The Kessel Hustle
Bursa lay in the audience chamber of her palace by a table surrounded by crime bosses from around the galaxy. The table was projecting an image of a ship component; the cloaking device. Guards stood scattered around the room, each there to protect his or her boss. Bursa sat and smiled as the crime bosses studied the holographic projection.
“As you can see it’s one of a kind,” Bursa announced to the assembled party. “Not only is it invisible to all Imperial sensors; it cannot be seen by the naked eye. “But before we start the bidding, some entertainment has been arranged.”
A stage in front of Bursa lit up as spotlights shone down on it. Smoke filled the stage floor and covered the area. A hole opened in the floor and a shadowy figure came up from it. She was tall, and dressed in a slave girl’s outfit. Her dancing took her all over the stage, through the clearing fog. She ended with her back to the audience and the fog cleared completely away. Then, the dancer turned.
“That’s a man!” one of the Human crime bosses shouted. From the stage, Nic White laughed.
“Bursa can tell you how hard it is to find a good female dancer who’s willing to do anything,” he said. The crime bosses looked to Bursa, who shook her head slowly. Seeing his advantage of surprise being removed, Nic reached into the bra cups of the outfit he’d been wearing and retrieved a small domelike object and a gas mask. The dome was tossed to the table with the holoprojector and Nic fastened the mask over his face.
The dome sparked and shot out bursts of green gas all around the room. The gas dispersed quickly and its audience stared at it in confusion. Guns were withdrawn and aimed at Nic, who took a step back.
“Out of all the grenades in that box she picks the dud,” he grumbled.
“That’s the last mistake...” Bursa rumbled. “Last... you’ll... Rancor...”
Almost in unison, Bursa and her guests collapsed. Nic looked around and scratched his head in confusion. Then it donned on him.
“Oh, it was a time delay gas,” he said, nodding. He turned and looked to where Jana was just appearing on stage. Seeing her grin, he frowned and accused, “You picked that one on purpose.”
“Of course I did,” Jana answered. “Care for an explanation?”
“As to why you had to scare me out of my skin?” Nic clarified. “By all means.”
“I thought you wanted me to wear that,” she said, gesturing to the slave girl’s costume. “And you led me on about it... right up until you put it on. For that, I saw fit to give you a bit of a scare.”
“Heh... you’d have filled this up,” Nic chuckled, tugging at the top half of the slave girl’s outfit. “Where’d you have put the grenade and mask?”
“Would’ve worn the mask and carried the grenade,” Jana explained. Nic shrugged.
“Well,” he said, “you’d just better face facts: you don’t have the legs to pull this off anyway.”
Jana’s tense smile was the first thing that alerted Nic of danger. He realized that Jana was the danger when her hand sailed in and slapped his head to the right.
“You give me the scare of my life an’ then you still wanna beat me up,” he complained, rubbing his cheek.
“The scare was for leading me on,” Jana reminded him. “The slap was for the ‘legs’ comment. Now can we please get going?”
Nic nodded and looked down at a small panel in front of the slug-like alien. He moved to stand over the panel and pressed a few buttons. The wall behind Jana slid open, revealing a moderate sized safe. Jana turned to face it and Nic walked over to join her. Next to the safe was a hand scanner.
“Oh, great,” Jana grumped. “A Hutt hand needed with the Hutt clear over there.” She gestured to Bursa. “I don’t think we’ll be able to move her over here.”
“Who said anything about moving it?” Nic asked, turning back to Bursa. He took his knife from Jana and walked over to unconscious the Hutt. He took her arm and placed it on the table.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Jana muttered. Though she knew he was serious, she had to beg, “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“It’ll grow back,” Nic answered defensively as he raised his knife.
“I’m more concerned with what I’ll loose than what the Hutt will get back,” Jana muttered.
“Chicken,” Nic mocked as he slashed his knife down, straight through the Hutt’s arm. Jana winced and Nic took the Hutt’s hand by the wrist. Jana turned away as he dropped the dismembered hand on the scanner pane with a thump. Light came out of the pane as the hand was scanned. She turned back to the safe at the sound of bolts being withdrawn from the door. Another wince as Nic tossed the hand away over his shoulder and then Jana pulled the door open.
