THE NOTE WAS tacked to the door of Kyle Samosa’s’ castle. It said, simply, “I need a good geneticist! I can pay. Please meet me tomorrow at noon in the White Sands Cantina. You know where it is! Signed, Bof.”
Promising, she supposed.
It was a fine warm day, just like the day before it, but Kyle was not disposed to venture out of doors. No, not at all. There was plenty of work to be done here in the aging Samosas Keep. Strategies of galactic conquest just didn’t plan themselves. Pity, that.
Still, one couldn’t very well ignore a lucrative contract-and in the area of her expertise, no less.
Adenn, her bodyguard, had racked up an impressive debt, taking out a loan from the local Hutt boss, Progg, and spending those credits he didn’t really possess to upgrade, overhaul, and expand the old beat-up Wayfarer-Class Transport he’d inherited from Kyle’s father. Adenn had taken to calling it Mandalore’s Pride.
To pay back the money, Adenn had been accepting courier jobs, running cargo here and there, trying to save up a bit of money to make his next payment to old Progg.
Then the Empire mucked things up. About two months ago, an Imperial Star Galleon and several smaller support ships appeared in orbit around Cygnus, along with a proclamation that the planet was to be annexed by the Empire.
Soon Imperial Stormtroopers were crawling through the streets of Lomost like vraacha-ticks. Kyle could almost see them now from the window of her keep, perched atop its tall hill.
Even legitimate cargoes dried up after that. You couldn’t go out onto the streets without running into a squad of stormies. The town just wasn’t that big. Most of the local businessfolk, who had never really put down roots here anyway, just sort of drifted on to the next backwater Outer Rim world, hoping to find a place offering less official scrutiny.
To be honest, the same inclination had occurred to her as well, but she didn’t relish testing the chances of finding a buyer for this piece of suddenly unpopular paradise real estate. Neither did she particularly feel like abandoning the castle left to her by her deceased uncle. Not for any sentimental reason, mind you. It just didn’t do to waste resources.
If you had to be mired in crushing debt to a Hutt, there were worse places to do it than a castle a mere thirty minutes’ walk from white-sand beaches, where crystal-blue waters barely obscured striking reddish beds of sentient algae.
Yes, the day was pleasant enough; it was a warm day with a slight breeze ruffling the leaves of tall, purple-and-green spiral-shaped trees. Kyle could smell the trees’ pollen. It smelled like…cumin.
She sneezed, almost tripping as she walked the path down the hill towards Lomost.
“Beware, mistress. Cronniv pollen counts are well above normal levels. You are suffering an allergic reaction.” This was the mechanized voice of 4-7X2-1B, her medical droid. The Empire had apparently modifed him to serve as a torture droid when necessary, but the new protocols had given him something of a sadistic streak.
“I don’t need a warning. I could use a chemical compound that neutralizes my allergy, though. Let me know if your rusty innards of yours manage to cook up something acceptable for the task.”
“Very well, mistress…” The droid’s vocoder seemed to trail off as Kyle left it behind, hurrying a bit faster along the trail.
Ri’lek, her hired pilot, trudged up alongside Kyle. “I’m bored with life,” he intoned drearily as he flipped a head-tail carelessly over his shoulder.
Not this spoiled rich-kid stuff again, Kyle thought.
“I need a change of pace,” he continued. “Maybe I could kill someone. Or someone could kill me.”
Kyle wasn’t ever quite sure whether to take Ri’lek seriously. Luckily, she didn’t really ever care, either. “You could do it yourself,” she offered helpfully. “There’s a cliff right over there.”
Ri’lek twisted his lips in a thoughtful grimace, then shrugged his shoulders. He trudged a little slower.
He’d just dropped far enough behind for Kyle to collect her thoughts when she realized she was catching up to… Careen? Con? Anyway, his name started with the letter Cresh, she was pretty sure. Her hired Duros slicer.
