patient.”
A head popped out from out of a private-viewing booth.
“Did you say ‘Korriban Nights’?”
The strange man and Slaine stood cramped in the booth. The now forgotten holovid played on in the background.
“Look, buddy, if you try to get weird on me, I’ll smash your face in.”
The man licked his lips, “Maybe some other time… but you want to talk about ‘Korriban Nights’, right?”
‘Yeah. What do you know about it?”
The man fidgeted. “Not enough, not nearly enough. No one has ever seen it.”
Slaine didn’t correct him on this point.
“What is it?”
“Don’t you know? I figured you were a fellow collector. It’s the real thing, man. The real Sith-on-Sith action. Here…”
The man ran out of the booth and returned a few seconds later with a handful of holovid cards.
“You see these? ‘Sith Torments VII’, ‘Darth Pervia: Mistress of the Sith’, ‘Sultry Sith Fantasies’. Do you see? They’re all fake! Not a real Sith in any of them… But ‘Korriban Nights’ is special…”
“Because it’s real Sith.”
The Collector smiled. “Real Sith. And that’s why they are willing to kill for it.”
As Slaine rode the turbolift up to Mack’s place he went over the Collector’s words again.
“It was an amateur job — probably a hidden camera. Somehow it got out and a few copies were made. Everyone involved has disappeared or met an accident or been murdered. It’s almost legendary now. There had been a rumor going around in the community that a copy, maybe the last copy, was on the way here to Ord Mantell. But as usual, the chatter’s gone silent again.”
He buzzed the door and it opened. Mack was sitting by his screens.
“Hey,” said the slicer, “I think i might have something for you.”
“Great. Where’s Mari?”
“Not back yet. Come look at this.”
Slaine took a few steps towards the the rewired info-banks and stopped. Something wasn’t right.
As soon as he drew his blaster he felt it wrenched from his grip. He turned and saw Blue Eyes standing between him and the door. Blue Eyes lowered his outstretched hand and smiled.
Mack crawled underneath his desk. Slaine looked around the room. Lots of monitors, a chair, big windows — but he was too high up to jump…
“Can we talk about this?”
Blue Eyes loosened his stance and slowly walked towards them. Slaine drew his own vibroblade from under his longcoat. He kept his fingers tight on the hilt — he didn’t need to have this magicced out of his hand too.
“Where’s your friend?” They began to circle each other. Blue Eyes was still unarmed.
“He has the night off. I can handle this alone.”
Slaine lunged and brought down his blade in a sweeping strike but Blue Eyes side-stepped it as easily as if he had known it was coming. Then, after smiling at Slaine again, he reached behind his back and there was a loud snap-hiss.
Slaine stood mesmerized as the red blade of the lightsaber hummed through the air and sliced his vibroblade neatly in two.
Slaine cursed and threw the useless hilt at Blue Eyes, who deflected it with a wave of his hand.
“Stand still and I’ll make this quick.”
Slaine stared at Blue Eyes as he raised the blade high above his head. The bounty hunter imagined that he saw a halo or aura glow around Blue Eyes… but then he realized that it was something else — light coming from the large windows behind him. Bright lights. The lights on the front of a speeder.
Mari rammed the speeder through the glass-steel windows, sending Blue Eyes flying into a bank of terminals. The cold outside air mixed with the climate-controlled apartment’s pseudo-environment with a roar like thunder.
Slaine toppled a stack of monitors onto what he assumed was Blue Eyes and then dropped a thermal detonator.
He pushed Mack into the speeder and, jumping in behind him, screamed, “Drive!”
Mari had just enough time to spin the speeder and dive before the apartment exploded into a bright orange fireball. Mack was crying in the passenger’s seat. Slaine, in the backseat, grabbed him by his collar.
“You sold us out!”
“No! I didn’t do anything! He must have traced the searches, must have found me some how! I don’t know. While you were gone he showed up at my door. What was I supposed to do?!”
Mari was disgusted and afraid. “Stop snivelling…” She looked at Mack and realized that the strange throaty sounds coming from him weren’t expressions of shame or remorse but rather the result of Slaine’s garrote.
“What are you doing?!”
The speeder dove uncontrollably while Mack clawed at the monofilament as it cut into his flesh. Mari slapped at Slaine’s shoulder and face as he tightened the garrote. The bounty hunter looked at her with a cold expression. “Drive the damn speeder!”
Slaine dumped Mack’s body out of the speeder and it disappeared into the blackness of the night. Mari clutched the wheel, her knuckles a painful white.
