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Old 08-08-2006, 01:05 PM   #1
starmark2k
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[FIN] Nic and Jana: A Mercenary's Tale

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Nic and Jana: A Mercenary's Tale

My name is Nic White.
I've been called soldier, cop, smuggler, thief, criminal, captain, and even rebel, but I was most often called a mercenary. I was considered a lowlife, a man who lived on the other side of the law. Don't get me wrong, I was a good guy; hey you had to be the scum of the universe in the galaxy I lived in. I lived much of my life under the evil rule of the Palpatine and his tyrannical Empire. The dictatorship born from a war for democracy... the irony is obvious and devastating. Those who were in place to stop this very thing from happening didn't even see it happening and it happened literally under their noses. The Jedi failed and they were all but wiped out for it.

Most people had a defining moment in their lives, a moment when their
entire lives changed for either better or worse. For most people, this day
was when the Clone Wars ended and the Republic became the Galactic Empire. If you know the story of my life you would probably think it was when I got landed with a Jedi on my ship and ended up with the empire and Vader on my back, but you would be wrong. For me it was before that and three years after the Clone Wars, the day I met Jana Vincent.


---------------------------------

Chapter 1
'Coruscant'

A small Corellian SL5 freighter travelled at high speed towards the city-world of Coruscant. The ship was small in size compared to most freighters in the Galaxy, and was probably not for cargo transport but something less legal. It burnt through the planet's atmosphere, glowing as it did.

The ship proceeded to fly high over the city and between the enormous
skyscrapers of the Imperial City. The ship began to slow as it approached a landing pad and came to a full stop before touching down. The loading ramp slowly lowered and hit the floor with a loud bang as the metal knocked against the metallic surface.

As the contact was made a man came flying out of the ship. He flew through the air and quickly came down, his whole body smacking against the cold shiny surface face first. This man was Nic White, a 28 year old Caucasian human with thin blond hair that almost covered his eyes. He was wearing a pair of wrath skin trouser and a dark blue shirt and a flight jacket over it. A holster holding an old looking blaster dangled from the right side of his belt. His boots were dark black with a knife handle sticking out of the left one.

Following Nic's journey through the air was a small duffle bag and a unique energy shotgun. Both items landed just to the right to of him. Nic pushed himself up and turned around so he was sitting on the landing pad, facing the ship. Three men stood on the top of the loading ramp and looked down at Nic.

"C'mon guys! I would've paid," Nic shouted to the men.

"Then why did you stowaway on my ship?" The central man demanded. Nic paused and looked down, obviously struggling to find an answer and looked back up at the men.

"Can you at least drop me off somewhere else?" Nic pleaded to the ship's captain.

"You're lucky I didn't drop you off in hyperspace," the captain retorted as he nodded to the man to his right. The right man hit a button causing the ramp to rise up and slowly close. The captain waved good-bye just as the ramp sealed. Moments later, the ship's thrusters flared into action and the ship took off, flying away from Nic.

Nic still hadn't gotten up from the landing pad as he watched the Corellian freighter fly away.

"Perfect I'm stuck in the Heart of the Empire... just where I want to be," he told himself sarcastically. He then grabbed his bag and stood up, throwing it over his shoulder. Looking down he saw his gun and
picked it up, examining it as a big smile came to his face.

"At least I got you with me," he murmured.

-----------------------------

The Griffin Cantina in the commercial district of Coruscant was known to be quite a rough and seedy place. It was the place where all the mercenaries, bounty hunters, and criminals tended to congregate on the planet when passing through. The Cantina held a strict no firearms policy, but that didn't stop the fighting or deaths as many of the nights ended with a bar room brawl. On this night, the Cantina was particularly busy with a resent convoy from the smugglers moon of Nar Shaddaa.

The young waitress, Jana Vincent, had only just arrived for her shift. She had long dark brown hair that reached down to the middle of her back and brown eyes. She was fairly short in size compared to most humans her age; 26. She was reasonably attractive and wore casual clothing.

The Cantina owner was furious waving a datapad in the air quickly moving toward Jana.

"Vincent!" he screamed, shoving the datapad in her face. "That last fight you started has cost me three-thousand credits!"

Jana took the datapad and studied it for a moment before rolling her eyes.

"C'mon Fitsy," she sighed. "Half of these things needed to be repaired anyway... and I didn't start that fight. You know it, too."

"You certainly finished though, didn't ya?" Fitsy grumbled. "Henth was one of my best customers, and he won't be coming back now you've broken both his legs."

"That Dug should've kept those hands of his to himself," Jana replied evenly, handing her boss the datapad. "He had plenty of warnings.

Fitsy snatched a gun he saw on her belt and shook his head. "Just get to work," he muttered.

-----------------------------------

Nic walked through the large bus station near the landing pad where he was literally 'dropped off.' He had been a mercenary for nearly three years now and he was good at it. The problem was he could be very picky about the work he chose. This meant he was often out of work and low on credits. He barely had enough credits for the bus ticket he just bought to get to the commercial district, so he was stuck on the galactic capital.

The freelance mercenary had only been on the planet for a few hours but he had already found out where he could find some work to get off the planet, a regular hangout for other mercenaries in the commercial district.

Nic's bus wasn't scheduled to depart the station for another few minutes so he found himself walking to the balcony on the top floor. He approached the railing and leant on it as he looked over the cityscape. The metropolis was bustling with activity as the air-taxis, speeders and starships flew along the sky-lanes. Nic slowly turned his head to the right and saw the old Senate building. He laughed to himself as he saw a couple of ships pull into the large circular building.

Nic knew that the senate still met every now and then but it was pointless. The only vote that counted there was that of the Emperor. Palpatine had already begun to dissolve the senate as his control became more and more tyrannical, he had already banned all non-humans from attending the Senate meetings. Those who spoke up against him were also banished. Bail Organa and Mon Mothma were two of the first to go. Their crime? Pacifism.

Nics focussed changed again and looked to where the Jedi temple once stood. Now it was the Imperial Palace. The large structure was purposely made to dwarf all the other skyscrapers. It was ironic that where the Jedi Temple, the symbol of freedom, once stood now had the symbol of galactic domination erected on it. The recently constructed statue of Emperor Palpatine was large and made so all could see from hundreds of klics away, Its eyes made to symbolise Palpatine watching over the city.

'Taste certainly doesn't come with power,' Nic thought as he looked at what he perceived as an eyesore, 'but it does come with vanity.'

Nic stood up strait and turned back around and headed to the bus terminal. He had placed 'Betsy', his favourite gun, and his pistol inside his bag. This would allow him to travel more easily without being stopped by the Imperial police. Though carrying weapons was not illegal on Coruscant, getting licences was nearly impossible (unless you could bribe an Imperial Officer) and Nic didn't have one.

When he arrived at the terminal his bus was already boarding. Nic showed the guard his ticket and walked strait on to the bus.

-------------------------

The Griffin cantina was now bustling with patrons from various species. A Bith jazz band played their music on a stage in the corner. The atmosphere was electric with varying activities happening on the tables and the booths. The owner, Fitsy, was behind the bar taking orders from those who came to it and taking the orders from the waitresses.

Jana was carrying a tray of drinks. She had been working as a waitress for nearly four years, though not by choice. She had run out of
money not long after she had arrived on Coruscant and found waitressing was the only way she could make any money. Despite the fact she had graduated from the T.C.T.A (Talus Combat Training Academy), she had found that nobody was willing to give her a chance. She was a good fighter and a superb gunner, but because of her short stature, many people didn't think she looked right for the jobs these skills would work in. Jana didn't like this work and often ended up in fights with 'handsy' customers or an employer who didn't pay her wage. This meant she rarely stayed employed at one restaurant or club for more than a month.

Jana placed the tray on the table and gave the drinks to those who ordered them. Then, lifting the tray, she moved to walk away. One of the patrons Jana had just given a drink grabbed her free arm, stopping her.

"Hey little lady," the man slurred, clearly drunk. "Why don't you stay here for some fun?"

Jana looked down at the man's hand, and then up at his face.

"Take your hand off my arm before I do it myself and break your arm," she threatened calmly. At this, the large and very muscular man began to laugh and said, "And how do you intend to do that?"

Jana dropped the tray on the floor and used her newly freed hand to grab the man's arm. Shifting her body around and kneeling so her knee was under the drunk man's elbow, she moved her 'captured' arm in such a way to force the man's grip on it to loosen, thus freeing her arm. With both arms free, she gripped the man's wrist and pulled his arm down toward her knee. The man's elbow connected with her knee, snapping all the connective tissue the arm, causing him to wince and groan. Jana released her grip and stood up, turning to retrieve her tray and walk away.

"You Schutta!" the man screamed, clutching at his arm. "You broke my arm!"

"I warned you," Jana answered, glancing at him. Enraged, the man released his broken arm and reached inside his jacket with his good hand, retrieving a small hold-out blaster and pointed it at her.

"I'll make you regret that," he threatened. At the bar, Fitsy groaned and put his head in his hands.

Last edited by starmark2k; 08-08-2006 at 01:19 PM.
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Old 08-08-2006, 01:06 PM   #2
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Chapter 2:
Chance Encounter

Jana stared down the barrel of the hold-blaster. It was shaking as its bearer was still shaking from the pain of his recently snapped arm. The drunk man's face was red with anger as he stared at the young waitress and tried to steady his hand.

"You piece of Kung," he snarled. "You'll pay dearly for this embarrassment!"

Still working to steady his arm, he leveled the gun on Jana and was a split second away from pulling the trigger when a knife struck the side of the gun and ripped it out of the man's hand. The knife continued flying through the air, hitting a pillar near the wall and nailed the gun to it. The gun sparked where its wires and components were now exposed. The drunk, Jana, and everyone else in the bar turned to stare at the gun on the wall. Then in unison they all turned and looked at the knife's thrower.

Nic White stood holding his arm out from where he had just thrown his knife. With all eyes on him, he quickly scanned the room. Lowering his arm, he looked at the drunk whose gun had just been destroyed, finding the drunk glaring at him.

"I thought guns weren't aloud in here," Nic offered calmly.

"That was my favourite gun," the drunk protested angrily, "and you put a knife through it!"

"Piece of junk if its that easy to destroy," Jana commented.

"You're lucky it ain't ya hand," Nic told the drunk. "Now leave the girl alone."

The man appeared to have hit boiling point and breathed heavily a few times.

"KILL THEM BOTH!!!" The man shouted to his four friends behind him. The other four men stood up and split into two pairs, each pair walked towards either Jana or Nic. Everyone in the bar moved away from Nic and Jana so they wouldn't get involved in the impending violence. Nic began to back up slowly putting both his hands out in front of him.

"Oh, c'mon! This is hardly fair," Nic complained as the men got closer and closer. Ignoring his words, they continued to advance and he continued to retreat. Before long, they'd backed him up against a wall.

"Seen you a couple times I come here before," one of the men told Jana, smiling intently as he grabbed a bottle and smashed it to form a stabbing weapon. The young waitress took the tray in both hands and waited for the men to get closer.