In the safe, they found a hover dolly loaded with the cloaking device. It was surprisingly small for such a powerful device; only the size of a person, the cylindrical device would be easy to move, especially if they took the hover dolly too.
“C’mon,” Jana said, tugging at the dolly. “Let’s get out of here before they wake up.”
“I need to get changed first,” Nic said. “Get the dolly out of the safe while I’m away... oh, and grab the Hutt hand. I want a souvenir.”
“You’d better be joking, White,” Jana hissed. When she saw his grin, she rolled her eyes. “Get changed, Jerk. I’ll be waiting.”
As he walked away, he heard her mutter, “More money than we’ve ever pulled in at once and he wants a souvenir...”
Nic and Jana walked into a cantina of the sort they’d found themselves in frequently; it was dirty and filled with unscrupulous characters. But they didn’t come to these places for the décor or company. They came for business.
After the two mercenaries took the cloaking device to Carmen’s private star-dock, she directed them to another contact in the Ryloth district of Nar Shaddaa. The journey didn’t take too long as the Ryloth and Corellia districts where on the same continents of the Smugglers’ Moon.
Nic and Jana browsed the room, looking for a middle-aged man with a silver star pendant on his jacket. The room was filled with mainly filled with Twi’leki but there were a few other species scattered around. After a few moments of fruitless searching, Nic turned to Jana.
“We need to split up,” he suggested. Jana nodded and turned to go, but Nic stopped her. “Don’t get into any trouble,” he told her.
“Yeah, sure I won’t,” she said, nodding dismissively.
“I mean it, Short Stuff,” Nic insisted. “This guy wants people who can do things subtle. Got it?”
“Ok, fine, I’ll be good,” she said, almost jokingly. Then, she pushed past Nic’s arm. They split in two different directions, pushing their ways through the crowd. Nic pushed his way down to the bar and looked along both sides for the contact. He wasn’t at the bar, but Nic decided to order a drink. The Twi’lek slave-girl behind the bar brought him the drink and he took a sip.
He turned around, scanning the crowd for the contact, but in the many, many sentient creatures all around the bar, he could not see him and had lost sight of Jana as well. The scanning continued until a voice spoke up to his right.
“You look like a man who’s lost something,” the voice said. Nic to turned and saw a middle-aged man, a pilot by his clothing. His jacket had sported the silver star Carmen had predicted. Nic grinned and faced the bar again.
“I’m more a man who’s been lookin’ for something and not yet found it,” he said, “but it looks like I just did. Carmen sent me.”
“I thought that might be the case,” the pilot chuckled. “She told me to look for, and I quote, ‘the guy who looks like he hasn’t slept in days’. I’m Cranston and forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.”
“Can’t blame you,” Nic offered helpfully. “Can’t much say I’m flattered by Carmen’s description of me either, but...”
“But it fits,” Cranston interrupted. He glanced around. “I was told to expect two.”
“That’ll be my partner, Jana,” Nic said. He turned again to the crowd, this time looking for Jana. He heard a defiant yell and knew exactly where to look. A heavy Trandoshan male crashed into a table nearby and Nic stared at him for a moment before turning back to Cranston. “Interesting... I’m not sure where she is.”
“That’s her,” Cranston said, gesturing to Jana, who’d clearly been the source of the Trandoshan’s sudden flight. “Carmen described a short punk of a girl with an attitude.”
“Attitude comes and goes,” Nic said quickly. “She’s mostly harmless.”
“So I see,” Cranston murmured, thoroughly unconvinced. Jana came over and sat down.
“I see you found him,” she said. Nic nodded and sighed.
“Jana, this is Cranston,” he said. “Cranston, here you see my partner, Jana... unfortunately.”
“You didn’t hear the idiot,” Jana said defensively. “Had you been capable, you’d have thrown him through a table too.”
“Booth, now,” Cranston muttered. The two mercenaries dutifully followed him to a side booth to talk in relative privacy. Once they were seated, Cranston said, “After what I’ve seen, I’m sorry Carmen directed you to me.”
“Now that’s a little unfair against Jana, mister,” Nic protested. “She’s just a little... sensitive sometimes.”
“A little?” Cranston demanded, an edge to his voice. “She threw a Trandoshan into a table. A Trandoshan! They’re no pushovers.”
