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Chapter 04

The Brown Bolt, Middle City, Taris. Day 4

Eevy picked her seat at the side of the bar that allowed her to watch the door and tried to seem busy with her ordered meal to prevent any bored intruders to come near her. But obviously that was hoping for too much on this planet. She saw a tall man stand beside her with a glass of amber liquid.

"Is this seat taken, ma'am?"

"I recognize that tone."

She focused her left eye on the person that was now sitting on that side of her: hazel-hair, green eyes and a strong jaw bone, quite developed attributes for a young man. The skin on his face and hands was pale.

"Then we share a sense for observation."

She flared her nostrils at the sergeant, now wearing a plain black outfit that showed no sign of faction. He was so bland that staring any longer was a waste of time.

"I didn't know troopers could go undercover."

"They don't," he said quietly before sipping his drink. She was ready to bet that it was iced tea. "But most never know when to take a break."

"Interesting." She pushed her plate aside and turned around to face him. "Does your break involve traveling half a district to get a drink?"

He smiled, completely undisturbed. "I'm knew around here, so I thought I could use you as a guide to find the best places. How is the counseling business going?"

She used her right eye to watch the entrance. It was bright outside despite the sparse rainfall.

"I'm about to meet a client right now."

"Here? I'd expect something more adequate. Like on the Upper City."

"My client likes the shade."

"Interesting."

Heavy footsteps got her attention back at the door and she was caught off guard by a fully-equipped Mandalorian that stood right next to her, his black visor directed towards her new acquaintance. Eevy lost control of her cool and hassled with words.

"Ah! You're here. I was just talking about you to…"

The Imperial extended his hand to Bardan. "Sulen Korrado."

Their masked guest showed no intent to shake hands and just turned to Eevy. "Your assistant?"

"Potential client," Korrado - if that was really his name - replied. "I'm interested in some legal advice as well."

Eevy would have never thought of Bardan as a particularly fearsome individual when she witnessed his careless demeanor a few days ago. Something must have happened. He stared the man down and extended his own hand.

"Gotab," he said. "What do you do, mister Korrado?"

"What do I do?"

"Yes." Bardan rested an elbow on the bar to lean forward. "What is your area of expertise?"

"Imports," he said after a pause. "Especially the running kind."

So he was able to deal with Mandalorians, Eevy thought. Most people just went nervous and ran away.

"Let's take a walk," Bardan hissed as he turned around. "It was a pleasure, mister Korrado."

Eevy followed him out on the streets and found it hard to keep up with him until they arrived at a square. She could feel his irritation.

"He trailed me from the spaceport."

"That was a cop. Ex-CSF, to be precise." He looked around them, scanning the entire area. "We need to relocate."

Eevy had the impression to be arguing with a non-human that acted more alien than she was. "There are Imperials everywhere now, you can't ask me to find anywhere safer than here. The Lower City is a dump--"

"Things got complicated." They went to a public bench in the square garden and sat casually while talking. "How much implication do you have with that Korrado?"

"He watches over my ship. I help him find fugitives in return." She avoided his stare. "That came out wrong, didn't it?"

"You do what you have to do, Eevy," sighed the man under the helmet. "I trust Kal's judgment and how he deals with people."

They watched a patrol of two soldiers in grey uniform with black helmets and boots passing in front of them without either looking around.

"But if you cross me," added Bardan quietly, "even accidentally…"

"None of that will happen," she snapped. "What kind of trouble are you in?"

He leaned against the seat. "The juvenile kind. We found a stray in the lower level, a Force sensitive, she might be of some use to us."

"Is that why your female partner isn't here?"

He nodded.

She watched the troopers walk away in the distance. "I fear that you've put yourself in your own misery. These Imperials aren't here for occupation, they're obviously waiting for something bound to happen soon."

He checked his chrono and she wondered what was going on under that helmet. The more she interacted with masked people the more she felt the importance of facial expressions.

"Is there anything I should know?" she asked.

"As much as I'd like you to be in the loop, I'm afraid not."

Eevy rolled her eyes with irritation; that game of deception he was playing wasn't new to her and even if she understood the stakes there were things that she needed to know in order to take extra caution in her next moves.