“You killed him. I can’t believe you killed him. I can’t believe –”
Slaine pried her fingers from the controls. The speeder hovered far above the cares of the city. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her.
When they broke apart, Slaine wiped the tears from her cheek and whispered, “It had to be done, kid. It’s just us. You and me together. We had to do it. We’re survivors.”
She put her face on his shoulder and they held each other tightly.
They were survivors. For now.
Slaine blinked. Had he been asleep? He reached for the stim-spray but it was empty. Things were getting a little hairy now.
He shook his head and readjusted his grip on the ion-cannon — the same one that had vaporized Vansenn and the better part of a storefront. It sat fixed on its tripod, pointing down the hall of Mari’s apartment with a clear shot at the door.
Mari. How long had she been gone?
Slaine remembered seeing her off. She had to go and pick up the forged travel documents and the tickets. She had decided to come with him. Get off this rotten planet once and for all. She had said something about clearing out a few bank accounts as well — perks of being a fixer. Good. Money would help things.
He sighed as he thought back on where it all had gone wrong. In his memory he could still smell the warehouse where those two Sith had eviscerated his partner, S1VR-4RM the assassin droid. Dry. Cold. If only they had paid them. Things could have been so easy.
But the Sith, it seemed, had a “no witness” policy. Scar and Blue Eyes had to be sure that no one who had seen that holovid survived. Korriban Nights.
Slaine felt his eyelids drifting together and his head slumping forward.
Korriban Nights. It was a strange name for a vid. He remembered it — close-ups of flesh, hair, lips, Mari calling his name… No that wasn’t right.
Mari with him in her bed after they ditched the speeder at a run-down housing scheme. Ignition running as a come-on to some unsuspecting joyrider.
He saw Mari’s lips kissing him on the holovid. He saw himself running his hand along her side.
He snapped awake and listened. Nothing.
A stuffed Ewok stared mournfully at him from the couch. It had a bow behind each ear. A girl.
Soon Mari would return with the IDs and tickets. Then they could start new lives. Maybe he could get a job in security somewhere, or advertising. He liked thinking of jingles for things. A few years back Slaine had entered a Galactic Breakfast Bar contest — they were looking for a slogan. He had submitted “When you’re hungrier than a black hole star/ Try our Galactic Breakfast Bars!”
He hadn’t heard back.
He applied a faint pressure to the cannon’s trigger. A glowing red dot appeared on the door at the end of the hall. He played a little with the sight and hummed… “Galactic Breakfast Bars.”
He would get off the planet, and Mari with him. Forget about this whole Korriban Nights thing. Forget about the Sith murderers and contracts on his head. He could start again. He would start again.
The Ewok didn’t seem convinced. Slaine picked it up and turned it to face the cushion.
“Everyone’s a critic.”
Could he trust her? Yes. She had saved him last night, after all. And it was pretty clear she had fallen hard for him. Slaine smiled. Yeah, he could trust her. It would be nice to have someone to talk to for once. Assassin droids made awful company. And there were certainly other advantages.
He remembered how she had looked that morning — leaving the bed in the half-light.
Of course, it would be nice to kill Scar and Blue Eyes, but you can’t have everything. Not immediately. Maybe once he put some distance between himself and the Sith he could start planning. Maybe he could find a way to even up the score. When you’re hungry like a black hole star….
Outside the apartment, in the hall, there came the sound of the turbolift doors opening. Slaine strained his ears — was it one pair of footsteps? Hard to tell. The rhythm was off. Someone was approaching the door.
The display meter on the side of the ion-cannon sprang into action. A series of green bars pulsed and the weapon began to hum.
Slaine listened as someone entered the security codes on the keypad outside. The door slowly opened. The red laser sight bounced on the wall opposite. The hall seemed empty.
Then came the voice, hoarse, almost a whisper. “I’ve got the girl. Put down your weapon. I know you are in there.”
Slaine didn’t breathe.
Outside in the hallway there was a yelp and then, “It’s true, Slaine. He–” She was cut off. Mari.
“We are coming in.”
Scar stepped into the doorway holding Mari as a shield in front of him. The lightsaber threw a red glow across the lower half of her face. The blade hovered a few inches from her throat. The laser sight bobbed slowly over her sternum.
“You see now?” Scar squinted. He must have known he was staring down the barrel of something but he didn’t seem phased.
“Drop the weapon, bounty hunter. I am here to talk. No harm will come to you or the girl if you do as I say.”
The Sith and his hostage stood framed in the light of the doorway.
Slaine could just make out the wetness on Mari’s cheeks. Tears.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Slaine sighed. “Me too, kid.”
And then he pulled the trigger.
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.”