“It’s not my fault I know some of their language,” Jana protested. “What would you have done if you overheard somebody putting you on the level of a gravel maggot?”
Cranston fell silent for a moment. “I probably would have shot him.”
“See?” Jana exclaimed. “My solution’s just a lot harder... and more painful.”
“Since she dislocated his arm to throw ‘im,” Nic explained to Cranston. The man nodded.
“Alright,” he said. “So here’s the deal: my employer is a slaver and an Imperial informant. He is scum of the worst kind and I want to bring him down. The thing is I can’t do it alone, he knows me, so I need some external assistants.”
“That’s where we come in,” Nic elaborated.
“Yes,” Cranston agreed. “You see, like all men in his position he is greedy and dishonest.”
“Sound’s like the perfect mark,” Jana said using confidence trickster
“Precisely,” Cranston answered. “Now I have managed to get some fake papers... papers that could be misinterpreted as the deeds to some Glitterstim mines on Kessel. To put it simply, I want you to sell these papers to him for what they would be worth if they were real.”
“A moderate fortune,” told Jana. Cranston nodded.
“Obviously these papers, although fake, cost me a lot of money,” he went on, “so
the payoff is going to be a even fifty-fifty split between me and you two.”
“That’s not even,” Jana objected. “Should be split three ways as there are two of us.”
“Look, my part doesn’t stop with getting these papers,” Cranston said, eyes narrowing. “I’m the one who is going to get you in with my boss. I’m the one who will get you out before he realizes the papers aren’t worth kung.”
“Alright,” Nic said, nodding. “It’s a deal... but what kind of credits are we looking at?”
“One hundred thousand credits,” Cranston said, his seriousness finally cracking as he grinned. The mercenaries grinned with him and Nic leaned forward.
“So,” he said, “when do we begin?”
Cranston drove Nic and Jana in his personal speeder toward the tallest building in the commercial district. It stood over the surrounding buildings and seemed out of place on the Smugglers’ Moon. It seemed to be made entirely of glass and was topped by an enormous lighted dome.
Nic and Jana had abandoned their customary attire for this job; both were in business suits. Cranston had supplied these, explaining that, if the con were to have any chance of success, they would have to look the part. As the speeder approached Nic looked nervously at Cranston.
“I don’t like going in unarmed,” he complained. Cranston shook his head.
“The building in full of scanners,” he explained. “You take a gun in there and you’ll be lying face down on the floor with your hands tied behind your back and a gun on your skull before you can say, ‘Oh, this was a bad idea’.”
“And don’t forget you’ve always got me,” Jana added.
“Well, I’d prefer to have Betsy with me,” Nic sighed. Cranston frowned.
“Who’s Betsy?” he wondered. Jana grinned.
“Betsy is Nic’s gun,” she informed Cranston. He frowned.
“You named your gun?” he asked Nic incredulously. Nic turned to Jana.
“Why does everybody react that way?” he whined. Jana giggled and said nothing.
The speeder slid into a small speeder garage near the top of the skyscraper and parked near an entrance to the building. The three con artists got out of the speeder and walked into a long corridor. Cranston led them through the corridor to an elevator, which took them up to a floor just under the lighted dome. This was Haynes’ secretary’s office. She waved them through to the office.
“... If they’re not in the spaceport by tomorrow consider your contract cancelled and your life.” Haynes was saying into a personal communicator. Having said this, he tossed the communicator aside and looked over at Nic, Jana, and Cranston.
“Cranston, I thought I told you to wait with the secretary,” he snapped. “Now, go back out so Olivia has something more to do than sit there and look pretty.”
“As you wish,” Cranston said, bowing slightly. He led Nic and Jana back out into Olivia’s office and told her, “The Boss wants you to introduce us.”
Olivia flinched and stood. Knocking hesitantly on Haynes’ office door, she opened it and announced loudly, “Cranston and Mr. and Mrs. White are here to see you, sir.”
“Send them in,” Haynes ordered. Olivia stepped aside and Cranston stepped forward, but Jana held him back for a moment.
“Mrs. White?” she hissed. Cranston stared at his boss and nodded.
“Play along, you idiot,” he muttered back. “White, get your jaw off the floor. We’re going in.”