"Less talk, more fight," Jana told him. "Unless you're scared of me."

That was too much. The man with the broken bottle lunged, stabbing the bottle toward Jana's torso. Jana moved the tray downward, using it as a shield to repel the sharp glass. Then, she quickly raised the tray high and to the right and drove it hard against the man's head. His entire body twisted around at the impact and he fell to the floor hitting, his head on a table's edge.

The second man then charged at Jana while she recovered from the swing, but she was prepared. Using a little of her own strength and a lot of his momentum, Jana lashed out with her foot, connecting with his stomach. In pain, he moaned bent over, clutching his stomach. Jana raised the tray above her head and smashed it down on the thug's head, knocking him senseless to the ground.

Nic was not doing so well with his two thugs. One of them had grabbed him from behind and held his arms back while the other punched his stomach, chest, and face. Nic quickly raised both his legs up, putting all his weight on the man who had grabbed him from behind. He pushed his legs out at the man who was punching him to knock him back and the force of his kick threw the man holding him back into the wall, causing him to loose his grip on Nic. Now free, Nic began punching the stunned thug.

The second thug righted himself and began to walk forward to grab Nic, but he was stopped by a light tap on his shoulder. He turned in time to see Jana's fingers driving toward his throat. With no time to react, the thug staggered back, choking. At this, Jana's had quickly balled into a fist and drove into his face, knocking him out cold.

Meanwhile, Nic continued punching the final thug, who slowly slid down the wall to the floor, groaning. Now finished, Nic turned around and saw Jana standing over the unconscious body of the man who had been hitting him.

"Thanks for your help," Jana said to Nic as the drunk whose arm she'd broken came up silently behind her. Nic grabbed a bottle on a table near him and threw it the drunk's head, knocking him out.

"Glad to help," Nic answered, moving past Jana to grab his knife from the wall. Once he pulled it out he turned back to face her. Instead of Jana, he found himself face to face with the red-faced Fitsy.

"It's people like you who make my business run like Bantha poodoo!" he screamed. "Get out! Now!"

Nic flashed a smile in Jana's direction as he headed for the door and Fitsy glared at him for a moment before wheeling on Jana.

"And you," he snapped. "I should've known you'd be trouble. From the second you walked in, I should've known! But I won't take it any more, Vincent. You're fired!"

Jana grinned at him, causing him to wonder if he'd heard her.

"Did you hear me?" he screamed. "Fired!"

"There's only one thing that'll make this day better, Fitsy," Jana said. She kicked him in the groin and he doubled over. Then, she moved over to the register and took several credit chips from it. From where Fitsy was, he couldn't see what she was doing. Coming back to him, she dropped a few credit chips in front of his face.

"For damages and lost business," she said, knowing very well she was paying him with his own money. She'd taken enough that she'd still stolen a sizable amount from Fitsy. Nic, who'd stayed long enough to see this, chuckled. Then, he retrieved his things from the clerk and headed out, smiling to himself.

"What am I going to do now?" he whispered to himself.

"Hold up!" Jana called, just coming out of the Cantina and tucking her blaster into her belt. Nic stopped and turned, waiting for her to catch up.

"I was hoping I could repay you for helping me out back there," she said, holding up some credits. She grinned. "Dinner's on Fitsy."

"You don't have to spend your 'well earned' money," Nic chuckled. "Besides, It seems you can handle yourself... looked that way from where I was getting beat up."

"It's the thought that counts," Jana insisted, still slightly joking. "And now that I lost my job, I really don't have anything to do."

"Yeah, I heard," Nic said, looking around. "Sorry for my part in that." He spotted another cantina. "There's another cantina over there... I guess you can buy me drink, if you insist, Short Stuff."

"Hey!" she snapped, clearly annoyed. "My name's Jana. And don't think I know you well enough yet I won't hesitate to beat you up too!"

"C'mon," Nic grinned, nodding his head toward the other cantina. Shaking her head slowly, Jana followed him.

-------------------------------------

Nic and Jana sat at a side booth near the back of the cantina as they had agreed it would be best to lay low after the incident at Fitsy's an hour ago. They both had alcoholic beverages in front of them and were taking sips while making conversation as best as two strangers could. Despite the fact that they had just met an hour earlier, they were obviously enjoying the company, discussing their lives and work.

"So Nic," Jana said after a short silence. "What kind of jobs does a freelance mercenary take?" She took another sip of her drink.

"Whatever pays really," he answered thoughtfully. "One day I can be on Nar Shaddaa on a treasure hunt. The next I could be on Talus defending some rich guy's estate from a ticked-off Sullustan." He chuckled. "That was an interesting week."

Jana laughed. "So what are you doing now?"

Nic thought for a few moments before answering, "At the moment, I'm on the market."

"Which equals unemployed," Jana commented with a slight smile. "I should know... I've used the term before as well."

"Well, I somewhat prefer the way I said it but, pretty much, yeah," Nic agreed.

"Well, I guess we have something in common more than just getting on Fitsy's bad side, then," Jana remarked, her smile growing. Nic chuckled.

"That we do," he agreed. Looking down at his drink, he noticed it was empty. "Fitsy have more credits to give us?"

Jana laughed, but before she could answer, Nic stood.

"Well, it was nice meeting you," he said, straightening his clothes, "but I should get going."

"What are you going to do now?" Jana wondered, looking up at him.

"There ain't much chance of getting work here," he answered. "So I'm going to get a refugee freighter out to one of the outer rim stations. Take care of yourself... as I know so well you can."

He moved away from the table and Jana watched him go for a moment. Making a quick decision, Jana jumped up to chase him.

"Hey!" she called to get Nic's attention. He turned to look at her and she hesitated. Finally, she said, "I know we've only just met but..."

Nic grinned. "C'mon Short Stuff," he said, a wide grin on his face as he flicked his head toward the door. Jana grabbed her things from the booth and rejoined Nic. He moved to walk out, but she caught his arm.

"It's Jana," she insisted. He grinned.

"I know."
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Old 08-08-2006, 01:07 PM   #3
starmark2k
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Chapter 3:
'A12 - 76'

The commercial space station, A12 - 76, was a haven of criminality in the outer rim. The station itself was little more than an outpost for a moderate shipping company, but its location, just off of the Hydian Way trade route quickly attracted the attention of smugglers and other illegitimate businesses in the galaxy as a place to hide and to get work. Refugee freighters also used this station as a stop over point when travelling through the outer rim as a re-fuelling and re-supplying point.

It was one such freighter that held Nic White and Jana Vincent. They would leave the freighter here, along with many of its other passengers. Jana had taken the time to get a little rest and, as the freighter docked with the external airlock of the station, she stretched and yawned.

"Had I known it would take three days in cramped conditions to get here, I may have reconsidered my impulse to come," she informed Nic, rubbing the sleepiness out of her eyes.

"If I knew you were going to complain the whole way, I wouldn't have let you come," Nic grumbled. At this, Jana had to laugh.

"So what now?" she asked. "We're here... you get to be Mr. Know-it-all and show me the work of a freelance mercenary."

"Oh, is that what I'm doing?" Nic chuckled. "Alright. There's a guy I did a job for a couple of months back, hangs out at the Port Cantina. So I guess we'll see if he's got something."

The Cantina wasn't far from where they'd left the freighter and they entered together, looking around, Jana for potential trouble, and Nic for his contact. The contact was nowhere to be seen, so Nic headed for the bar with Jana close behind.

The Cantina was quiet as it was early in the morning (station time). There were only a few sentients other than Nic and Jana in the entire place. Satisfied those that were there did not pose any serious threat, Jana turned to look at Nic.

"I'll have two Corellian ales," Nic told the lone barman. The barman nodded, poured the drinks, and placed them in front of Nic.

"Haven't had one of these since, I left home," Jana murmured, taking one of the glasses.

"Anything else?" the bartender wanted to know. Nic nodded.

"Yeah," Nic answered. "Where's Zeek? I'd like to see him."

"What for?" the bartender demanded.

"Business," Nic answered. "Looking for a job."

The bartender stared at Nic and Jana for several long seconds before jerking his head in the direction of a large door next to the bar.

"He's round back. You can go on through."

"Thanks," Nic said, sliding some credit chips across the bar. Turning to Jana, he said, "You never told me you're Corellian."

Drinking the rest of her ale, Jana smirked. "You never asked."

Chuckling, Nic finished off the rest of his drink. "C'mon, Short Stuff. We'll see if ol' Zeek's got something for us."

They went around the bar and through the door. This room was a small office, a desk standing near the back with two chairs in front of it for 'employees'. The room was filled with smoke coming from a cigar in the
hand of a large man. He was slightly obese with thin grey hair on his head and thick black hair on his upper lip. He stared at the two humans who had just entered his room and took another puff from his cigar.

"You know, those'll kill you," Nic commented. The large man chuckled.

"Well, they haven't yet," he answered, taking another draw from the cigar in his hand and looking over Nic very carefully. "Mr. White, ain't it?"

Nic shrugged. "Call me Nic. Everyone else does... so, I did a job for you a couple months back."

"Yes I remember," Zeek said, nodding slowly. "You do good work, boy."

Turning to Jana, he added, "But I didn't figure you for being the kind of man that works with people. So who's this?"

"This is Jana Vincent," Nic introduced. "She..."

"Well, hello Miss Vincent," Zeek interrupted. "I'm Samson Zeek, better known as just Zeek, and I own this station."

"And you operate from the Cantina?" Jana seemed amused, but shook his offered hand, though it was at least twice the size of hers. "Nice to meet you."

"I thought Betsy was the only women in your life," Zeek said, turning back to Nic. "Didn't you say that once when you worked for me before?" He nodded. "Yes, you did."

"Betsy?" Jana asked, curious. "Who's Betsy?"

"My gun," Nic answered. Jana stared at him, slightly surprised.

"You named your gun?" she said, smiling slightly in disbelief. Nic frowned and turned to face her.

"Yes, I named my gun," he replied. "And Betsy's never let me down. She always does what she's supposed to."

"You named it Betsy," Jana pressed, now convinced her new friend was slightly mentally impaired. Nic nodded slowly.

"Yes, I named it Betsy," he agreed. "Is there some kind of problem? No? Good."

"Boy must care about ol' Betsy to not even let you have a problem with it," Zeek said, laughing. He sat and motioned for Nic and Jana to do the same. They sat and Zeek put out his cigar.

"So what brings you both here?" Zeek asked, staring at them each in turn.

"We need some work," Nic answered bluntly. Zeek chuckled.

"Today's your lucky day," he said. "I need a couple of gunners for a gun ship escorting a Behmoth freighter. Now, I know you do good work, Nic. I don't doubt your talents with a turret, but... well, the girl don't look like a fighter. Maybe she can engage in a bit of brow-wiping for ya, eh?"

He chuckled, but Jana frowned.

"Say anything like that again, you'll find out why I was one of the top graduates of the TCTA," she warned. Zeek chuckled and shook his head.