"There isn't much I can hold under the radar now," he continued as if answering a silent question, "so you need to shake that detective off your tail."

"I understand. And he's not on an official assignment, I first saw him doing checkpoints in a Stormtrooper suit."

"He must be really bored. Or ambitious." Bardan got up and casually stretched his arms. "Thanks for letting me know, I'll keep an eye out."

She watched him leave without a wave or acknowledgement, and she stayed a few minutes longer before walking away.

Korrado was surely gone now, on his way to take notes of what he heard and saw. Eevy cursed herself for acting so friendly with the trooper in the first place, while she had known that it would lead to potential trouble it had seemed like the right call at the time. And Bardan had told her about a Force sensitive subject, a Jedi. That translated into things of a much larger proportion than she had expected. Was he a bounty hunter waiting to collect a prize for turning the fugitive in before letting the authorities know?

If that was the case, she wouldn't need to be here very much longer. And in that perspective she would have to negotiate a cut of that hypothetical bounty. But if he had told a lie to see what she would do about it then he could wait.

Eevy took the habit to look over her shoulder every two minutes while flying to her hotel, mindful of any human in green armor or black outfits. She had every reason to feel paranoid with Imperials, Mandalorians and now Jedi in her entourage.

Sliding the key card into the lock panel she sighed and entered her room, ready to lie down and nap for an hour. As she closed the door behind her there was the whistling sound of a charging power cell and the click of a safety switch. She felt cold metal on the back of her head.

"How was that meeting, Eevy Tolod?"

Two Stormtroopers came out of the lobby beside Korrado who held her at gunpoint. She cussed in thought of the careless mistakes she may have done, possibly leaving financial tracks. How could anyone not be able to track down a Mon Cal around here?

"You have no right to threaten me," she said, still wearing her legal counselor hat.

"I beg to differ, ma'am. But the moment I saw that you were connected to the likes of a Mandalorian it suddenly came to me that I know of another fish-lady that worked for a certain, let's say… mercenary type."

"You're mistaken."

"And you know Kal Skirata. Now tell me the name of that other client of yours."

"Or else?"

His arm started to lose its strength and he held the gun at chest level. "Or I'm placing you under Imperial arrest," he continued, "for interfering with an investigation."

As he signaled to his colleagues she let the Stormtroopers restrain her. Eevy was terrible at hand-to-hand combat, that was a reason why she preferred flying.

"I liked you better with the helmet on, young man."

And so that was the end of her freedom, she thought to herself. Soon the sergeant found her set of fake identifications, her gun and her cash credits inside her room. While they took her outside to their transport she already grieved for the life that she had worked so hard to put together.

It was a small dimly lit room with just a durasteel table and two chairs. Eevy stared at the door waiting for someone that would probably try to beat answers out of her or cut a deal if she was lucky. She heard voices coming from another room which meant that the walls weren't soundproofed, and by that, this wasn't exactly a security center. Unable to shake the restrains off she drummed her claws on the table the way she had seen the young female do at the Brown Bolt. Humans were sensitive to human-like behaviors.

When the door opened and Korrado came in she caught a glimpse of another person that was wearing black and it sent a shiver down her spine. Some people just smelled wrong. She felt relieved that it was Korrado that started the interrogation and she answered his questions without any second thoughts, eager to get out of that place as soon as she could and maybe gain some immunity on the way. If the Mandalorians were as good as their reputation they wouldn't mind. She was a merc after all, and her survival outranked everything else.

"Where am I exactly?" she asked.

"In a temporary satellite camp," Korrado said, shutting his datapad off. "Doesn't look like much but it fills its purpose."

"So once you find Jusik and Zanim I'll be free to go…"

He snorted. "Your cooperation was much appreciated, Eevy. In fact we're going to let you go today if you're ready to lead us to them, in exchange of payment of course."

She took a moment to turn the thought over or make him believe so.

"I'll do it. But I doubt it'll work, if you're right about Jusik being a Jedi then he'll sense me coming from miles away."

"No need to worry about Jusik, we'll center on the woman to begin with and the rest will play itself out."

