My Turn-ons Include Napalm

Nina

Someone threw up on my combat boots but it still couldn’t tear me away from the bodies laid out and putrefying in the Brazilian sun. The youngest girl still had the pink ribbon in her hair I had tied on yesterday afternoon. It was the only tangible evidence of who I was looking at. Cheetoh came to my side silently. His breath was rasping from the smoke near the incinerator, the smell of blood and old sweat mixing with the char.

“How about it, Sorrow or revenge.” I said quietly so that the others jostling me wouldn’t hear. Cheetoh alone had the choice I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.

“Leave the women and children out of it.” He replied staring at the girl who begged him for marriage. Her arms were too disfigured to allow her hands to properly rest on her chest.

“Gather all who are willing to fight. I’ll get the local Tanakas here for support.” I said softly and turned to go. Cheetoh grabbed my arm. I stopped waiting for his words but he only gave me a gentle squeeze that let me feel his gratitude. The wailing started when the women were allowed forward.

Fritz

Code named “The Leprechaun,” otherwise known as the Leper, was droning on about the project I had authorized but was now beginning to regret. I fought to keep my eyes from glassing over or rolling as he started showing the first signs of passion. It was always the same, he would come in and rattle off his numbers in his status reports and then start in on what he wanted to do going forward. That’s when the cocoon shattered and the psycho-nerd butterfly emerged and he didn’t stop flapping until I squashed him. I smacked the desk and he cut off and stared apprehensively.

“The game is up right?”

“Yes sir,” he said blinking rapidly. I really hoped he didn’t start crying this time.

“Is it functional for the money laundering scam?”

“Yes sir.”

“So why are you going on about it. You did as instructed and you’ll get your share. Why are you still talking about added content to the online game?” He slid a one page report across to me. It had a long column of numbers on it and it was the beginnings of a profit/loss statement. The final tallies were missing and I looked at him inquiringly. I must have had a severe expression because he flinched and actually brought his hands up as if I would strike him. He gave me a sheepish turning over gesture. I flipped the page and glanced down and then bent over the paper in shock.

The stupid multiplayer online game in one month had exceeded the projections for the money laundering for the entire year. I looked up at the Leper with a big smile. I almost declared him clean for the public on the spot, but then I would have to explain; this was no time to make fun of my little genius who might turn me almost legitimate.

“You can use forty percent of the profits for redevelopment. The rest will be spread around in profit sharing for the team working on it. Bring in as many as you need that aren’t already busy.”

“How much is your cut sir?” The Leper asked dejectedly. He probably wanted all the profits for generating new content.

“The same as everyone else. I want it standard across the board.” The Leper looked up in surprise at that. “Of course the money laundering part of it won’t change.” I said hurriedly. It didn’t seem to affect him. My scramble phone rang and I looked at it nervously. Nothing good ever came from that phone and I didn’t want to ruin my good mood.

“I have to take this. Thanks for your hard work.” I said in dismissal. The Leper gathered his stuff and fled. He probably thought that his evil cousin might change his mind if he had a chance to reconsider. I dug the phone out of the locked drawer and opened it and only dimly registered that the number was unfamiliar.

“Guten Tag”

“It’s me,” Nina said. I nearly dropped the phone. I hadn’t seen her since the last day of school and wasn’t even sure if she was alive. Relief flooded through me and muscles I didn’t know I had started to relax. Part of the evil cousin mystique bandied about was in large part due to my irritation that I didn’t know what happened to Nina that day.

“Why the hell did you wait so long to call me?” I shouted before I remembered who I was talking to. There was a long silence on the other end. I opened my mouth ready to apologize.

“I was busy. The guys that gave me a lift from school have some family problems. I need a favor to help resolve the issue.”

“Sure, what do you need?” I asked and silently swelled that she actually called me for help. Nina wasn’t the kind of girl that liked relying on anyone for anything.

“Pretty standard stuff really. I need assault rifles, grenades, mortars if you can get some, and plenty of napalm. It doesn’t have to be the good stuff just make sure the delivery system is idiot proof as you can manage. Oh yeah and some high grade sniper rifles would be great and make sure all the guns have fire suppression.”

“I’d have thought you wouldn’t get involved in another family feud. You’re already elbow deep in that sort of trouble.” I said trying to lighten the mood. Her brooding tone was starting to freak me out and the hardware wasn’t something you took to a family picnic.

