Sundown already in the little town of Enceri which, on the Mandalorian scale was a fairly populated commerce hub for farmers, self-produced goods from foodstuff to power cartridges, and of course some Mandalorian metal plates: beskar. People could get a suit done provided they had the right connections and were worthy of wearing the mando uniform, because it represented the highest point of accomplishment for them. They were gregarious, untamed. The clans who lived around Enceri were especially inclined to reject the Imperial presence on their planet and their leader, the Mand'alor Fenn Shysa, had bargained a deal with the previous governor that no garrison would be stationed near Enceri to preserve the social peace.
Stepping down from his speeder in a parking zone, Ori felt a knot form in his stomach as he looked at the see of colorful armored suits walking in the market street. Not one trace of white plastoid in sight, as expected. This meant that Demako didn't have the balls to stand up against Shysa on the occupation agreement and just left things in a stalemate. Ori opened the pack at the back of his bike and attached a second belt around his waist, and from it hung a piece of semi-rigid fabric that went down to knee-level. It was black with a gray lining. It had been gifted to him by Runa Zanim, Aresu's foster mother, the year he had made Captain. Ori had helped Runa's brother desert from a harsh Imperial life, stationed in the wrong place, too far from his family.
The “half skirt” was called kama in the Mandalorian language, and it was worn traditionally for protection but also to signify rank and respect. He was told to wear it proudly when walking in friendly places like Enceri where people valued etiquette and moral standards.
So he walked down the busy street trying to ignore the T-visors that stared at him. They stared deep into his soul. What are you doing here? Who do you think you are? Are you making fun of us? Some Mandalorians laughed, others shook their heads and kept walking. The 'usual place' designated by Mereel was a small inn near the end of town.
When he got in the dim lobby, loud cacophonous music was blasting from the back room even though there was only a handful of patrons currently consuming drinks or food. They all turned away from their occupations to look at him, and almost immediately a group of heavily built Mandalorians arrived. Here we go.
They were three. Wore red, blue, yellow and even orange armor plating with different patterns. Some parts made no sense at all. Hand-me-downs, Ori deducted. He hadn't come to Enceri in the last season and these guys must've returned home from a long tour of hunting, or trading.
“You got some nerve, Whitey,” said the one in the middle, obviously the tough guy of the group, forty-something. He had a mean scar barely missing his left eye. “There's no beskar for you to steal here. So go back to your little boyscout camp and maybe get some colors before you make your show.”
“And some balls,” added the one with the mostly orange paint job.
Ori didn't have to deal with them, he was here to retrieve the package from the safe and leave. But he couldn't defect from his duty as an Imperial soldier, and not taking any shit was part of his training.
“I'll make sure to bring the crayons and play dough but for now,” he stepped even closer to the scarred man, almost touching him, “get out of my way.”
The thuggish mando had a movement of repulsion and instinctively poked an index against Ori's chestplate, about to spew something about personal space but he squirmed in pain. Ori grabbed his hand and pulled sharply, extending the arm to have access to the unarmored, vulnerable armpit area. He struck the man and locked his arm backward, pushed his head down and ended up pinning him to the ground with his knee cap against the bald head. The man shouted complaints in surprise and humiliation. Ori looked up to see two blaster barrels directed to his head.
“Tell your friends to put their weapons down,” he growled, twisting the wrist a little harder.
“Okay, OKAY! Stop!” the pinned man begged, and Ori let the other two pick their friend up. Heaving, his face boiling with rage. “You made your point, trooper. What do you want here?”
Ori took a deep breath to regain composure. Even if he wore full body armor and a helmet, any lack of confidence, any sign of weakness was visible on the outside.
“Nothing to do with you. Don't make me repeat myself.”
A gloved hand came poking one of the Mandalorians and they all turned to see who it was, interfering in their showdown. A rather tall female clad in red and gold armor, helmet on, stood there in silence. Bald one seemed to know her and immediately adjusted his behavior.
“Oh, we were just messing around with our new friend here. Ain't that right?”
The others nodded with forced smiles.
“Back to your drinks, gentlemen,” she said through her speaker, and all three of the men obediently went to the noise-filled back room.
Ori heard them mutter Empire scum as they walked away but didn't make note of it. The Mandalorian woman turned her visor to him.
“And you... When will you learn to take that bucket off and show some humility?”
He tilted his head to one side and held his hands in front of him, staring down the owner of the inn. He remembered that her name was Tenja.
“You have your reasons to wear that buyce, and I have mine.” He prided himself in correctly pronouncing words in mando'a. “It's a pleasure to see you again, Tenja.”
“Save it, boy. Next time you get in trouble with my nephews I'm making you pick up the pieces.”
With that she left and he pondered what she could have meant by that. He got to the counter and an old service droid greeted him with a beep. Ori handed it his ID chip. The droid turned and opened a small secured locker. He was handed a thin envelope with his ID back. The flimsi enveloped contained a small data stick that he could fit in a belt pouch and examine later. It was nearly time to head back to base for him.
On his walk back to his speeder he had to cut through the market place again. People wearing work aprons were wrapping up their displays, giving him scornful looks as he walked by. His eyes stopped on one shopkeeper that was sitting next to rows of wooden carvings. It was a child, ten or nine years old, maybe. He was bent over a datapad, idly playing a game or reading. Ori wasn't even close to him yet that he heard a giggle and another kid appeared behind the display, she wore a basic set of plates like those made for young warriors. She took an item and ran off, laughing her heart out. The shopkeeper yelled Hey! and ran after her.