Eevy took a long inspiration; she had liked the girl Runa because she was young and so clueless about most things in the business. It was a condescending liking and very unlike her to think about her clients in that way.

They left her in the room for the following hours of the day and she got started on her next plan.

Enceri, Mandalore

The particularity of being in the army - well, not exactly the Army, he was a Stormtrooper and answered to a different chain of command - was that you were shaped to be like every one of your fellow soldiers. An army of one in the sense that all looked, acted and thought as one. Ori had hassled with the concept for a long time, but not that much.

Now he felt more alien and different than ever on this planet where every warrior here customized his or her armor, acted and thought according to their own beliefs and personalities. Ori had none, or he had never cared enough to give any thought into it. Sitting in a diner among the Mandalorians felt strangely inviting even if he was wearing a disguise that the clone named Fi had fixed up for him.

The dark skinned man with grey and red armor chatted casually with his wife, the woman with braided hair called Parja and that seemed to know a lot about engineering. Ori tried to keep his head down in their booth in case an idle gaze would notice that he wasn't wearing the regulation beskar plates and had no weapons. Fi and Parja hadn't trusted him enough to let him carry his blaster. Besides, the Empire Issued Blastech E-11 was far too noticeable regardless of its weakness or efficiency against the locals' means of defense.

They were joined by another mando wearing a blue set of armor and that revealed himself to be another clone. He was a customization of his own self: bleached streaks of hair and green-colored eye lenses.

"It's nice to see that not all the womprats fled from the sail barge," he said letting himself fall in the barely cushioned seat.

"We know no fear," comically replied Fi. "Let's introduce you to our new asset."

Ori nodded to the new clone - he just couldn't get around to seeing them as their own person yet.

"Mereel," he said. "You got something that might interest us, ner vod?"

"TK-Zero-Two-Four, but you can call me Ori. I came across one of your friends one day and she ended up having my private link."

The clone called Mereel raised a dark eyebrow at him. "They let you sympathize with the enemy in the Empire?"

"We get leave time."

He burst out in laughter, slapping the wooden table but none of the other patrons seemed to care. Ori wanted to hide under his seat.

"The military, these days…!"

"Hear him out," said Fi. "He actually wanted Runa to contact him one day."

"Yeah," added Parja. "Looks like someone beat you at the chasing game."

Mereel shook his head in disbelief and brought his attention back at Ori. "Too bad she left the system with Bardan. The little genius has her wrapped all around him if you ask me so there are absolutely no chances for you, trooper boy. None at all. Unless you were a little less ugly and had super powers. It doesn't look good at all for you. Nah, no dice."

Fi was smiling up to his ears but handed him Ori's comlink. "Just tell us what kind of transmissions these work with, we still need to get her brother out of Cannon Fodder School."

The fake-blond clone examined the electronics with the dexterity and ease of a highly qualified expert. Ori thought he'd faint when he cracked the casing open like it was a nut shell.

"Oh yeah, I recognize these."

"Couldn't you have said that before you tore it apart?" complained Ori.

"Settle down, newbie. I got the link chip right here, see? I'll make you a new one, don't you worry."

"It was supposed to be a secure line…"

"Now it will be even more secured, thanks to your new friends."

Parja shook her head with apparent disgust. "I just found him in my living room with a dead chakaar, Fi was the one who wanted to keep him."

"So what do you say, Mer'ika. We let Runa know that her true love is here waiting?"

He flashed his white teeth with triumph. "I say, let's do this!"

The general idea, if Ori got it straight, was to put his comlink to good use for Runa - he knew her name now - since she wanted to take her brother away from what seemed to be the Imperial Stormtrooper training grounds on planet Carida. Ori perfectly remembered that place, he hated it but missed it at the same time. Things were simple over there: you either survived your training or… Well he didn't wish to have to go again.

But of course, he was never lucky with wishes.

"So how much osik does it take for an Imperial Staff Sergeant to make a private go straight back to training?"

"I guess a lot, just push the kid around, and stop when he pukes."