“Not that kind of issue. He is out of family members and that’s the issue. Check your email.” As if on cue my computer bleeped at me and I opened the email. There was no subject and no body but there was a picture. I only glanced at it so I wouldn’t spend the next minute or so rediscovering what I had for lunch.

“Where do you want the stuff and when?” It was all I could manage.

“You’ll get another email with details tomorrow along with payment.”

“I can bankroll you if you need. How about mercs? I can send you some guys.” Nina’s cavalier attitude did a number on a boy’s machismo.

“Mercenaries would bring down CIA heat, and I don’t want to burn this place as a refuge.” She said neatly without mentioning that the Smith’s would burn her haven to the ground to find her. I knew for a fact that several of the aggressive family were given high clearance in the CIA.

“Watch yourself Fritz. It was easy to get this number and your email.” She said and the phone went dead. I leaned back in my chair and struggled not to trace the call. Nina would have taken care of that but the desire to have a solid point of contact was strong. I grabbed my desk phone to call in the only two family members I trusted to give them the good news.

Nina

The virgin jungle was cleared in a matter of days and the men and women were already being trained by the Tanakas. I would have left the villagers out of it all together but it seemed unfair. It was their own country after all and I couldn’t deny them their revenge. Not for the first time I marveled at how quick and efficient the Tanaka members were. Even exiled to Brazil they had kept up their traditions and still served me as well as their ancestors served mine.

My uncle Shiro was supposed to have called by now and he was behaving rather squirrelly on the phone last we chatted. I knew he was up to something to safeguard me in the upcoming attack but I couldn’t imagine what it was. The main Tanaka force in Japan would stick out like a polar bear in the Sahara. I didn’t have time to worry about it but I hoped he wouldn’t do something stupid like use Fritz to help me in a blind email. I would just have to stay in constant contact with him to make sure. The jungle suddenly felt a little warmer and I fought down the butterflies in my stomach. I should have eaten more at lunch. Guerilla work always required more energy.

Cheetoh jogged by with a newly formed squad and I fought down the urge to tell him to cut off those orange dreadlocks again. Of course if he did I wouldn’t be sure what to call him anymore and I had forgotten his real name. An image of Fritz with orange hair came unbidden into my mind and I fought to keep the severe expression on my face. A young woman who had been staring at me in adoration screwed up her face in concern. I glared at her until she scurried off with food and water for the troops.

Fritz

My office door slammed open and my hand slid under my desk to the pistol I had there and brought it up. Grace advanced on me and I angled the gun to one side in relief. Grace was one of few I wouldn’t shoot on sight if they entered my office that way. Grace reached over the desk and pulled me out of my chair and she casually disarmed me in my shock.

“Why did you send Hans to Central America with two teams of mercenaries and enough firepower to attract the attention of every sovereign nation with an itch to hit the big red button?” I squirmed in her grip but gave up and did my best to look innocent. I really was, but I wasn’t used to it.

“The mercenaries were supposed to be in reserve for Nina. I told Hans about it but I didn’t give him orders to do anything with them.” Grace slapped her hand down on the table and released me and marched around the desk. She was casually carrying my gun in her hand and all my concentration was focused on not getting shot with my own gun. Grace started banging on my computer and I had enough time to wonder if there was a backup keyboard and mouse in the office before she pointed at the screen imperiously. Confused I peered at the screen while trying to keep an eye on Grace’s gun hand. Sure enough there was my authorization for Hans to use the forces I had allocated on standby.

“I didn’t do it. You know Hans has my clearance to expedite stuff. You do too come to think of it. He’s acting on his own initiative and I want to know why.” Grace relaxed and her face took on a worried expression.

“I tried calling him but he’s not answering either phone.” I nodded and was going to have a long hard talk with Grace and Hans about professionalism. I didn’t mind that they started dating but if it was going to get me shot every time things got sticky I would have to reconsider my position.

“I’ll contact him and let you know what I find out.”

“The hell you will,” She said in challenge. I sighed and started going through the complicated coded system me and Hans communicated in. Several text messages later Hans rang my phone.

“Your girlfriend nearly shot me because of you.” I said without preamble. A snort of laughter was my reply. “Tell me what I want to know before I have to label my own brother as a rogue.”

“Nina’s uncle contacted me through a blind. He must have hacked your email and pulled my contact info. I’m going to run interference for Nina during her operation. When I am done, nobody will care what she is up to.” I thought about this for a minute but Grace had veins pulsing dangerously.

“What if you get caught in the open?” I asked pointedly.