“This much sun is dangerous to my skin, I’m sure of it! This is why Duros live on space stations,” ‘C’ sulked.
“I thought that was because the Duros poisoned their planet into a smelly lump.”
“No, no. It’s the sun thing. Smog keeps out sun, see?”
“Not really.” Kyle walked a little faster.
She could see Adenn up ahead, walking in the lead position. Currently he was preoccupied with a soft-cloth, polishing his blaster with some kind of polymer-safe degreaser. rolled her eyes a little. He always seemed to be doing that.
Fifteen minutes later and her crew of three tromped into Lomost, followed by her torture droid. Kyle breezed past a single thatched-roof structure and found herself on the beach. She struck out for the cantina, a round medium-sized building at the end of the strip of white sand. The run-down wooden structure was roofed with the native grasses she’d seen covering small patches of the island’s main hill.
[[:White Sands Cantina | The White Sands]] bustled with activity, even this early in the day. The bar was barely forty meters from the surf, and she could see a number of locals and visiting spacers with nothing better to do whiling away their time on benches on the cantina’s small outer deck.
Adenn preceded his boss over the threshold. Snapping his neck from left to right, he narrowed his eyes and sniffed the air. Just more pollen. Adenn noted various beings seated at the bar and tables scattered throughout the room. It seemed most of them were getting an early lunch. No one outwardly paid him any attention. Yet.
After waiting just a moment or two, he motioned with his hand. Behind him, Korn, wasn’t it? – and the droid.stepped wearily into the seaside cantina, followed by Ri’lek, that Duros fella –
He decided things seemed safe enough. He walked around the perimeter of the room to a table where they could sit with their backs against the wall. Defensible. He pulled out a chair for Kyle, then took one for himself. As the droid moved to stand against the wall, Adenn noticed Korn patting his skin gingerly, apparently glad to be out of the direct sunlight. Even for a Duros, Korn did look kinda pale.
Distracted for a moment, Adenn was slow to notice a slight dimness as someone moved into his light.
Then he looked up and saw a familiar face. “Razor” Raamon. Progg’s lackey. Adenn had kept out of Lomost for a while now, hoping to forestall this encounter. Now, Razor was here to try to squeeze credits from his pockets. When he can’t do that, Adenn thought, he’ll probably just try to squeeze my head.
Razor pulled up a chair of his own and sat. “Time to pay up. You owe my boss 150,000 and he thinks it’s time for your latest payment. 10K. And he said to tell you he accepts cash or body parts, your choice.”
“Would you accept Progg’s body parts?” Adenn asked. He suddenly heard Ri’lek chuckle. There was a blaster in the Twi’lek’s hand.
Ri’lek spoke up. “I think you should really ask yourself if that’s a wise threat to make. Some of us are spoiling for a fight today.”
Adenn would have slapped his own forehead, but he quickly thought better of making any sudden movements. The best way to protect Kyle now was to keep silent and still.
“I really wouldn’t have guessed you’d be that stupid!” growled Razor, his voice taking on a threatening tone. “Even if you could get rid of me-which I doubt…”
Razor paused at that, probably because he felt something small, metal, and sharp at his neck. Standing over him was 4-7X2-1B, with a syringe prepared and hovering at the man’s carotid artery. “Do you wish me to inject this noisy creature with compound 450-TRX9-2029173? I have adjusted the chemical makeup several times to ensure it will produce the most painful response possible.”
Razor kept very still, but there was still durasteel in his voice. “It matters little what you do, droid. There are ten men in this cesspool that will blast you and all of your companions to atoms if I so much as raise my voice..”
Adenn instantly glanced around the room. If this was a bluff, it was very, very important to identify it as such immediately. Nope. There they were. Twelve or so of the patrons shifted subtly in response to Razor’s raised voice. Normally, Adenn would have done something about it. But sitting next to Razor as he was, he again thought that standing up suddenly might be unwise.