"That may well be," he said, "but it means nothing out here. We could put you in a fighting match, see who's tough and who's talk."

"I'll vouch for her," Nic interrupted just as Jana was about to accept. "In a bar on Coruscant, I saw her snap a thug's arm, then take down three of his friends."

"Sounds impressive," Zeek nodded. "Well, that'll have to do 'till we can see her in action. The freighter moves out in two hours. I'll pay you a thousand credits each. Should be less than two days' flight."

"What's the cargo?" Nic wanted to know. Zeek frowned thoughtfully for a moment. Then, he nodded.

"Just some new fighters Incom Corp invented,: he explained. "Bought by an ex-senator, but she wants to avoid any Imperial entanglements. So we need to avoid any Imp patrols. Unfortunately that means the freighter needs to travel in a straight line between here and Bespin."

"That leads through Skran territory," Nic said, frowning. Zeek nodded.

"Hence the gunship."

"Back up," Jana cut in. "Skran?"

"Space pirates," Nic answered. "The kind that take no prisoners."

"Hit hanger five," Zeek told them. "The gunship is already there."

Standing, Zeek extended his hand to Nic, who stood and shook hit. Then, he did the same to Jana.

"Good luck," he told them.

-------------------------------------------

The mammoth sized Behmoth freighter dropped out of hyperspace two-thirds of the way through its journey. A Soro-sub Gunship dropped out seconds later and flew close to the freighter it was guarding. The Gunship had four dual turrets on the port and starboard side of the ship.

Nic and Jana where the only two gunners employed by Zeek; the other six had been with the gunship from its launch. The journey had been quiet most of the way through, but now they had entered an area of space where hyperspace was impossible due to a gravitational anomaly caused by a nebula. This part of space was dangerous; this was pirate space, space through which the Imperials rarely ventured.

Nic sat in the small common area in the middle of the ship, playing a game of Pazzack with another gunner. The Rodian was a fair player, but Nic was better. Jana stood behind him, watching in silent disapproval. She had never found herself able to understand the reason behind gambling. Nic, on the other hand was a pro; he had been gambling since he was a boy on Naboo when he found he could always discover a player's tell.

By this point in the current game, he had already managed to find the Rodian's. They were on the third hand of the fifth game and the Rodian was up, Nic was hustling him. He dealt the cards and placed two chips in the pot.

"Ante up, Sneenar," Nic said. The Rodian looked at the cards he just
received and smiled (or what seemed to be a smile... it's always hard to tell on a Rodian), placing four credits in the pot. Nic met the Sneenar's ante, then dealt two more cards to each of the players. Nic had a six and a four; Sneenar had a two and a five.

Jana circled the table, observing each person's cards. Sneenar didn't like this.

"Eyes to yourself, Girlie," he hissed, clutching his cards to his chest. Jana smirked and returned to stand behind Nic. Nic dealt another card each to Sneenar and himself, bringing Nic to a total of 14 and Sneenar
totaled 12. Nic placed three more chips in the pot and Sneenar met Nic's ante, then raised it another three. Nic met it again and another two cards were dealt. Sneenar had a nineteen and Nic only had eighteen.

"Not so good after all, are you Nic?" Sneenar laughed reaching to take the credits from the pot.

"Not so fast," Nic interrupted, slapping the Rodian's hand away from the pot. "I'm better than you think," he went on, placing a plus two on the table, bringing his total to 20, winning back all his money plus a lot more. As Nic began to pile the credits into his pocket the co-pilot came running into the room.

"We have some serious incoming!" the co-pilot shouted running past. Jana watched him run past, a frown coming to her face.

"Time to work," she said, heading for the turrets. Nic and the Rodian followed after and Nic banged on the doors of the other five gunners' rooms as he ran past toward the rear port turret. He arrived and slid into his seat as Jana powered on the rear-central port turret and slipped her comm headset over her ears.

Nic activated his targeting computer and looked at the turrets sensors for an incoming ship count; fifteen fighters, two light gunboats, and a single boarding craft.

"Do I hear a targeting computer over there, Nic?" Jana taunted.

"Got a good bit of heat coming at us," Nic protested. "Don't start your crazy superiority complex now..."

"No targeting computer," Jana grinned. "See now I'm as good as I said I am."

Looking out from her turret without activating any of the targeting equipment, Jana caught sight of the first approaching fighters.

"Vincent, your targeting computer's offline," the lead gunner. "What's going on?"

"With all due respect, sir," Jana answered, "targeting computers are for cheaters. I do it all by sight... it's one of the things that made me top of my class at..."

"TCTA," the lead gunner interrupted. "You're that Jana Vincent?"

"The one and only," Jana grinned. "Rely on skill and skill alone."

"Y'know you could probably take more of these guys out with the targeting computer," the leader pointed out.

"Sure, but where's the fun in that?" Jana chuckled.

"Alright, Vincent," the leader said. "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt as I've seen your scores from TCTA. I'll want to have a chat with you later maybe."

"Let's be focused now," Jana said. She said something else, but her voice was drowned out by the pilot's announcement.

"They'll be in weapons range in ten seconds," he informed them over the communications headphones. Nic used his computer to lock on to the nearest fighter and lined the turret up to insure a critical hit. Closer and closer the fighter got until it was finally in range. With a grin, Nic prepared his finger on the trigger and was about to shoot... when another bolt of energy from their gunship hit Nic's targeted fighter.

"Gotta be faster than that, White," Jana taunted.

'She is good,' Nic thought as he quickly switched his focus to the following fighters that had broken off after the first
exploded.

Nic began to fire a volley of lasers from the turret, his technique was
quick and inaccurate but he still managed to destroy two of the scattering fighters within seconds of each other. Checking his sensors , he saw the boarding ship heading towards the Behmoth and he also noticed one of the light gunship trying to flank their starboard side.

"Turrets two, four and six target the boarding craft!" Nic called. "One, three, and five take down that gunship. Me and Jana can handle the fighters."

"I agree with that, White," the leader said, "but try suggesting and letting me give the orders."

Jana was being extremely precise with her shots, each one hitting its target directly. She was taking it slow, making each shot count. Within minutes she had destroyed half a dozen of the pirate fighters. There was one pilot who had skill, one pilot who would not be hit.

"Nic, I'll need a little help with this one," she growled. "Can't get more than a glancing blow."

"On it." Nic targeted the evasive fighter and started using his random shooting technique in the hope he would get at least one hit. No hits were scored and Jana was getting annoyed. She'd made a couple of shots, but the ellusive fighter managed to keep out of reach, pummelling the turrets. One exploded and Jana winced.

"This guy won't go down!" she yelled. "And he's taking us out. Not much time before we'll be no protection for the freighter."

"I have a plan," Nic answered. "I'm going to lead him to grid H-7." He hoped Jana would understand. She did and switched on her targeting computer for the first time during the fight, locating and targeting the currently empty H-7.

Nic began to shoot to the fighte'rs port side, causing the pilot to swerve starboard. He scattered shots all around the fighter, concentrating most on where he wanted the fighter to go and least on the path that would lead away from grid H-7. The pilot took the bait, swerving through Nic's shots and straight into Jana's targeting reticle. A second before the fighter arrived at H-7, Jana pulled the trigger, launching a barrage of bright green bolts. It was too late for the enemy fighter to adjust and he vanished in a ball of flame.

"Yes!" Jana hissed. "Gotcha, you gravel maggot!"

"Yeah Short Stuff," Nic chuckled. "That's the first time I've ever heard you swear... but don't get cocky. It ain't over let."

The two new friends targeted new fighters and, with Jana having left her targeting computer on, she destroyed three fighters in rapid succession. Soon, all fighters were destroyed and the other turret gunners had destroyed both the boarding craft and light gunship. The remaining gunship and fighters turned tale and ran. Nic and Jana continued to attack until all the targets were out of range.

Nic switched off his targeting computer and grinned, leaning back in his chair. Seconds later, Jana came up behind him.

"Now that was fun," she chuckled. "So, what's next?"

"Well, Short Stuff," Nic said, getting up and turning to face her, "with our skills, who knows where we'll be in a year?"
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Old 08-08-2006, 01:09 PM   #4
starmark2k
Someone's Worse Nightmare
 
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Chapter 4:
Secrets

One year later...

Nic White and Jana Vincent sat in the cantina near the Mos Eisley
Spaceport. They had been on the backwater world of Tatooine for two months after having found work with the local Hutt crime lord, Jabba. Normally, Nic and Jana would have stayed clear of the Hutts but he was paying them a lot of money to do something they enjoyed; making imperial troops look like fools. All they had to do was cause a distraction away from the town to keep the local garrison occupied long enougth for smuggling vessels to land, unload, and depart.

Though she had been on Tatooine for the last two months Jana had seen more of the galaxy over the past year than she had in the rest of her life. After they arrived on Bespin they got work on Nar Shaddaa. From there, they went to Wayland, Coulag, Manaan, Ryloth, Sullust, back to Nar Shaddaa, and finally to Tatooine.

Nic and Jana decided it was time to move on. They made a nice pile of credits from Jabba the Hutt and were planning on taking the
next passenger freighter back to Nar Shaddaa. While they waited for it, they sat at a table near the wall of the cantina, drinks in front of them. They made a conscious effort to find out of the way tables to sit when eating or drinking; as mercenaries they had made plenty of friends, but more beings considered them enemies.

Since Nic had met Jana he often found himself in barroom brawls for varying reasons, which was another reason they found tables where they were less likely to be disturbed. Jana wrinkled her nose at her drink while Nic read from the cantina's food menu.

"Why do they even bother having a menu every place sells the same three meals?" Nic complained still studying the menu.

"To make you ask questions," Jana retorted, grimacing as she took another drink. "I can't believe they call this stuff Corellian Ale... it tastes like bantha excrement."

"How would you know what..." Nic started. Then he shook his head. "No, no... I don't want to know."

Jana smirked, but it faded as a blur of red light flashed past their eyes. Nic paused for a few seconds, still looking down at his menu with a confused look on his face. Then, he slowly turned his head to the right, where the blur had gone. There, he noticed a sizzling hole in the wall.

"Is someone shooting at us?" Nic asked calmly as he turned to look at Jana in front of him. She was turned toward her right, looking at where the energy blur came from.

"It would seem so," she answered without changing her focus from a man standing in front on a Rodian and Twi'lek. They were all holding blaster pistols they'd aimed at the two mercenaries. As Jana watched, the Human slowly adjusted his aim, targeting Nic's head.

Without thinking Jana dived over the table and pushed Nic, as they fell the
man pulled the trigger causing a Blaster shot to fly over Jana's back. Nic fell out of his chair and slid back ward landing on his back with Jana on top of him. Quickly, Jana pushed herself up and looked around.

"Well, well," Nic chuckled, amused, "I don't think we've ever been in this position before..."

"What are you talking about?" Jana demanded, glancing down at him. "People shoot at us all time!"

"I meant you lying on top of me," Nic replied with a grin.

"Don't get used to it," Jana snapped, getting up. "This is hardly the time or the place for innuendo."