“I’ll be miles away. You know I don’t like the front lines. I just like to be close enough to see the carnage.” I looked at Grace and shrugged. I had the phone on speaker but she snatched it out of my hand anyways.

“If you endanger yourself or us I will personally kill you.” She snapped into the phone.

“I love you too honey. Have an apple pie waiting for me when I get back.” Grace broke the connection. Hans was certainly going to pay for that little comment. I suspected he knew it but he was probably hoping that if he did get killed it would dull the pain a little which had me worried. Grace stomped out of the office without looking back. I wondered who was going to be my go between now with the rest of the family. I sighed and started towards the door preparing in my mind how I was going to deal with The Leper when I got to his cubicle.

Nina

There was something crawling up my inner-thigh and it really tickled. I sighted down the barrel of my shiny new L96 sniper rifle. This wasn’t easy while gripping the tree branch with my legs and resting the barrel on another branch. The house set a quarter mile from the fence still had the lights on and my target was just sitting down at his desk in the study. I checked the wind one last time and gave my scope an extra click. I fired and was rewarded with a clean hit. It wasn’t in the head like I wanted but shooting a fifty caliber bullet through someone’s neck is just as fatal. I hopped out of the tree and dug in my pants for the offending critter and crushed the life out of it. That was my second target of the night and the security wasn’t too bad. I had about half an hour at least before they would find my firing position. I jogged down the animal track and to the stream where my boat was waiting.

Fritz didn’t like my tactics of picking off the small fries first but he liked only messing with the people at the top. When it came to drugs there was always someone ready to take over. The only way to make sure it stopped was to completely eradicate the supply and everyone involved in distribution or you accomplished nothing.

When I finally arrived back at camp Cheetoh came up at a dead run. He bent over panting as I collected my gear and stared down at him expectantly.

“All the big guys have sent their families out of the country and all the shot callers are gathered at the main house to figure out what to do.” He had a broad grin on his face and a little wonder that my plan came off so well.

“How are the men?”

“They won’t shoot each other.”

“Good enough, tell them to be ready. Tomorrow night we go and get your lives back.”

I went to my hut and took a bath and washed the jungle off of me and only then did I sit and check my phone. I called Shiro first.

“I thought you didn’t like my alliance with the Germans.”

“They were useful.” Shiro said without a trace of concern.

“You disapproved of me dating one readily enough.”

“Business is one thing…”

“Don’t give me that crap. If they are good enough to die for me, they are good enough to date me. If you deal with my contacts one more time without my authorization that’s it. I will cut ties. I’m not a little girl anymore and I think the way the school went down you would appreciate that.” I hung up before I said something worse. I didn’t even really like Hans until now. I thought he wasn’t much more than a pain in the ass and I told Grace she should tell him to take a hike more than once. If he was willing to risk himself in this way though, maybe Grace was on to something. Fritz believed in him but Hans made me nervous and this operation didn’t shake that feeling.

I didn’t reply to Fritz’s email. I didn’t trust myself to. I felt ashamed that his brother was risking his life for one of my obligations. I was paying one debt just to accrue another. The vicious cycle felt like a stain I couldn’t wash away. I went back to the bathroom for another bath. I wasn’t sure if it was just jungle that was making me feel unclean.

Fritz

I was in my newly finished war room watching my brother giving CNN news anchors fits. The UN was going into special session and the President of the US was declaiming the actions of my brother while parental and religious activists were proclaiming the second coming of Christ. Video streaming sites were trying hell for leather to take down Hans’ homemade documentaries of the wanton destruction. Poppies and coca plants were burning by the thousands and paramilitary troops from the CIA’s bucket list were being slaughtered in dirty inhumane ways that the world powers found distasteful for their citizens to consume.

The true political cannon ball to the crotch was the two CIA agents killed defending the illegal plants. It was broadcast across the world before the NSA could scream national security. As much as I hate my brother’s methods he was truly a visionary when it came to misbehaving. The people were cheering him on and the establishment was creating new adjectives and nouns to describe their utter contempt.

Grace joined me and decided her namesake was inconvenient for the day and alternated between sobs and sacrificing my high dollar electronics to the God of Google in hopes to spare my brother’s life. I tried to keep her fed with small cheap devices that were easily replaced so I wouldn’t lose the news feeds I needed. The bank of televisions and computer monitors had so far escaped her wrath but I was running out of remote controls and pre pay phones. My only solace was the disturbing amount of cash dumped into my account presumably by Nina’s uncle. If it cost me my brother though, our alliance was going to be pretty hazy moving forward.