He stepped forward into the office and a very shocked Nic and Jana followed him. Their expressions caused Haynes to frown.
“Is something wrong with them, Cranston?” he asked. “They don’t look at all well.”
“Oh, n-no,” Jana managed to reply. She forced a smile. “It’s just... well, we’re newlyweds, sir. It strikes us both a mite strange to be referred to as Mr. and Mrs.”
“Reasonable explanation,” Haynes muttered. “Have a seat. Cranston, leave now.”
Cranston turned around and left the room as Nic and Jana sat in the chairs before Haynes’ desk.
“So down to business,” Haynes said. “My man Cranston tells me you have an offer I can’t refuse.”
“Yes,” Nic agreed. “Me and my...” he glanced at Jana for a second before turning back to Haynes, “... darling wife have recently inherited a couple of expansive pieces of property.”
“You’ve heard of Kessel, I presume,” Jana said.
“The spice mines,” the tycoon retorted, “who hasn’t?”
“We have two deeds,” Nic went on. “Each one is to a Glitterstim mine and we are willing to sell.”
“I can’t say I’m not interested,” Haynes mused. “But I need to ask; why sell them?”
“We have neither the money or manpower to even think about mining the spice ourselves,” Jana answered.
“And we have no connections within the Empire,” Nic added. “And that would make it all the more difficult to get through all the ‘red tape’.”
Haynes stood up and looked away out the window behind the desk, considering the offer. Slowly and deliberately, he turned and leaned over his desk to look directly into Nic’s eyes.
“I’ll give you fifty thousand credits for them,” he offered.
“Put a one in front of that and then we’ll think of it,” Jana bartered.
“One fifty?” Haynes growled. “You’re mad. Seventy-five.”
“I can tell you now we ain’t going any lower than a hundred thousand,” Nic said abruptly. Haynes stood back up and turned again to the window.
“You have a deal, White,” he said slowly. Nic and Jana grinned until he added, “But, I will need to check this out.”
If Haynes had been looking, he would have seen the frustration and shock on the two con-artists’ faces. But when he turned back to the pair, they displayed an air of confidence.
“Of course,” Nic said, nodding his head obligingly. “I wouldn’t expect it any other way.”
“While I do my check,” Haynes went on, “you will of course stay here as my guests.”
“Naturally, we would not deny the wishes of a potential business relationship,” Jana agreed.
Haynes pushed the intercom button. “Olivia, send Cranston in.”
Seconds later, Cranston walked in.
“Cranston,” Haynes said, “show Mr. and Mrs. White to the guest quarters.”
“As you wish, sir,” Cranston said, nodding. He led the way to the building’s guest quarters, two floors below Haynes’ office. Cranston opened the door and all three entered the room.
“So what happened?” Cranston asked quickly closing the door behind him.
“He’s interested,” Jana told him, “but he wants to check it out for authenticity.”
“I was afraid of that,” Cranston said. “He’s going to have his research team check it out.”
“How is that supposed to help us?” Nic demanded, frustrated with the outcome of their meeting.
“The research team does the job from here,” Cranston explained. “So we just have to make sure the data they receive is exactly what we want it to be. This may still work.”
“And how do you intend to do that?” Jana wanted to know.
“I won’t, you two will,” Cranston offered. Two blank faces were his response. “Look I have a plan. The research team is gone home for the day. So tonight, when security is low, you two can break in and redirect the comm signals to some associates of mine. They’ll do the rest.”
“Is this the only way?” Nic asked rubbing his forehead.
“That doesn’t include you being shot?” Cranston clarified.
“That would be preferable,” Nic agreed.
“Then, yes,” Cranston answered.
“Alright,” Nic sighed. “We’ll make our move tonight.”
Later that night…
The Research Office was empty and entirely silent with the exception of a few scattered consoles that had been left on. The room was set up with six desks, each with their own comm unit and console and the walls were covered with other computer equipment. With no windows and the lights fully doused, the room was pitch black. The only entrance was sealed shut and completely locked up for the night. But then, it slid open smoothly and Nic stepped in. Frowning, he turned on the lights and then turned back to Jana where she knelt by the door’s control panel.
“You took your time picking that lock.” Nic observed sourly.