As if to emphasize her point, another blaster shot hit the ground a foot away from Nic's face.

"They're still shooting us," Nic said, obviously starting to take the
situation more seriously.

"You just noticed?" Jana retorted dryly. She kicked the table over, giving them a little cover against the oncoming fire. Without answering, Nic pulled 'Betsy' out of his bag. Jana took her pistol from her holster and turned to Nic.

"What have you done this time?" she yelled into his ear.

"Y'know, it's not always my fault!" Nic retorted. "You tick off just as many people as I do..." He snorted. "You and your 'I warned you'."

Jana laughed at his poor imitation of her voice. "Well I do warn them... you don't. You just go around hustling every piece of scum in
the galaxy!"

"That may be," Nic agreed, "but I still think it's your fault!"

He peered around the edge of the table to get a look at their attackers and quickly turned back, embarrassed. Suddenly, the gun fire stopped.

"Nic White!" the Human yelled. "I want my money back!"

"Told you it was your fault," Jana grinned. Nic rolled his eyes.

"OK," he sighed. "Fine... perhaps it could quite possibly be a little bit my fault... this time."

Jana sighed. "Just shoot the Rodian, why dontcha?" They rose together and fired. Nic's weapon launched several small shots of energy that spread out like a shotgun blast. Most of them slammed into the Rodian, killing him instantly. Jana's shot hit the Twi'lek in the forehead and he tumbled backward into a lifeless heap.

With his backup dead and two weapons aimed at him, the Human dropped his weapon and put his hands up

"No need for shooting," he protested. Nic glanced at his gun and noticed a scratch where the finish had been scorched off. His eyes narrowed.

"Oh," he growled, moving closer, "you better apologise to Betsy for scratching her or this world becomes your grave site."

The man nodded quickly and turned to Jana, who had come to stand next to Nic.

"Ok, ok, I'm sorry," he said quickly, staring into Jana's eyes as if pleading for mercy. Jana rolled her eyes.

"I said Betsy!" Nic yelled, shaking the gun in the man's face. "Not Jana... Betsy!"

Startled, the man looked from the gun to Nic and then to Jana.

"Is he... serious?" he asked hesitantly. Jana smiled and nodded.

"Indeed he is," she agreed. "You'd best do it... I'm sure he'll shoot you with good ol' Betsy if you don't."

"Sorry... Gun," the man grumbled. Nic was not satisfied and shook Betsy in the man's face again.

"By name," he demanded. The man glanced again at Jana and sighed. He mumbled his apology and Nic slapped him.

"So the whole place can hear," he snapped. Now very annoyed the man glanced around.

"Sorry, Betsy!" he yelled. Then, to Nic, he said, "There. Are you happy? You've just taken away my last shreds of self-respect, White." He swore. "Leave me alone!"

Nic nodded and Jana stepped forward.

"There," she said pleasantly. She smashed her pistol into the thug's head and he slumped to the ground. "Now we're all happy."

Satisfied, Nic and Jana casually walked out of the cantina. The freighter to Nar Shaddaa had arrived.

----------------------------------------

The Journey to Nar Shaddaa was short and uninteresting. The Hutt freighter that Nic and Jana took was comfortable but by no means luxurious. They arrived in the Corellian district of the smugglers moon and quickly took to the streets heading, for a cantina.

Carmen's was a small cantina compared to most in the galaxy but still
attracted a large clientele due to its entertainment and atmosphere. Nic and Jana came here on word from an old contact that there would be some good work for them.

The door to Carmen's slid open smoothly, allowing the two freelance mercenaries to enter. Nic looked around the bar, noting that it was full and extremely busy. There was a band in one corner and three Twi'lek slave girls dancing on a podium in the center of the room. Most of the customers were staring at the female dancers.

Nic turned his head and saw a young blond woman standing in front of him. Seemingly without provocation, she smiled and slapped his cheek.

"Damn you Nic White!" she snapped.

"Gem," Nic greeted, rubbing his cheek. "How are you?"

"Great," she retorted, "but no thanks to you."

"Oh, c'mon," Nic protested. "We caused the distraction like you asked."

"On the wrong day," she pointed out.

"Yeah," Nic admitted, "but that was Jana's fault." He jerked a thumb in Jana's direction and she rolled her eyes.

"It was not!" she objected. With a snort, she went on. "He's been trying to blame me for everything recently." She shrugged and slapped Nic on the back of the head.

"What a jerk," Gem said nodding.

"Hey, hey, hey, hey!" Nic complained. "What's with all this blame? You never paid us. No harm, no foul."

"I was shot... five times!" Gem snapped.

"That all?" Nic teased. "I get shot all the time, don't I, Short Stuff?"

"He really does," Jana answered, chuckling. "People don't seem to like him that much."

"I'm one of them," Gem growled, her anger growing.

"Come now, Gem," a voice called from the crowd. "Nic and his friend haven't come all this way to be shouted at, I'm sure."

A woman in her thirties made her way through the crowd toward the three arguing patrons, a smile on her face. She wore an elegant gown, which would not be expected in this part of the galaxy. Her features were attractive and hair was set up in twirled buns on both sides of her head (which was the most recent style out of Alderaan).

"Sorry, Carmen," Gem grumbled, turning to the approaching woman. Then, she turned and left the cantina.

"I'm glad you could make it," Carmen told Nic, still smiling.

"Your comm made it sound urgent," Nic answered, looking a little annoyed. "You don't seem to be in mortal danger."

"I'm not, but I thought it best to make you think that," Carmen answered evenly. "You wouldn't have come otherwise, I don't think."

"You'd be right in thinking that," Nic grumbled. "Now, I'm gonna leave."

He turned for the door and motioned for Jana to do the same.

Now that you're here," Carmen called after them. Nic turned as Carmen continued. "It is important we speak."

"Fine," Nic said. He turned to follow Carmen. She looked at Jana, who had moved to follow them.

"Alone, Nic," Carmen said.

"Jana's been with me for a year, Carmen," Nic objected. "I don't do stuff without her."

"I assure you, you will be safe," Carmen insisted. "Alone, Nic."

"Yeah, I ain't worried about myself," Nic grumbled.

"Your friend will also be fine here," Carmen said. "Alone."

"Yeah, I ain't worried about her either," Nic answered uncertainly.

"Then what's the problem?" Carmen headed for a door near the back of the cantina. Nic looked down at Jana and nodded, signaling that he thought it would be fine.

Jana shrugged and walked to the bar. There, she ordered a drink from the service droid and stood quietly, slowly sipping her drink. It didn't take long for one drunken patron to walk up beside her and begin staring. She glared at him for a moment before doing her best to ignore him.

"What's a pretty little thing like you doing in a place like this?" the drunk slurred. Jana gave him an icy smile.

"Waiting for a friend," she answered coldly. He didn't budge and she snapped, "I like to wait alone."

"Lonely though, yeah?" the drunk asked. Before Jana could answer, he went on. "Why don't you come with me?"

Jana shook her head and stared up into his eyes.

"I think not," she answered. He frowned.

"I could make you," he said, only partially joking.

"I could hurt you," Jana warned, completely serious.

-------------------------------

Nic stepped into Carmen's large office on the second floor of the cantina. With the expensive red cloth covering the windows, the bright paintings in gold frames, the statutes, and the large desk at the center of the room, the office looked as if it may have been stolen from the Senate Building on Coruscant. Behind the desk, Carmen's chair looked more like a throne, made from expensive and shiny golden metal with jewels and gem stones embedded into it.

Carmen walked over to a small cabinet at the side of the room and took a bottle and two short glasses from it. She poured a light blue liquid from the bottle in to the glasses and handed one to Nic. He accepted it and swirled the liquid in the glass, sniffing it before taking a sip.

"Kaminoan Whiskey," he observed. Carmen nodded, causing Nic to frown. "Now what did I do to deserve such a rare, expensive, and let's not forget very, very illegal beverage?" Quickly downing the rest of the drink, he added, "Or what am I going to do?"

"Straight to business as always," Carmen sighed. "Come now, Nic. Can't we talk about the good old days?" She gestured for him to have a seat.

"I don't remember them being so good," Nic remarked as he sat down.

"That's not what you were saying when you shared my bed," Carmen reminded him seductively. "So why don't you come back? Be my 'guard' again?"

"No," Nic barked, tempted to stand and leave again. "I've moved on from being a 'guard' for rich women that want nothing more than a body."

"Still running then, are you Nic?" Carmen observed. Nic shrugged.

"Everyone's running from something," he said.

"Yes, of course," Carmen agreed. "But, Nic? You're running from something you can't ever escape... yourself."

Carmen stood and came around the desk to sit on Nic's lap. He was slightly surprised, but said nothing as she leaned forward, staring into his eyes.

"We should be together, Nic," she whispered. "You know things about me no one else knows and I know things about you no one else knows." She moved her mouth close to Nic's ear and whispered, "I know what you did... I know who you really are."

Carmen moved her head back and smiled seductively at him, but with a look of disgust, he pushed her away.

"You said it was important for us to talk," he said, clearly annoyed with his host.

"Straight to business, as usual," Carmen sighed, picking herself up from the floor where Nic had shoved her. Readjusting her dress, she moved over to her desk and picked up a datapad.

"I thought this might interest you," she said, tossing the datapad to Nic. He stared at it. The datapad showed an image of an Imperial officer. The officer was a human male with dark blond hair. The title said 'Lieutenant Kriss Raikellii'. Nic looked at the pad with extreme disappointment.

"Thanks for letting me know," Nic said, handing the datapad back. Carmen nodded.

"Now to the job," she said. "There's a vault hidden in a casino. The vault belongs to the Imperial Moff in charge of Hutt space. It's where he keeps all the money from his backhanded deals. I've got the codes to get in and I know for a fact that there are only two guards defending it."

"So you want me to break in, steal everything and bring it to you," Nic said. Carmen shook her head.

"Two guards," she said. "That tells me it's a two-man job... so you and your friend downstairs are both hired." She stared at him. "If you think you're up to it."

"We can handle this," Nic reassured her. She nodded.

"Good," she said. "Once the job is done, bring me back forty percent. Keep the rest."

"That's a joke," Nic retorted. " You get twenty."

"Twenty-five," Carmen bartered holding out another datapad. "Lowest I'll go."

"Now that's a deal," Nic agreed standing and taking the datapad. "These codes better be good."

"Trust me, they're good," Carmen answered. Nic shook his head.

"Stopped trusting you long time ago," he muttered. With that, he turned and walked out the room and down the stairs. Carmen watched him leave and smiled to herself. As Nic went out of sight and the door
closed behind him, a woman came up behind Carmen, seemingly from nowhere. Carmen turned slightly, taking in the appearance of this newcomer.

She was short, likely an inch shorter than Nic's friend, Carmen decided. Her hair and eyes were matching dark brown and her hair hung in a long braid that reached her waist. She was thin, but in their first confrontation, Carmen had learned not to underestimate small people.

"There," she said. "I've set it up. Care to tell me now he's so important?"