There was a decided lack of plastic and circuitry genocide for going on fifteen seconds and I spared an eye to check on Grace to make sure she wasn’t picking up anything heavier. She sat sobbing her eyes glued to the television in apparent acceptance. I took a seat beside her and threw an arm around her. She buried her face in my shoulder and I could swear she daintily wiped her nose on my suit coat but I graciously let it pass. We sat and watched and the emotions crossing our faces matched the shifting screens of the news feed.

Nina

More domestic policy should be solved with the public at large with a stockpile of mortar rounds and the politicians using the words that got them elected. The compound was close to a mile across and the security had been wiped out in the first half hour. Children were running gleefully across the back of the line with shells and machine gun rounds. I kept them out of range from the opposition’s defenses but it was an effort. Father and daughter reloading together and Mother and son sniper teams were ruling the day.

The house on the hill was now in range of the mortars and we were hitting it hard. Men wielding small arms periodically ran from cover heading to the vehicles and went down in a hail of bullets. The constant barrage of sniper fire over the past week had stripped the defenses bare of the fields and they were ablaze with the smoke curling in almost every direction.

The offensive was only about an hour and a half in and the reserves had come into relieve the first wave. Fresh enthusiastic explosives and bullets went tearing through the main house and waiting vehicles. Two walls of the main house finally buckled and whoops of joy went up. I finally called a cease fire and Cheetoh’s team and the Tanaka’s and I moved forward to clear the area surrounding the main house.

I was just clearing one of the cocaine refineries when a guy in a bloodied suit came out of a back room rushed me and knocked away my weapon and buried his knife in my forearm. He stayed close to keep others from shooting. He had one arm wrapped around my neck and a gun pressed into my neck. I pulled the knife and jammed it in his wrist holding the gun. I did it with enough force to push the gun off my nick but it still went off and the guys head exploded giving Cheetoh a brain and blood facial.

The body still managed to push me to the ground and it took a while to get out from under it. I was tying a bandage around my arm with the help of a Tanaka when I saw the look on Cheetoh’s face. He looked like a murderous clown who went off his meds with the blood and orange dreadlocks.

“That was the guy who took Machita’s wife and kids.” He said somberly but with a vicious smile cracking his lips. The blood was visible on his teeth and the scene made me wish I could be a normal girl that could throw up at such a sight. With my past and friendships it wasn’t even worth a wet burp.

Cheetoh and I clumped outside and let the rest of the team clear the last building. Cheetoh was walking with a limp. Other than us, there was only one other casualty. A boy had ran to a forward position and taken a bullet in the butt on the return trip. Last I had scene he had many of the village girls playing nurse.

“What happened to you?” I asked Cheetoh casually. He adopted a defensive posture and shrugged.

“I twisted my ankle coming through the fence.” He said sheepishly.

“Remind me to never let you train troops again.” I said with a smirk. He snorted and clapped me on the back.

“Remind me to never clear a building with you again.” I gave him a severe look that usually sent people’s skin to crawling but Cheetoh just widened his grin and slapped me on the back again. I signaled the troops forward for clean up and egress before the political puppets sent the army after us.

Fritz

Hans peeked through the door and gave me a searching look before oozing in and shutting the door quietly. Grace’s office was next door and Hans had a haunted cast to his face but his eyes were shining and I doubted I would get an apology.

“You outdid yourself this time bro.” I said mildly.

“No one knew it was me. Not even the mercenaries.” He said defensively.

“Not true, Nina’s uncle knew you did it and now he’s got something on you. You just put us at a distinct disadvantage with the Souh’s.” Hans looked abashed and penitent which was more than a little shocking. I might get that apology after all.

“So what is your punishment?”

“It’s already been carried out.” I turned the phone around and showed him the light to Grace’s office was on and she had been listening in. It was sheer coincidence that Hans walked in when he did but let him think I had the upper hand. It might even keep me from having to keep too close tabs on him. The only reason Grace had taken so long was she was probably looking for all the weapons she had stashed in her office. I had disarmed her just in case and when she came through the door and launched herself at Hans I was kind of glad I did.

I left the office skirting the walls so I wouldn’t be drawn into the melee. The Leper had a fresh financial report that would probably allow me to use the laundering money to buy out all our families’ financial interests in the next six months. Life was looking up for me. The high pitch squeal told me that Grace had Hans well in hand and the rest of our cousins had some new found respect for us. Now if I could only get my girlfriend out of firefights long enough for a date I could almost be content.