The young thief ran down the street, zig-zagging between armored pedestrians. The little curly red-haired girl shot a look over her shoulder which led her directly into Ori's legs. He grabbed her by the arms, seeing that she had taken a small sculpture of a four-legged animal known as Bordok.
"Let me go!" she squealed, trying to kick him in the shins.
Ori said nothing and waited for the shopkeeper to arrive, a weary expression on his face as if he had been doing this kind of thing for ages. His hair was buzzed short like a soldier.
"See what happens, Amali? When you don't pay for things, the bad guys will find you."
Releasing the girl, Ori gave the sculpture to the boy and she ran off, probably about to tell on him.
"Need a new job?" the kid asked cockily.
"You seem to have everything under control."
"Not really. Since Amali got her beskar on she won't stop taunting me. I'm wasting my time here."
"Girls can be cruel. Especially when they like you."
He raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"What do you know about girls?"
Ori turned the question over in his mind and realized that his past experiences with females had been more imaginary than real. And talking to a younger man made him feel wise enough to give life lessons, but it was wishful thinking. Mandalorian kids matured sooner than most.
"How can I help you with your armor situation?" he said, deciding to change the subject.
"There's nothing anyone can do. The armor has to be earned, I must pass the trials when I turn twelve and then my buir will give it to me."
"You carve figurines to pass the time, then?"
His round face turned grim.
"It's the only way I know to make credits. My father died last year and my mother is too busy on the farm to give me any training." He swatted the air with his hand. "Why am I even talking to you? The Empire doesn't care about us. All you want is our beskar."
He returned to his shop and retrieved the wooden animals and space ships from the shelves. And Ori felt the need to do something for this poor kid.
"How much for the Tauntaun?"
"I don't do business with the Empire," he replied without looking at him.
"My name is Ori Dohagh." He took a credit chip from his belt pouch. "And I'm buying this Tauntaun figure from you because I like smelly snow creatures."
The boy looked at the credits in his hand and his jaw dropped.
"You can take all of them for so much. And my shop."
Ori took the wooden biped and stared at it pensively. In his first biology class on Coruscant, his first assignment was to make a report about the Tauntaun. The sculpture was surprisingly accurate even though it was rough and poorly detailed.
"Spend it wisely," he said, pointing at the money.
"You're weird, you know that?"
He took it as a compliment. Back at the vehicle parking lot he saw a crowd of helmets and weapons gathered around his speeder bike. He recognized the orange paint job of the bald "nephew" from Tanja's inn. He had way more friends with him now, at least five. Ori hung his head and sighed.
"Alright." Placing the Tauntaun figurine on the sidewalk, he slung his blaster off from his back and stood ready for a second showdown. "Let's do this."
They stalked him in a circle, wielding metal rods, clubs, charged prodding sticks. Killing an Imperial officer was punishable at the highest sentence, so Ori knew he had nothing to lose but his pride.
And of course he didn't know why he thought that way. He was outnumbered - obviously - and overpowered by better trained, stronger and more ruthless fighters. Their plated fists made deep dents into his white plastoid armor and he sorely felt each punch down to his bones. Air smacked out of his lungs and he felt iron in his mouth. He was on the ground in five seconds, driven to a point where all he could do was curl up in fetal position and wait for it to be over. As he endured the treatment, his mind went to the time when, as a kid, he would get into fights in school because kids didn't know better. They didn't have the verbal tools to sort things out.
He thought about raising a hand to say stop. We can talk this over. I'm on your side. But his mouth was filled with blood and he had to spit it in a downward direction or else it would stain the inside of his visor, rendering him blind and messing up the instruments. A minute passed, and the rows of hits stopped. They knew he was alive, their scanners would have told him if otherwise. They were just waiting for him to move again.
Ori slowly got up, coughing up in his helmet and making a long stain of red on his chestplate. His instinct screamed punctured lung but he refused to show any sign of panic. Strangely, they let him go to his speeder and he heard the nephew's voice in his back.
"Never show yourself here again, Imperial."
His brain went in survival mode. If after a few minutes he wasn't in a safe place, where he could pass out from the adrenaline crash without getting mauled again, then he could very well die, very soon. He managed to drive far enough from Enceri and found a farmstead. He stopped his speeder and got off of it, walked towards what looked like a barn or storage house which could work as a temporary shelter. The farm seemed empty, for now.
And there it was, the adrenaline crash. He distracted himself with the datachip left for him by Mereel. He didn't have his data reader with him, though.
Total darkness was replaced by a bright light, and he only registered a burning sensation in his chest. He was lying on a medical table and a face partially hidden behind a surgical mask looked down on him. The man had blue eyes and sandy blond hair, he recognized him.
"Welcome back, Ori. Relax, we're taking care of you."
He blinked in response, feeling a tube going down his throat, directing air into the functioning side of his lungs. Looking over to what was going on with his ribcage he tried to lift his head up but they had strapped him down to the table.
Bardan Jusik laid a hand on his forehead and he lost grasp of consciousness.