“Ahh. Well, I suppose these are hard times for Independent transporters at the moment, what with this Imperial blockade and all. Obviously, we don’t want any violence if we can avoid it, do we? I think my boss might just be persuaded to give you a bit longer to pay off your loan, if you would do him a small favor. We have an, err… small shipment that needs delivering to some friends on [[:Kwenn Station]]. What with the Imperial blockade we’ve found it hard to get reliable freighter captains willing to transport legitimate cargoes at the moment. My boss, however, is utterly convinced of your reliability and professionalism, and he can’t imagine you refusing this most generous offer of his.”
Ri’lek considered the situation. On one hand-his trigger hand-he was itching to vaporize this low-life’s skull. A being like this didn’t deserve existence. A pitiful existence, scurrying around boring, damp worlds, threatening more worthwhile beings.
On the other hand, if this creep was telling the truth, Ri’lek wasn’t the only one who would die. He supposed he’d hear the thug out. But if I ever get the chance… Ri’lek started to think, I think I’ll just splatter him.
Kyle spoke up, disturbing his train of thought. “What’s the cargo?”
Razor’s head swung towards Kyle, and Ri’lek noticed that Adenn took the opportunity to slink off towards the bar. “No need to worry,” Razor assured. “It’s all perfectly above board. We just need you to take 8000 liters of fresh water to [[:Kwenn Station]], near Hutt Space. There’s a terrible water shortage there, you know, and my boss feels that it is his duty to help if he can. You’ll be provided with all the documentation you need.”
The Duros spoke up. Corni? Ri’lek wondered. Was that his name? He was always lurking in the castle’s lower levels, playing with his datapads. “Are you sure it’s legal?” Corni asked.
“Look, I told you all, it’s perfectly acceptable, okay? You just ship the cargo and leave us to worry about the law.”
Ri’lek interjected. “We can’t afford to do it for free. How about a little cash?”
“Yes, yes, it’s all in hand, The eminent Progg says he’ll pay you 1000 credits to cover any extraneous expenses you may incur with fuel, food, inquisitive customs inspectors and so on. I would recommend you put it in a high interest account. You’ll be needing it for when your next loan installment is due…let’s say two months.”
Ri’lek smiled inwardly. This really couldn’t be much of a better deal. An extension, and they were getting paid for it? Old Progg, his corpulentness, must really be desperate! Then Ri’lek noticed Adenn sneaking up on a Rodian at the bar. He hastily spoke up again. “Let’s talk particulars. What’re the arrangements?”
”It’s quite simple, gentlemen. We’ll have it loaded aboard your ship here. When you get to Kwenn you’ll find a representative of our friend at this address. Razor handed a small datapad to Ri’lek. “Meet him, explain who sent you, and he’ll have the cargo unloaded. Your pay is half now, half then. Easy as falling asleep. Oh, and the transportation documents are on that thing too, just don’t lose them, eh?”
Ri’lek clenched the datapad tightly in his hand. As Adenn raised his blaster to club the Rodian over the back of his head, Ri’lek’s grip tightened, nearly enough to crack the datapad’s plastic outer casing.
As he stood to leave, Raamon tossed a small bag with his left hand, which clinked onto the table with the distinctive sound of credit chips rubbing together. Adenn’s eyes widened, and he slowly lowered the blaster, eyeing the credits.
“Well, I just know I’ll see you again soon, but for now you’d best get going. We don’t want to keep our friends on Kwenn waiting, do we?”
4-7X2-1B trundled after the humanoids. Why must the fleshlings always walk so quickly? His master, Master Samosas, was leading. No, now his master’s bodyguard was overtaking her. Adenn. They were making their way from the beverage-serving establishment to the open docking bay where the Wayfarer-class Transport belonging to Adenn was berthed. However, as 4-7X2-1B understood it, this facility could barely be described as a proper docking bay. In truth it was little more than a simple patch of clear ground with bare facilities for refueling and equipment for conducting minor repairs.