"What makes you think it's him I'm interested in?" the other woman asked with a slight smile.

---------------------------------

Nic continued down to the bottom of the stairs and opened the door to the main bar area of the cantina and was shocked by what he saw. Debris was lying around everywhere and any patrons remaining were either unconscious, dead, or groaning in pain. The dancing girls in the middle where also shocked, staring at their surroundings in fear.

Nic's focus quickly changed to the only standing person in the middle of the debris; Jana. Nic gave Jana an annoyed look and shook his head in disappointment. Jana turned shook her head.

"Don't go giving me looks, Nic White," she retorted. "They can never say I didn't warn them."

With a sigh, Nic flicked his eyes in the air and walked out of the bar. Jana trailed behind him, all the while grumbling about drunks in bars.

-------------------------------

Nic and Jana were sitting at a Sabbacc table in the middle of the Golden Krayt Dragon Casino. Neither Jana nor Nic were paying much attention to the game as they weren't here to gamble... they were here to work. The data Carmen had given them directed them straight to the vault area near the back of the casino. 'Employees only' was written over the walkway to get in. Three of the casino's guards stood outside the doorway to this entrance.

"I thought there were only suppose to be two guards," Jana whispered, pretending to look at her card hand.

"There probably are around the vault," Nic answered, "but that's just the casino's employee area." He placed a small bet in the pot. "We need to get past them before we even get near the vault."

"And how are we suppose to do that?" Jana wanted to know. Nic glanced over at her.

First, put two credit chips in the pot," he said. Jana shot him a confused look.

"What?" she asked, her voice a little louder than before. Nic sighed.

"It's your ante," he replied, trying to remind her of what they were doing to cover up their real reason for being there. Jana nodded, picked up the chips, and threw them in the pot.

"I just saw one female waitress go into the bathroom," Nic whispered. "She's about your height and build."

"Hooray for short people," Jana chuckled and left the table, heading for the humanoid women's washroom. A few moments later, Jana stepped out of the washroom wearing the casino's waitress uniform. Nic stood up and walked over to her.

"She was an ameteur," Jana grumbled. "No fight."

Nic chuckled and led the way over to a door. Here, Jana stopped him.

"How do you intend to get in?" she asked, "and more importantly, how will we get our guns past the guards?"

"I have an idea on that," Nic answered, looking over at a garbage cart.

----------------------

Jana walked up to the guards, pushing the garbage cart. She smiled at
one of the guards as he opened the door for her.

"Thank you," she said, passing through the doorway and into the corridor on the other side. As she walked, a casino employee carrying a small waste bin saw her and shifted his course to intersect.

"Garbage cart," he mumbled. "Good." With that, he tipped his bin, emptying it into the cart. Jana stifled a laugh as he moved on. She came to the end of the corridor and opened the door there which led into a storage cupboard.

"It's clear," she said. The cart wobbled a bit before Nic's head emerged from within, covered with the rubbish from the employee's bin. The bin must have become kitchen as there were bits of food and packaging hanging from his head. Jana laughed at the sight, but Nic was not amused.

"I couldn't exactly stop him," Jana giggled. "It was a trash cart, genious."

"You could've warned me," Nic grumbled. "Had my mouth open an' all." He shook his head. "Let's just get on with this."

Nic got himself out of the cart fully and tossed Jana's gun and holster to her. She caught it and tied it around her waist. Nic then looked around the room until he saw a switch panel on the back wall. Wiping the garbage from his head, he walked over to the panel and got the datapad from his pocket and studied it for a second. Looking back at the panel, he pushed switches in a sequence that was indicated on the pad.

For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, the wall began to lift slowly. Two Stormtroopers were behind it and, as soon as they saw who was on the other side, they reached for their rifles. Nic and Jana were too fast. Neither trooper was even able to touch his rifle before energy blasted through their armor, killing them.

"Easy as pie," Nic said, grinning. "Let's get the creds."

Jana moved into the room and cracked open the nearest crate. Her eyes sparkled as she took in what was inside.

"There must be a hundred thousand credits in this one crate alone!" she exclaimed. Then, she frowned. "So how are we gonna get this out of..."

She was suddenly interrupted by a loud bang from the other end of the room. Nic and Jana turned to look and saw a masked being, thin and small in stature and wearing thick dark robes to obscure form.

"What do you think, Jana?" Nic asked. "Little boy or woman of your size?"

"I'll save you the trouble and just speak so you can hear," the stranger said in a distinctly female voice. Jana frowned.

"You sound familiar," she said quietly. The stranger shrugged.

"That matters not," she said. "You're trespassing."

"That we are," Nic agreed. "It's what we do."

"It's what you do," the stranger corrected. "Leave now."

"No," Nic challenged, aiming Betsy at the stranger. "What's your next move?"

Two lightsabers appeared in the stranger's hands and were ignited, purple and green. "Your move, Mercenary."

"Jana," Nic said quietly. "I suggest we run."

They turned and did exactly that, hurrying for the entrance. But the stranger was faster. Despite her thick, flowing robes, she was still catching up to them. Nic fell slightly behind as they came to the door and, just after Jana ran through Nic hit the emergency seal. The door slammed shut, sealing Nic and the stranger off from Jana.

"Nic!" Jana screamed. "No!"

But it was too late...

-------------------------------

"That was brave of you," the stranger observed. "Brave, but foolish. Jana may have given you the help you could use to defeat me."

"I don't need help," Nic said bravely. The stranger laughed.

"Yes, Nic White," she said. "Yes, you do."

Taking a step back, he fired Betsy at the stranger and for the first time ever, Betsy failed Nic. The stranger deflected all of the blasts of energy with her lightsabers.

"You don't stand a chance," she said coolly. Then, before Nic could react, she was right in front of him. Despite her lack of height, the stranger managed to shove Nic back against the wall and her purple saber was thrust forward, catching him in the gut. Grunting, Nic leaned heavily against the wall.

"Well," he gasped, dropping Betsy and clutching at his stomach. "That's... quite... unpleasant..."

He collapsed and his senses began to fade. Just before his senses went completely black, he heard the stranger make a final comment.

"You truly have no idea," she murmured. Then, Nic White's world faded to nothing.
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Old 08-08-2006, 01:10 PM   #5
starmark2k
Someone's Worse Nightmare
 
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Chapter 5:
A Drunk with a Lightsaber

Nic’s eyes suddenly widened, his pupils dilated as light rushed into them, and he stared up into the ceiling lying on the cold metal floor of the vault. Groaning, he looked down his body and saw the stranger kneeling over him, her hands pressed firmly over the saber wound. The pain he felt before loosing consciousness was disappearing rapidly.

“There,” the woman said, removing her hands. The burn marks were gone. Standing slowly, Nic reached for his pistol and aimed it at the strange woman.

“Is this how you treat all the people who save your life?” she asked turning her masked face towards Nic.

“Well considering you’re the one who tried to kill me, I feel it’s prudent,” he answered.

“Tried?” the woman asked softly. She laughed. “No, I killed you.”

“Well, that just makes me want to shoot you even more,” Nic snapped.

“We both know you won’t do that,” the stranger said, standing slowly. “After all, I did revive you. I’m only interested in talking at any rate. Your life is safe enough.”

Nic considered this and then placed the blaster back in his holster. “Then talk,” he ordered.

“It’s a personal matter, really,” she began. “For years upon years I have looked after my family, but...”

“Years upon years?” Nic interrupted. “You sound pretty young to me.”

“That matters very little,” she snapped impatiently. “Jana Vincent. I am entrusting her safety to you.”

“Family, eh?” Nic said doubtfully. “Alright, so you want me to protect Jana. And if I don’t?”

“You will,” the woman answered, turning to walk away. “You will, for it’ll gain you what you seek more than anything.”

“What would that be?” Nic asked hesitantly.

“Retribution for your Sin, Nic White,” the woman answered before she walked into
the shadows at the back of the room without turning around. She seemed to disappear into the darkness at the back of the room. Nic was stunned by her last comment; the woman obviously knew a lot about him... but how?

“Carmen,” he said aloud. That’s the only way this stranger could know about Nic’s
past.

------------------------------

Jana was getting anxious waiting outside the vault door; she heard no noise coming from inside the room that concerned her even more. She had tried several times to break the locking code and get in, but it was pointless. The codes had been disabled from the inside.

Slowly, the door began to lift. Unsure of what to expect, Jana drew her gun and
Aimed it through the doorway, waiting for a good view of whatever was behind the door. When she saw Nic was standing there with Betsy slung over his shoulder, her look went from concern to relief to annoyance, all in less than a second.

“So are you going to shoot me for locking you out,” Nic observed, tapping her gun away.

“I should,” Jana retorted, holstering her gun. “Who was that?”

Nic considered the question and looked back into the shadows where the strange woman had disappeared. Then, smiling and shrugging, he turned back to Jana.

“Nobody,” he answered, glancing back into the vault. “Nobody at all... just a drunk... with a Lightsaber or two.” He chuckled. “Lets get th...”

A flashing red light and a loud noisy siren suddenly interrupted Nic, something or someone had tripped the casino’s alarm system.

“This can’t be good,” Nic said looking around the room for another way out. Jana nodded her agreement and began to look along the shelves in this storeroom. When her eyes fell on a repulsorlift stretcher, an idea formed in her head. Turning to Nic, she hesitated. He saw her look.

“I’m not sure I like that look,” he said. Jana decided it would be best not to explain her idea.

“Nic,” she said, “I have a plan but, you may not like it.”

“Now I really don’t like that look,” he observed. “What’s your idea, now?”

“Well, I’m not sure I’ve got the time to explain,” Jana answered. “Best if I just get started, don’t you think?”

“I may regret this,” he muttered. “Just... just do what you have to.”

Nodding, Jana drew her pistol and fired a blast into Nic’s leg. A look of pure shock flooded Nic’s face and he slowly tilted his head down to look at his wound. For what seemed like several minutes, he stared at it.

“You shot me in the leg,” Nic said in a surprisingly calm voice.

“Well, I did say you wouldn’t like it,” Jana reminded him.

“I’m not crazy about it,” Nic agreed, grimacing. He stared at Jana for a second and then pointed accusingly. “You shot me in the leg.”

“Have a better idea of how to get out?” Jana snapped irritably.

“One that involves me walking would be nice,” Nic retorted. His voice rose into a high-pitched whine and his eyes started watering. “You shot me in the leg!”

“Oh, what, are you gonna cry now?” Jana retorted.

“You. Shot. Me. In. The. Leg!” Nic explained, emphasizing each and every word.

“I’m well aware of that, Nic,” Jana growled, annoyed with Nic’s repetition.

“YOUSHOTMEINTHELEG!” Nic screamed, his words running together into one word.

Jana put a hand over her eyes. “Oh, I wish I didn’t do it now.”

“You’re not the only one,” Nic hissed, grinding his teeth.

Jana shook her head and grabbed the stretcher and activated the repulsorlift and it hovered about one and a half meters from the ground. Nic limped over to the stretcher and laid down on it. Jana shrugged and began to push the stretcher out of the room and toward the casino’s back door. As Jana was still wearing her casino staff uniform, she managed to walk by the security guards and other casino employees without causing any suspicion.