"How about we do it outside then…"

Fi and Mereel took him out in the woods with a tool box and other things he didn't dare look at too closely. They walked about a mile in the cold, foggy weather outside Keldabe.

"Okay now," Mereel opened his box and shook a canister that made a weird sound. "Take your pants off."

"He means get naked," corrected Fi.

If there was an episode of his life that Ori would rather forget, it wouldn't be his first day at the Imperial Academy, or his first date at the Coruscant School Promotion party, and not even the costume his mother made him wear for his fifth birthday.

This was worse.

Screaming, flailing, and generally making an utter fool out of himself he streaked down the muddy roads of the Mandalorian capital. Every T-slit visor that looked at him, every laugh was a sting but he thought of his mission: no stopping when you were running naked with paint sprayed all over you, keep going until it was worth it.

His voice had gone rough in his throat and it became painful to breathe and walk because the mud was icy cold and he couldn't feel most of his extremities. Yes, that was the worst.

He stormed into the Imperial Recruitment Center and even the guarding soldiers and Stormtroopers laughed, moving out of his way because he was too dirty or they didn't want to get any paint on their uniform. Ori couldn't blame them. Oh, how he missed his shiny immaculate armor…

Someone put him out of his misery with a solid strike to the back of the head and he found peace in unconsciousness for the second time.

He was in a medical ward when he woke up. The droid in his room was doing something unrelated to him and didn't even ask what had happened to him.

"Your concussion has instructed me to put you in a lying position," said the emotionless voice of the droid. "We have prescribed a complete tune up to remediate your mental conditions, TK-Zero-Two-Four."

"Great…" he sighed.

He had no belongings in that ward except the datapad that contained his transfer order, which was a standing order, actually. Ori picked it up and proceeded to his old quarters to find his fatigues. At fifteen hundred hours everyone was on duty and he was left with his transfer order, and people didn't acknowledge him at the base. Without the paint and the nakedness he was a nobody. Somehow the idea made him chuckle to himself.

A passing lieutenant in green drab uniform stopped to look at him because of the suspicious sounds he made.

"Private?"

Ori stood to, flat hand across his chest in salute and looked at a precise ninety degree angle. "Sir!"

"What are you doing so far away from your company, trooper?"

"I… was on my way to take my duty leave, sir. It's on these orders, medical reasons due to--"

"Alright, consider yourself on leave then. Dismissed."

"Sir! Thank you, sir."

The young lieutenant waved him off and walked away. Ori smiled to himself feeling like he had planted a bomb in a candy factory and it was raining sweets.

He took one of the old Aratech speeders out for a stroll, wearing his full Storm gear, feeling like a new man. First because he had taken a shower and he could feel all of his limbs again, and also the armor was like a second skin to him. Maybe certain plates pinched him in the wrong spots but they served their purpose.

Reaching Enceri within ten minutes thanks to the hyper power of the Aratech engines, he managed to get up to the same diner as that morning.

"Well, look at you, shiny!" Fi greeted him with the local hand-to-elbow clasp, behind the building where this sort of meeting wouldn't raise any attention.

Mereel walked up to him and patted his shoulder plate. "This suits you better than the worm disguise." He gave him the modified comlink. "Take care of this, Ori. If you succeed in this completely insane task, you might have a tiny chance to win your girl's good favors."

"Well that's way better than absolutely nothing."

"The worm," Fi laughed. "Quite the allegory for computer hacking, don't you think? If you can't infiltrate them virtually…"

"Yeah, yeah," interrupted Ori. "I get the idea."

"You sound tired," Mereel said with faked concern. "And you need a tan, shiny whitey. I was there… I've seen everything."

They laughed, and Ori himself couldn't help it either.

"You watch yourself out there, vod." Fi said. "I'd hate to have to collect your tallies in Imperial territory."

"I will, and… vor entye."

Mereel nodded respectfully and touched two fingers to his helmet as he got back on the speeder bike. It was a long shot, perhaps the greatest risk he was taking in his entire career. Because deciding to become an elite soldier while most of your childhood friends were better off thieving and working at a desk wasn't all that special anymore. Ori had to be somebody now, and it mattered to a few people at least.


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