“Well, if we’d shot the door open like you wanted,” Jana pointed out, “we’d have all the guards in this entire building on us like stink on a Bantha.” She stepped into the room and shut the door.
“No comment,” Nic sighed. “Let’s do this thing.”
He walked over to the back wall, looking for the primary comm console. Once he found it, he could redirect any calls made to Kessel so they’d go to the channel Cranston had given him a few moments before. Jana made herself useful by looking out of the small window in the door, watching for guards.
“Lights out!” she hissed, flicking the switch. Somewhere along the back wall, she heard a bang and Nic grunted. The guard passed and Jana turned the lights on again.
“Warn a person in advance next time,” Nig grumbled, holding his foot.
“Back to work, wimp,” Jana teased. He stepped up to it and removed one of the front panels, exposing it’s bare wires and circuit boards. Then, he took out a small handheld interface tool and took its two plugs and attached them to the ports inside the console. The interface tool’s screen lit up with the words, ‘CONNECTING TO SOURCE’ for a few seconds. Then, the comm signal screen lit up. Nic spent a few minutes with the screen, rerouting Kessel communications to Cranston’s associate for the next two days.
“Done,” he said suddenly. “Let’s get out of here.”
Jana punched the door release button and flicked out the lights. Then, the two mercenaries walked down the corridor, both happy that they had finally managed to pull off a hitch-free job, a very rare occurrence. Nic was headed around a corner when he heard a cough. Abruptly, he pushed Jana against the wall and peeked around the corner. Two guards were headed their way.
“Damn it!” Nic cursed. “This is not good.”
“What is it?” Jana whispered. Nic turned to her, a forced smile plastered on his face.
“We have two guards coming towards us and there is only one way to escape,”
he explained. Then, he quickly added, “Which doesn’t involve you shooting me.”
“Well if it avoids all the complaining, let’s do it,” Jana answered readily. Nic frowned.
“Oh, but you won’t like it,” he objected.
“You’re not going to shoot me,” she hissed. He shook his head.
“No... worse,” he answered. Jana’s face screwed up in confusion.
“What could possibly be wo...” she began. Before she could finish, Nic gripped her firmly by the shoulders. For a brief second, their eyes met. Then, Nic White did what he would have ordinarily considered unthinkable; he kissed Jana Vincent. The shock was evident in her eyes and Nic turned them in such a way that the oncoming guards would not see her face. They came around the corner to find the two mercenaries in what appeared to be a passionate kiss and couldn’t help but stare. Then, one nudged the other, which forced a grunt. Nic separated from Jana and glared at the guards.
“If you don’t mind,” he said, his eyes narrowing at the guards. “We came here for a bit of privacy. You don’t mind... do you?”
With rapid-fire apologies, the guards backpedaled and left the mercenaries alone. Nic grinned, pleased with his plan’s success. Then, he saw Jana’s face and his grin vanished. He managed an ‘Uh oh,’ before Jana backhanded his cheek, driving his head hard to the right.
“That was your plan?” she demanded icily.
“Well,” he stammered. She backhanded his other cheek, driving his head to the left and stormed off down the hall.
“I think I preferred being shot,” he complained, running a hand over his face. With a weary sigh, he followed after his ‘dear wife’.
The next evening, Nic and Jana stood in Haynes’ office once more. Nic was shaking
Haynes’ hand and Jana held the case containing their payment. All three were smiling. Haynes was pleased to have acquired what he believed were the deeds to two genuine Glitterstim mines; Nic and Jana were pleased to have just made fifty thousand credits by handing over useless bits of paper.
“Thank you Mr. White, Mrs. White,” Haynes said pleasantly. Nic smiled knowingly.
“No, thank you,” he answered, breaking the handshake. “C’mon, darling. We have places to be.”
Nic and Jana left the office and headed down to the hangar where Cranston had parked the speeder when they came. Cranston was waiting with his speeder and the two mercenaries got in. Without a word, Cranston pulled out of the hangar and into traffic. Only then did any of them say anything.
“So I hear you resigned this morning,” Nic told Cranston. The man couldn’t resist a smile.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I get the feeling I’m about to come into some money... if you know what I mean.”
The two mercenaries joined the former employee in a good laugh at the expense of the still clueless Mr. Haynes.