-------------------------------------

Carmen’s was bustling as it always did, which made Carmen happy; the busy front put on by the cantina was always useful to hide her real business activities. She was sitting in her office going over the recent figures from her Hutt smuggling deals, a large smile streaked across her face. She had filled seven of her ships with Spice and made a large amount of credits.

As she sat looking at the datapad, a strange noise from outside the room startled her. It resembled the noise of something being thrown against the wall near the door into the office, a noise Carmen had heard before, a noise she never liked. This was suddenly followed by the noise of man groaning in pain and the sound of a blaster being fired on the stun setting. Carman stood up from her throne-like chair and stared at the door.

The door slowly opened and Carmen felt a wave of fear engulf her; her guards had always been able to protect her, but it seemed they’d been compromised. Her eyes were dry from fear and she squeezed them shut. As her eyes opened she saw a figure in the now fully opened door. As her eyes focused, she sighed in relief; she knew that stance.

“Nice to see you again, Nic,” she said, smiling. Nic stood there for a second before turning to Jana who had her blaster resting on a guard’s neck. Nodding Nic stepped into the room and closed the door behind him so he could speak with Carmen in private.

“Give me just one reason why I shouldn’t riddle you with holes where you stand,” Nic threatened, his pistol aimed at the crime lord. “You set me up.”

“If it’s any consolation, I didn’t want to do it, Nic,” Carmen told him. “But I’m afraid I had no choice.”

“No choice?” Nic laughed sharply. “Explain.”

“This woman came to me about a month ago,” Carmen answered. “She had enough information on me to bring down every business I have. She gave me an ultimatum; call you in and set up the job or she would hand the data over to the authorities.”

Nic lowered his pistol and holstered it as Carmen sat back down in her chair, inviting Nic to take a seat in front of the desk. He walked over and sat down.

“So who was she?” Nic asked, curious to know more about the stranger who killed him and then brought him back to life.

“I wish I knew,” Carmen answered. “She wore a mask all but once... but even the picture I scanned into several databases from that one time turned up nothing. You probably know more than I do. What happened when you met her?”

“Well it ended up with me bein’ shot in the leg,” Nic grumbled. I’ve spent the last couple hours with my leg in bacta.”

“Well I can see you’re fine now... you beat up my guards,” Carmen said, “but I did you wrong. I want to make it up it to you. I have an actual job if you’re interested?” She pulled a datapad out of a drawer and handed it to Nic. He looked at it and a grin came to his face.

“I’m listnin’,” he said.

“As you can see, a Hutt by the name of Bursa has recently purchased some experimental tech from the black market,” Carmen explained. “It is a cloaking device... and I want you to... liberate it for me.”

“Sounds dangerous...” Nic observed. “Should be a laugh. I’ll do it.”

-------------------------------------

A small sub-light shuttle traveled high in the sky of the large swampy world of Nal Hutta. Diving down, it came to a small metallic platform in the middle of a jungle and landed in the centre, lowering a loading ramp near the rear. Nic and Jana stepped out of the shuttle and onto the platform, both examining their surroundings and finding only mud and swamp water before a thick gas obstructed the view after a few meters.

“So this is Nal Hutta,” Jana announced dryly, grimacing.

“Yep,” Nic agreed, “this is the Hutt home world.”

“Doesn’t Nal Hutta mean ‘Glorious Jewel’?” Jana wondered. Nic nodded.

“Yeah,” he answered. “Do you think it’s some kind of ironic humor?”

“I’d say it’s likely, but Hutts aren’t known for their humor,” Jana said, sniffing the air and nearly gagging. “What is that smell?”

“The planet,” Nic replied calmly. “Smells like a Hutt, don’t it? C’mon.”

Nic and Jana moved forward as the shuttle took off behind them, leaving the platform behind and coming to a metal walkway. They were heading towards the palace of Bursa the Hutt. As they walked, Nic stepped carelessly and felt something soft squelch under his foot. He looked down and realized he’d stepped in some kind of green slime.

“For the love of…” Nic snapped irritably, lifting his foot out of the slime gingerly. Jana laughed and tugged at his arm and they continued walking on the walkways over the swamps that covered the planet’s surface. They walked roughly a klik through the swampy forest before they came across the large place made from a black rock. Nic took out the datapad Carmen had given him and studied it for a few seconds. Then, he looked back up at the palace and turned to Jana.

“There’s a side door that’s unguarded?” Nic wondered.

“Unguarded,” Jana said uncertainly. “Are you sure? Hutts aren’t exactly known for being trusting.”

Nic didn’t reply, choosing instead to walk slowly toward the side door indicated by the datapad. Jana stood uncertainly for a few seconds and then followed. As they got closer, they began to sneak around walking slowly and quietly and drew their guns.

“Now!” Nic yelled, opening the door. Both mercenaries rushed in, stopping suddenly a meter inside the room. The room was filled with various thug guards, including six Gammorreans and a couple of Weequay. The crowd of aliens turned and faced Nic and Jana, staring at them for a moment before drawing their weapons.

Nic stared at he crowd then looked back at the datapad.

“Oh,” he said, nodding. “This is the wrong door.”

“I don’t know, Nic,” Jana retorted angrily. “Looks like that Weequay might be fascinated with you...”


----------------------------------------------------

Nic was thrown onto a rocky floor, his hands tied behind his back, and his guns and jacket removed. He landed face first, which earned him a small gash on the forehead. Grumbling, he turned around and saw Jana struggling against a couple of Gammorreans who were trying to shove her through the metal doorway. As her arms were also tied, there was little she could do to keep from being pushed in. The door was slammed behind her and she kicked it in frustration. Nic managed to pick himself up and began observing his surroundings.

The room was reasonably large, about four times the height of Nic, and seemed to be circular. It was made completely or rock with the exception of the metal door Nic and Jana were thrown through and a large gate the opposite side. The only light was coming through a small hole in the ceiling.

Jana stood staring at Nic for a few seconds obviously pondering the events that led to her current situation.

“You have got to stop taking jobs from that woman,” she sighed.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Nic said, still examining the room. “You know, this is the weirdest cell I’ve ever been in... and I’ve been in several. I’ve never seen one with a high ceiling and a massive gate before.”

“Nic it’s not a cell,” Jana said, glancing around the room. “It’s a feeding pit.”

“A feeding pit?” Nic asked, slightly confused.

“The general purpose is to feed something,” Jana answered, giving Nic an odd stare.

“Well I’d prefer a mess hall, I think,” Nic said, still unaware of what this room was intended for.

“You don’t know much about Hutts, do you?” Jana groaned. “Nic, I hate to break this to you but we aren’t being given food... we are the food.”

“We’re food?” Nic exclaimed, startled at the thought of becoming a meal. “For What?”

A loud roar came from behind the gate. Nic stared. “What the hell was that?”

“I’d guess that’s what’ll be eating us,” Jana answered. “And from the sounds of it, we’re not much more than a snack... We need to get out of here.”

“Really?” Nic said sarcastically. “I’m thinking it would be so much fun to sit here and be a snack to whatever that thing is.” He rolled his eyes. “And how do you intend for us to be escaping? It seems to have escaped your notice that we’re tired up.”

“Nic, you know that knife you keep concealed incase we ever get captured and put in a situation where said knife might be handy?” Jana asked calmly.

“Yeah,” Nic agreed. “What about it?” Jana merely stared at him until he understood. “Ohhhh, I can cut our hands free.”

“Now he gets it,” Jana muttered. “Another minute more and we’d be lunch.”

Nic knelt and bent backward, grabbing his knife out of his left boot. Standing again, he cut the fabric that bound his hands. It took time, but he managed it. Then, he cut through the cloth binding Jana’s hands. She rubbed her wrists then looked around the room.

“I think I’ve found an escape,” she said, looking up.

“As long as it doesn’t involve you shooting me, I’m all for it,” Nic told her. Jana sighed and stared at him.

“Is there a chance that I’ll live this down?” she wondered.

“I sincerely doubt it,” Nic answered. “So what’s the plan? Explain it fully, please.”

“We need to climb up and get out through that hole,” Jana answered, pointing to the hole in the ceiling.

“What?” Nic exclaimed, staring up at the hole. “We’re never going to be able to climb up there! I almost think your ‘shoot Nic’ plan was better.”

“If I had a gun, maybe I’d do it again,” Jana snapped. “Shoot you, and get out myself while the beast is distracted with you!”

The large gate on the opposite side of the room began to rise, drawing their attention. Behind it, a large creature with leathery skin and long, sharp claws roared again and smashed its claws against the gate. Though neither of the two mercenaries had seen one, they correctly identified the beast as a Rancor. They’d heard stories and descriptions from other mercenaries.

“On second thought, you’ve got a pretty good idea here, I think,” Nic said. “So, uh... I’ll race you!”

Jana didn’t need any further reason to chase Nic to the wall and begin climbing the rough surface. On the other side of the room, the gate continued to rise. The Rancor clawed impatiently at it. The mercenaries were about halfway up the wall when the gate was high enough for the beast to get through. Roaring, it approached the wall.

Jana was a little higher than Nic on the wall when the Rancor started swiping at them. With a determined yell, she leapt upward, barely catching the wall just out of the Rancor’s reach. Attracted to her yell, the beast tried to reach her just as she pulled herself up through the hole. Roaring angrily, the Rancor turned its attention to Nic.

“Uh, Jana?” Nic yelled as the Rancor slapped the wall right next to him. He slipped a little. “A little help maybe?”

Jana tossed something down at the Rancor, momentarily distracting it. In a moment, it was back on Nic. Again, it reached for him and he took his knife, jabbing it at the beast’s oncoming hand. The knife broke the skin and then snapped and the Rancor drew back, roaring angrily.

“Take my hand!” Jana called, reaching out to Nic. He did so and she helped him through the hole. Just as he made it through, the Rancor returned to the wall, trying to reach for him again. When it realized he was out of its reach, it roared angrily and began repeatedly smashing itself against the wall.

“Hope it dies that way,” Jana muttered. Nic gasped for breath and nodded, looking around the room they’d escaped into. It appeared to be some kind of clothing room. Women’s dresses and other types of clothing were scattered around the room. One shelf caught Nic’s eye; a slave girl’s clothing rested here. With a cheesy grin, Nic turned to Jana and found that she was looking at the same shelf. She glanced at him and caught his grin.

“Oh, hell no,” she snapped.

“I just worked out how we’re going to get the cloaking device and escape without being food for a Rancor,” Nic said with a cheesy grin.

“No way in...” Jana began and lapsed into Correllian, swearing and in other ways rejecting Nic’s idea.

“Come on,” Nic interrupted. “We’ve gone with your ideas twice. The first got me shot in the leg. The second almost made me Rancor’s snack. It’s my turn.”

“Rancor’s snack was your fault,” Jana protested. Nic’s cheesy grin remained. Jana stared helplessly from Nic to the shelf and back.