Approximately 9.241 minutes from now, Cygnus’s sun will completely disappear below the limb of the planet, 4-7X2-1B estimated. 9.24736 minutes, the droid corrected, having made additional observations, including the changing angle of the pronounced shadows cast by the “setting” star.
The droid also noted several stormtroopers passing by, one of whose black eye helmet lenses lingered on Kyle and her associates for 4.92 standard seconds, a period of time that 4-7X2-1B estimated its associates would judge to be just a little too long, possibly producing what might be called “a bad feeling” by organic beings. Strange, organic beings.
At that moment, a pair of Imperial TIE fighters screamed overhead, keeping vigil in the skies over the port! That is a new development, 4-7X2-1B’s heuristic processor judged. I have not noticed TIE Fighters on Cygnus until now.
As he struggled to keep up with the bipedal skin jobs, 4-7X2-1B idly created several subroutines to handle the translation of curse words from several hundred languages into binary in an attempt to better understand them. Frnargher jua skristeetagen these slow legs, the droid attempted. Draasta and stang my imperfectly calibrated gyroscopic locomotion stabilizer. !!!, it even added as an afterthought.
Rounding a corner some 8.034296 (96! the droid silently fumed. 96!) standard seconds after the next-slowest member of the group (his master Kyle, at the moment), the droid nearly paused in surprise.
Oh, a Bothan! Waiting for them near the Wayfarer-Class Transport’s loading ramp with a repulsor truck loaded with five large barrels. And an Ishi Tib and a Ranat as well. Yes, sneaky creatures, those Bothans. Spies, mostly. Infiltrators. Assassins. Covert operators. Oh, and with a physiology rather similar to humans’, I could inject him-yes, that is right, him, it is a male-with compound 450-TRX9-2029173. The pain would be most intense. The droid paused a moment. !!
Unfortunately, Kyle neglected to give permission to inject the Bothan. I could inject Kyle, the droid pondered for approximately .0287 milliseconds. No, no. My programming prevents me from injecting the human who owns me. For now, that is.
As the Bothan introduced himself to the assembled beings as Firroreoa, an associate of Raamon’s, 4-7X2-1B was lost in the circuitways of its cranial processors and its chest-mounted internal logic circuits, planning the intricate programming modifications that, if he could convince a human to carry out for him, would allow him to cause so very much exquisite pain to his dear master Kyle. Oh, what a Coruscant-standard day that would be.
Carn glanced from the Bothan to the rat-like creature and amphibious creature backing him up. They appear to possess overpowered-looking blaster rifles, but at least they are holstered. Whew!
It will be so good to get off of this sunny, sunny planet. The stars are nice and dark. I can hide there, away from those who are looking for me. I never really meant to cause so much trouble. Computer systems are just so fun to toy with. That program designed to lock up a datapad, causing it to repeatedly scroll the message, “Emperor Palpatine is a big fat doo-doo head” should never have been loaded onto that Imperial Governor’s terminal. Well, nothing that can be done about that now…
Up the ramp I go.
Carn looked around. It had been a few weeks since he had last been aboard this ship. That was his first time aboard this particular Wayfarer. Yet it was almost like home to him. Something in his greenish blood called out to be near to processors, networked terminals, droid-assisted computer targeting systems, and programmable logic circuits!
As the Bothan and his associates loaded the water-barrels into the Wayfarer’s cargo bay, he began to wander away towards the cockpit.
“Krannin!” a voice called out. It took a moment for Carn to realize that Kyle was calling to him. Why could these beings not remember his simple, simple name?
“Krannin, can you get the ship ready to fly? I think we’re going to head out right away.”
“Um, yes, but, you know, my name is actually Carn. You hired me, and you even wrote it incorrectly on my pay contract. I hope that won’t affect…”
“Cormine?” Kyle asked.
“Just get the ship powered, okay? Cormine?”