This has been a bonus story from the Prey for Vengeance novel written by Chris Dodson. The full novel is available on the Amazon.com Kindle store at this link.

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Smuggler’s Blues – Part 4

Boom.

She had only been on this thing for 15 minutes and already she had a headache 3 parsecs wide. The headache started at the metal covering where her left eye used to be and ran up over the top of her head where it hammered on the top of her skull with each step of the walker.

Boom.

Each step of the machine with the four story legs made her regret ever having graduated special forces training, let alone at the top of her class. And what was the deal with a walking machine anyway? In an era when plasma thrusters were powerful enough to move a small moon some bureaucratic hack on Coruscant, who had never seen action outside a simulator, thought building a giant machine that looked like a bantha would be intimidating.

Boom.

So here she was, sitting inside this machine waiting to be dumped out the back end like so much bantha pudu. To make matters worse the Zabrak sitting next to her had been staring at her for 14 of the last 15 minutes.

Boom.

Maev could see the Zabrak’s lieutenant insignia out of the corner of her eye – it was the only thing that kept her from breaking the tension with a plasteel covered fist straight to his tattooed nose. Just when her irritation reached near to the breaking point, Mr. “butterbar” Zabrak decided to break the silence…or what passed for it when you where sitting in a giant metal container with someone hammering on the outside.

“Cyborg?” said the Zabrak .

“Jackass.” Maev shot back.

“Sorry?” came the puzzled reply.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we were making introductions…” and then after purposefully long pause she added in as poisonous tone as possible”…sir

Boom.

Whatever the Zabrak lieutenant replied, most of it was cut off by the sound of the walkers step.

“…sensitive” was all she caught.

“You want sensitive! I’ll give you sensitive butterbar. I am not a fricking cyborg. The only reason I have an eye implant is because I caught some shrapnel from a grenade someone tossed my way in the rioting that followed the treaty with the Sith.

Boom.

“Save it for the battlefield sergeant, said the Zabrak officer, all I said was that I am sorry to touch on a subject that Is so sensitive. In fact, even if you were a ‘borg it wouldn’t matter. You might have noticed that our medical officer over there happens to be a cyborg.

Boom.

The medical officer offered a distracted wave without looking up from his clip board.

“He’s Needles and they call me Fuse, said the Zabrak officer. If you save that anger for the battlefield you’ll be one of the best….”

BOOM!!!

The sound of an explosion rocked the walker, cutting off Fuse’s last words. Running across the compartment to the forward hatch, he flung it open revealing an opening to the countryside where the pilot’s cabin used to be.

“Where did the separatists get shoulder mounted missiles?!” Yelled the medic.

“How the frizz should I know? Snapped fuse. Obviously the separatists aren’t the mindless thugs we thought they were. Now it looks like they are mindless well armed thugs. Looks like it’s time for someone to go out there and do a little seeking and destroying or the separatists will take out all the other troop convoys that come after us. “

Then looking at Sergeant Maev, he added, “Let’s get out there and take out those troops and any missile launchers they have Sergeant. If we get separated we will meet up at Fort Garnick.”

*****

Tajqa circled around the edge of Drelliad Village, approaching it from the North, the circuitous route allowing her to avoid separatist gunfire. The sounds of the firefight continued to echo off the nearby hills as she approached the warehouse behind which she had docked her light freighter. The front door to the warehouse stood open conspicuously – not for any reason directly attributable to the door itself mind you, but more for the quite dead and very well armed body that served as a make shift doorstop. As Tajqa stepped over the body, it occurred to her that blaster rifle clutched in the hands of the dead separatist hadn’t done him very much good. She also wondered what happened to the proverbial “other guy” that had taken out the separatist with a well aimed shot to the head. The answer soon presented itself in the prone form of Corso Riggs, slumped against a control panel on the far side of the warehouse.

Scattered around the warehouse where nearly a half score bodies by way of a quick mental count. Still, this is not what drew Tajqa’s attention. Nor was it the absence of the man who identified himself as Skavak among the dead bodies. That unspoken question was easily answered in the silhouette of her spaceship fading into the distance against the night sky. As she stood there staring she heard a groan behind her.

“ Oh my head, “moaned Corso Riggs, “I feel like a gundark has been using my skull as a drum.”

Tajqa walked over to Corso and began kicking him. “Get up. Get up” she yelled.

“I am awake” Corso shouted back; and then instantly wished he hadn’t as the pain in his head intensified.

“I mean get your worthless posterior off the floor, said Tajqa, the steely tone of her voice making her seem all the more threatening. How could you let Skavak take off with my ship?”