“I’m so going to regret this,” she grumbled.
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Old 08-08-2006, 01:11 PM   #6
starmark2k
Someone's Worse Nightmare
 
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Join Date: Nov 2004
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Chapter 6:
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
slang.

“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.
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Old 08-08-2006, 01:13 PM   #7
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Someone's Worse Nightmare
 
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Chapter 7:
Echo

Nic stood with his hands in the air, a golden statuette in one hand and a gun held loosely in the other. He was staring down the barrel of a blaster pistol and two others were aimed in his direction. The room was dark and had ancient stone walls covered in vegetation. The only furniture was a small circular podium that stood behind Nic.

“This ain’t exactly what I call good,” he muttered.

“Got that right, White,” answered the Twi’lek holding the blaster in Nic’s face. “Hand over that trinket.”

“Oh, come on!” Nic protested. “I was here first.”

“I’m the one with the gun,” the Twi’lek laughed.

“I got one too,” Nic retorted, waggling his own gun slightly in his upraised hand.

“But you don’t have the friends,” the Twi’lek told him, glancing left and right at his companions. “Drop the gun.”

Nic did as he was told.

“Well, I may not have the gun now,” he said, kicking it away with a grin. Without warning, the Sullustan on the thug’s right crumpled to the ground as a blaster shot burned into his left thigh. Then, the Twi’lek found himself being choked by a small-ish hand while another hand of equal size ripped his blaster away from him. In seconds, the shadowed attacker shot and disabled both Sullustan and knocked the Twi’lek to the floor.

“But I do seem to have a friend,” Nic said cheerfully. “Thanks, Short Stuff. Perfect timing.”

“My pleasure,” Jana answered, grinning down at their Twi’leki opponent.

“Now if you’ll excuse us, we have an idol to sell,” Nic explained with a grin. Mimicking his grin, Jana flicked the gun in her hand and smashed it against the Twi’lek’s cranium. Nic took the idol and stuffed it in a pouch at his side.

“Just like that,” he muttered, heading for the room’s exit. Jana followed him out into a long corridor deep within the great Massassi temple, one of many such temples on Yavin IV. The two mercenaries rounded a corner and Nic glanced out one of the gigantic pane-free windows... and promptly shoved Jana up against the nearest wall.

“Place like this won’t have guards, so you’d better not be kissin’,” Jana hissed, looking ready to slap Nic if he even considered it.

“Place like this happens to have a platoon of Imperial stormtroopers in the courtyard,” Nic explained quickly. “Ain’t no kissin’ goin’ on in my mind...”

“Fair enough reason to be shoved about,” Jana whispered, her eyes widening. Nic nodded grimly and retrieved a comlink from his belt.


-----------------------------

Within the dense forests of the fourth moon of Yavin, there lay an older YT-800 Corellian light freighter. It was completely shut off to attract much less attention and the foliage gave excellent cover to combat the naked eye.

Inside the freighter, loud Irodian rock music echoed through the narrow corridors, emanating from the cockpit where its pilot was leaning back in her chair, bare feet crossed and resting atop the control panel. Her eyes were closed and her head nodded to the beat of the music. She wore dark blue pilot’s overalls, unzipped and open, revealing a greasy white tank top beneath. Her short red hair had been styled to cover her left eye.

“Aerith come in,” Nic’s voice whispered through the communications console. Being so immersed in the music, Aerith missed her captain’s attempt at contacting her and began tapping her foot against the forward view screen.

”AERITH!” Nic finally shouted. It was loud and startling enough that the young woman’s eyes snapped open and she jerked backward abruptly, sending her feet slamming to the floor.

“Sith Poodoo!” she exclaimed, turning her music down. Then, into the comm, “Yeah, I’m here.”

“When were you plannin’ on warnin’ me an’ Short Stuff about the Imperial dropship?” Nic demanded anxiously.

“If there was a dropship, I’d have...” she began, turning her head to the sensor panel. Her voice trailed away as her mind took in what her eyes were seeing. “Oh, dear Empire, Vader, and all Sith in hell, there’s an Imperial dropship near your location, Boss.”

“Are you completely sure about that?” Nic muttered sarcastically. “Now if you’re not too busy listening to that Force awful stuff you’re inspired to call music, can you see what dropped the dropship?

“Ithorian rock is good!” Aerith protested, flipping switches to increase the range of her scanners “Ooh! That’d be boring to fly... it’s one of those new dreadnaughts the Empire’s been turning out lately.”

“Can we outrun it?” Jana wondered, taking the comlink from Nic.

“Does the Emperor look dead?” Aerith countered, grinning as she flipped a few more switches. The freighter came to life slowly.

“Good,” Nic said, again taking control of the comlink. “We’ll need you to pick us up on the roof in ten minutes.”

“Already on the way, Boss,” Aerith confirmed as the freighter lifted slowly from the ground under her expert hands.

--------------------------------------

Nic placed the comlink back on his belt and slipped away from the window. Seconds later, he again pressed Jana into the wall and gestured to a pair of stormtroopers heading their way. With kissing out of the option, the two mercenaries reversed their path and darted up the next staircase they found.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, a blur of red energy streaked past them and embedded itself in a wall near them. A team of stormtroopers was coming down the stairs and had spotted them.

“Don’t much think they’re interested in havin’ a friendly chat,” Nic mumbled, pulling Jana around and hurrying back down the stairs. Rounding a corner, the two mercenaries literally bumped into the two stormtroopers they’d originally tried to avoid.

“Sorry, sir,” Jana apologized to the one she’d run into. Still puzzled as to why he’d been rammed by a rather short young woman, the trooper attempted to raise his gun, but by the time he’d brought it up, Jana had removed his helmet and smashed his head with it. With a groan he collapsed. Nic punched the second trooper in the face, but with the helmet on, all he managed to do was hurt his hand. Then, Jana reached over and used Nic’s pistol to shoot the man.


Nic regained control of his blaster and began shooting wildly backward as they ran, hoping to either hit or deter a few of the growing crowd of stormtroopers in pursuit. More often than not, his shots hit the walls. Abruptly, Jana pulled him around a corner and then onto a small balcony. From here, they could climb to the top.

And climb they did. But their ascent took them over the Imperial infested courtyard and though stormtroopers aren’t known for their observational skills it would have been hard not to see a pair of mercenaries in darkish clothing moving up the side of a light-ish colored building. In short order the troops in the courtyard opened fire on the climbing mercenaries.

“These guys couldn’t hit the broadside of a bulk freighter,” Jana mocked, glancing down at them as she climbed.

“Unless you want to test that theory, I suggest you keep moving, Nic ordered as a shot came dangerously close to hitting him. At that, Jana saw no point in arguing the matter and hurried after him. Blaster fire hit the temple all around them, causing the stone to tremble beneath their hands and feet. It didn’t slow them much however, and they soon reached the rooftop and took cover there. Blaster fire continued to pelt the area, as if the troopers were trying to bring the temple down with the mercenaries atop it.


‘Where the hell is she?” Nic demanded, crouching out of sight as the blaster fire continued to pelt the area.

“She likes to make an entrance,” Jana reminded him, lying calmly on her back, fully out of the firing range. “She’ll be here.”

Without warning, the old freighter rose from behind the temple, engines roaring. Slowly, it spun and slanted toward the temple’s roof. Nic and Jana could see Aerith’s wide grin as she maneuvered the freighter to where they could jump on top of it. Nic immediately did just that and turned to watch Jana do the same. Grabbing Jana’s arm, Nic pulled her to her feet and they moved together to the small circular roof access and down into the ship.

As they headed for the cockpit, the two mercenaries felt their pilot push the ship faster. Coming into the cockpit, they noticed her hand just leaving the velocity controls.

“I hope you’re not planning on ramming that thing,” Nic announced, gesturing to the Imperial dreadnaught. The Empire’s newest warship moved slowly to intercept the little freighter.

“Of course not,” Aerith scoffed. “We need to pass it to jump to hyperspace. I’m just gonna pass it with my own little stylish flair.” Flicking a button on a side console, she added, “Chase, we need full power to the engines.”

“It shall be yours,” the engineer responded. Suddenly, a shrill alarm sounded from a panel at the copilot’s seat. Nic sat and stared for a second before switching the alarm off.

“Squad of TIEs just got launched,” he announced, turning to Jana. “Do your damage, Short Stuff.”

“Fast or slow, Boss?” Jana inquired, already heading for the door.

“Aw, c’mon, Jan!” Nic protested. “At a time like this you wanna show off? Use the damn computer!”

“Spoilsport,” Jana grumbled, running off to the turret. Despite Nic’s input, she did not switch the targeting computer on. “It’s fairer this way,” she added to herself, as justification for her actions.

“I know you ain’t usin’ the computer,” Nic grumbled after her first shot. “What’d you ask me for if you were gonna do it your way anyway?”

“I like your complaints, Boss,” Jana teased, taking another TIE down on the word ‘Boss’. She set her sights on a third fighter and went on. “Besides, you know this is the only fair way with me behind the gun.”

In the cockpit, Nic grumbled, but returned his attention to sensors, acting as Aerith’s copilot and navigator. She continued to press the old freighter to its limit, driving straight for the dreadnaught. As they neared it, she began letting out whoops and catcalls at the TIE fighters whizzing past them.

“Easy, Aerith,” Nic hissed. “No show boating.”

“Oh, c’mon,” Aerith laughed, glancing at Nic. “You’re telling me you don’t want to show up the Imperials?”

Nic chuckled and shook his head. “OK, but make it quick.”

“Oh, it will be,” Aerith answered, her grin widening as she pushed the old ship to its limits.

Down in the turret, Jana found herself kept busy. Three fighters remained and they seemed to have figured out where the freighter’s turret was.

“Give me a spin, Aerith,” she commanded. “They’re staying up above us.”

Aerith obliged and Jana grinned. The TIE pilots hadn’t planned for that. One of them was especially slow at moving and she targeted him. In a panic, he flew directly into her shots and vanished in a brilliant splash of red.

“Momma’s scarier than daddy,” Aerith said aloud in the cockpit.

“What?” Nic wondered, staring at her in puzzlement.

“Momma’s scarier than daddy,” Aerith repeated, keeping her hands steady on the controls. “It’s ‘cause daddy goes to work, brings in the money to feed the kids, but then he comes home, eats, and goes to bed. Momma’s scarier. She spanks the kids when they do wrong, she grounds, them, and she makes them eat their Ithorian peas.”

“What is it with you and Ithorians?” Nic grumbled.

“I’m just explaining this so you understand what’s about to come next,” Aerith explained.

“And what’s that?” Nic demanded. Before answering, Aerith put on one final burst of speed and shoved the controls forward, pushing the old freighter downward beneath the dreadnaught. Then, she pulled up, circling the Imperial ship and screaming, “Who’s yo Momma!”

Leveling out, she launched the ship into hyperspace. The following TIEs had not managed to keep up and helplessly rammed the side of their mothership. Bright explosions and a lonely Imperial dreadnaught were all that remained. The freighter had escaped.

----------------------------------

The YT-800 Corellian freighter landed in a small hanger in Cloud City, in the high atmosphere of the gas giant Bespin. A man in rich clothing and accompanied by two guards stood at the boarding ramp as it lowered to the ground. Nic, Jana, Aerith, and Chase, a tall man in greasy beige overalls and some blast goggles disembarked and stood expectantly, waiting for the rich man to speak.

“Well,” the man said, nodding slowly. “You lived up to half the bargain and brought my ship back in one piece. Did you run into any problems?”

“A couple of Bursa’s mercs and an Imperial shipfull of trouble,” Nic said, shrugging.

“Nothin’ we couldn’t handle,” Jana cut in confidently. The man frowned and nodded slowly.

“That’s good to hear,” he said, his eyes drifting to the bag at Nic’s side. “But do you have it?”

Nic grinned and retrieved the golden idol from Yavin IV out of the bag. The man snatched for it, but Nic tossed it aside to Jana, who made a big show of almost dropping it. She had to stifle her laughter at the man’s pained look.

“Money first, please,” he requested. The man’s eyes never left the idol as one of his security guards handed a sack of money to Nic.

“Well?” the man demanded impatiently. Nic nodded to Jana, who handed the idol to the man. Instantly, his face relaxed into a smile. “30 years of searching and it’s finally mine!”

“And now you have your little idol thing,” Aerith said impatiently. “And I’m not about to believe the sack you just handed Nic holds a hundred.”

“You’re quite observant, my dear,” the man chuckled. “Now see, if I’d given you all the money before, what was to stop you from running off with my idol and my money?” He retrieved a comlink from a shirt pocket and switched it on. “Bring it in.”

Two guards entered, carrying a large case. They set it down before the mercenaries and opened it.

“The sack contains twenty-five thousand,” the rich man told them. “In the case, you see the remaining seventy-five. If you wish to count it, I have the time to wait.”

“No, I trust you,” Nic said kneeling down to get a closer look at their payment. “It all looks in order.”

“It’s been a pleasure, Mr. White,” the rich man said, offering a hand to Nic.

“Indeed it has, Mr. Carver,” Nic replied, standing and shaking his hand. “And please, call me Nic.” With a grin, he explained, “Everyone else does.”
------------------------------------

Nic and Jana found their way to an old, shady cantina, one so similar to all the others they’d been to that they could scarcely tell a difference. Though Aerith had been eager to move on to another piloting job, Nic had convinced her to have a drink with him and Jana. Well, it was turning out to be several drinks, as Aerith brought their third round back to their side booth. Side booths were the only places Nic felt safe considering Jana’s habit of attracting trouble.

As they sat, they discussed the past few years. Nic limited the discussion to the past two to three years and Jana did not probe further than that. Though they had become close friends, some things were still off limits. For her part, Aerith loved the stories they told of their meeting and subsequent adventures.

Suddenly, a loud banging interrupted their happy chatter and they turned along with the rest of the bar to see an elderly mercenary hammering his table with a metal plate. When he was sure he had the attention of the entire bar, he dropped the plate with a clatter and spoke.

“Ladies and gents,” he announced. “I have made a decision. And that decision is that, after 40 years of good, hard mercenary work, it is time to retire and to celebrate.”

A cheer went up around the bar and Nic, Jana, and Aerith joined in. The old man picked up his plate and hammered the table again to quiet the crowd.

“My first act of celebration is a high stakes game of Sabacc!” he announced grandly. “If you have the creds, you’re in the game.”

“Oh, that’s a stroke of genius,” Jana laughed. “He’s celebrating his fortune by loosing it.”

“We could look at it in a different light here,” Nic said thoughtfully, intrigued by the idea. “Short Stuff? This could be our chance to get enough creds to buy a ship.”

Jana’s jaw dropped. “Are you out of your mind?” she hissed. “Don’t even think of it!”

“I kinda already have,” Nic pointed out.

“But... it’s high stakes,” Jana argued. “This ain’t the game you’re used to, Nic.”

“But, we just had a windfall,” Nic reminded her. “Look, Jan. You can do what you want with your fourth. Save it for...” He paused, wondering what she might buy and then, tried again. “Whatever it... whatever...” he muttered. Finally, he shrugged and finished, “Just, whatever. But this is what I want to do with mine.”

Standing, he approached the retiring mercenary. Aerith watched him go and then turned to Jana.

“He’s a gambler then?” she asked. Jana put her head in her hands and grunted.

“No,” she finally answered. “No, he’s a looser.”

---------------------------------

The objective of Sabacc is simple; to win the credits in one of the two pots. To win one of the pots, you must score a value as near to twenty-three or negative twenty-three as you can manage. A pure Sabacc, exactly positive or negative twenty-three, or a card set called an ‘Idiot’s Array’ would win the second pot. Sabacc is played with a deck of seventy-six card-chips. The deck is divided into four suits of fifteen card-chips each (staves, flasks, sabers, and coins), and two each of eight "face" cards added. All of these cards have a numeric value, either positive or negative. The four suits contain eleven numbered card-chips, along with four "ranked" card-chips (Commander, Mistress, Master, and Ace). The card-chips are designed to change value, or "fluctuate", at random intervals, provoked by electronic signals from a central randomizer. Card-chips can be placed in the "interference field", locking in their value, but revealing their value to the other players. A hand with a value of zero, over twenty-three, or under negative twenty-three is called a bomb out, an automatic loss of the hand.

The Sabacc table was full. Nic, the host, and six other players were gathered around the dealing droid, ready to Ante up. Nic sat opposite the host of the game and was doing quite well. He had tripled his money since the beginning of the game. After the first round, two players bowed out.

Nic liked Sabacc; it was by no means a simple game and had an element of randomness. To Nic, this was a reflection of his current life. He rarely knew what would happen before it occurred and there were many potential complications. As he looked at his cards, he observed his score, negative 20. It was a good hand, but still easily beaten. Tossing a moderate amount of credits into the pot, Nic glanced at the other players. He had already worked out the tells of all the players but their host. Two players truly had good cards, but the others were bluffing. The six remaining players placed in their antes and three of them were left with nothing more to gamble; they folded entirely. The host nodded thoughtfully and folded out of the hand.

A quick moment of consideration and observation told Nic that another was near to folding. If he could pressure at least one more person, he figured he had a good shot at the pot. Tossing another few credits into the pot, the players showed their cards. Nic won by a long shot and pulled the hand pot from the center. Two more players bowed out.

“You’re quite a player, young man,” the old mercenary observed as the droid dealt new cards. “What’s your name?”

“Nic White,” he answered. “But call me Nic, jus’ like everyone else.”

“As you like it, Nic,” the old mercenary chuckled. To both remaining players, he said, “What do you two say to us making this hand more interesting?”

“And how would we do that?” the third player wanted to know.

“All creds in,” the old merc answered. “If either of you win, I’ll also add my ship to the pot. She’s called Echo, a Kuat mid-bulk freighter, two turrets, fast for its size and a cargo bay large enough to carry a rancor and its mother... though why you’d want to carry that nightmare is your own business,” he added with a chuckle.

“And if you win?” Nic asked.

“You each put in one hundred thousand credits,” the merc answered, grinning. “It’s a good deal. The ship is worth twice that, at least.”

Count me in,” the third player said quickly, showing his ID to prove he had the credits to back the wager. Concerned, Jana approached the table and watched over Nic’s shoulder as he counted out his credits. Slowly, he looked up at the old merc.

“I only have half that,” he announced, disappointed.

“Well, I guess you’re out... Nic,” the retiring mercenary said with a grin. Seeing Nic’s immense disappointment, Jana interrupted.

“No,” she announced boldly. “No, he’s not.”

Puzzled, Nic turned to face Jana. “Jan, what...”

“We’ve been acting like partners for two years, Nic,” Jana whispered to him. “It’s time we started sharing like partners.” Then, to the old merc, she said, “I’m Nic’s merc partner. We have the money.”

“Then let’s get playing,” the merc laughed. Sighing, Nic returned to his seat and Jana fished out the proper credit chips and tossed them in the pot. Suddenly, the randomizer kicked on and the players froze. A tiny gasp came from Jana as she watched Nic’s cards change, but the other two were so occupied with their own changing cards that they missed it.

For several long seconds, the players were silent. Then, the third player slammed his cards down on the table, swearing angrily at his misfortune. He had bombed out. It was down to Nic and the retiring mercenary. Slowly, the old merc grinned.

“Read ‘em and weep, my friend,” the old man said laying his cards on the table. Pure Sabacc. Convinced he’d won the game, he reached for the pot, but his hand was intercepted by an angry slap from Jana.

“Back off, speedy,” she snipped. “Show him, Nic.”

“Never crow too fast, old man,” Nic said, slowly turning his cards for the old merc to see. It was an Idiot’s Array, the only hand capable of beating a Pure Sabacc. “Looks like I got me a new ship.”

Emotions flew rapid-fire across the old merc’s face. First, shock. Then, anger, followed by a minor trace of sadness and finishing with amusement as the old man burst into laughter. Nic took a step back, puzzled.

“I guess this game has solidified my retirement,” the merc announced, laughing harder. “Well played, Nic. Docking bay 61. The Echo is yours.” Glancing at Jana, he went on. “Mighty fine good luck charm you’ve got there, young man. You’d best keep her as close as possible, if you know what I mean.”

He winked and then stood, heading for the bar, leaving Nic and Jana alone at the table.

“You...” Jana began. Shock still flooded her face. “But did you just...”

She sat heavily in the chair next to Nic and watched as he nodded slowly. Finally, she managed to get her words out.

“You just... won!” she exclaimed. “A kriffing ship no less.”

“And a hell of a lot of credits,” Nic added, grinning. “And I seem to have discovered my good luck charm. You should help me more often.”

“Don’t count on it, bud,” Jana warned.

“Worth a shot,” Nic chuckled. “Always worth asking...”


-------------------------------------------------

Nic and Jana stood in front of a holo-cam on the landing pad where their newly acquired ship was docked. The ship rested behind them and a droid took a picture of them there. After the flash, Nic turned to admire the ship.

“You know, we’ll need a pilot,” Jana pointed out. “Neither of us know how to fly this thing.”

“Already sorted that,” Nic answered. “I caught Aerith before she signed on with another ship. She’s more than happy to help us out.”

“Thought you didn’t like her,” Jana remarked. Nic shrugged.

“Well, she’s a good pilot,” he said. “And I’m sure I can get used to her neverending enthusiasm for high speeds and Ithorians.”

“We’ll need a mechanic,” Jana warned. “An’ we both know Chase is unavailable now.”

“We’ll be fine for a few months ‘till we can find somebody,” Nic said. “Ship’s in good condition and I know a little... well, I can change a wire... I think...” He shook his head dismissively. “Any other complaints?”

Jana laughed. “Can’t think of another off the top of my head, Boss. Alright, so where first?”

Nic grinned down at his partner. “Ever been to Alderaan?”


The End...
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