“Skavic helped those separatists get in here. He stabbed us in the back.”

“No kidding, Tajqa shot back, that much I had figured out. Then she added, How can you not know he was working for the separatists?”

“The separatists broke through the front door. I started to fire back, but the Last thing I remember was Skavic sucker punching me.”

Suddenly a panic stricken look crossed Corso’s face as he reached for his empty holster.

“Where’s Torchy? Corso said looking around. I don’t believe this. Skavic stole my blaster. Torchy’s a genuine Blastech Dl-25 with magnetomic adhesion grip and side mounted range finder. She’s too good for Skavic.”

Tajqa backhanded Corso across the face with force that would have left and imprint on steel.

“What was that for?” shouted Corso.

“Skavak stole my ship, started Tajqa, my livelihood. What is more that ship was my home. And all you are worried about is your BLASTER?”

“We can’t let him get away with this,” Corso said quietly as he crossed over to a nearby holotransmitter.”

“ He’s not getting away with this” said Tajqa calmly.

“Come on. Come on. Pick up blast you,” said Corso has he set the holotransmiter controls to Tajqa’s freighter and hit transmit.

A translucent miniature image of Skavak flickered into life above the lens of the holotransmitter. It seem to sneer at the pair of them before it spoke.

“What’s the matter Corso did I hurt your feelings? Be thankful you’re alive kid. And captain, there you are…On behalf of Ord Mantell’s glorious freedom fighters I thank you for your blasters, your ship, and a big laugh. Have a nice day.”

Corso cut in, staring fiercely at the transmitter while he spoke to Tajqa.

“Skavic and I were working for a guy named Vidu. When he finds out that Skavic is a separatist he will want revenge just like you. Do yourself a favor and go talk to Vidu at Fort Garnick. I’ll guarantee he will help you get your ship back.”

“ And what’s Vidu’s plan, said Skavak with a snort, “Walk around Ord Mantell yelling ‘Skavak’ and hope he finds me?”

Corso got even more irritated at the taunt.

“Vidu is the king of cargo, he shouted at the image of Skavak. There isn’t a payload that comes to Ord Mantell that doesn’t come through him. He’s a smart guy with connections everywhere. If anybody can find you…”

Tajqa interrupted Corso’s rant with a wave of her hand.

With that Taqa reached into her flight jacket and pulled out a small hand held device. To the sound of Skavak’s laughter she plugged it into the holotransmitter. The controls on the device immediately lit up, and numbers started counting down from 500. She turned some dials and the numbers quickly reset themselves to zeros across the dial.

“I think you are celebrating a bit too early” Tajqa said, smiling at the image of Skavak.

The image of Skavak laughed all the louder, but was suddenly cut off when Tajqa pressed a button at the bottom of the device. A brilliant flash of light illuminated the sky where the silhouette of Tajqa’s ship was fading into the distance moments earlier. An instant later what sounded like distant thunder reached their ears. Tajqa just looked at Corso and smiled. Then quietly she said…

“He was celebrating too early”

Boom.

She had only been on this thing for 15 minutes and already she had a headache 3 parsecs wide. The headache started at the metal covering where her left eye used to be and ran up over the top of her head where it hammered on the top of her skull with each step of the walker.

Boom.

Each step of the machine with the four story legs made her regret ever having graduated special forces training, let alone at the top of her class. And what was the deal with a walking machine anyway? In an era when plasma thrusters were powerful enough to move a small moon some bureaucratic hack on Coruscant, who had never seen action outside a simulator, thought building a giant machine that looked like a bantha would be intimidating.

Boom.

So here she was, sitting inside this machine waiting to be dumped out the back end like so much bantha pudu. To make matters worse the Zabrak sitting next to her had been staring at her for 14 of the last 15 minutes.

Boom.

Maev could see the Zabrak’s lieutenant insignia out of the corner of her eye – it was the only thing that kept her from breaking the tension with a plasteel covered fist straight to his tattooed nose. Just when her irritation reached near to the breaking point, Mr. “butterbar” Zabrak decided to break the silence…or what passed for it when you where sitting in a giant metal container with someone hammering on the outside.

“Cyborg?” said the Zabrak .

“Jackass.” Maev shot back.

“Sorry?” came the puzzled reply.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we were making introductions…” and then after purposefully long pause she added in as poisonous tone as possible”…sir

Boom.

Whatever the Zabrak lieutenant replied, most of it was cut off by the sound of the walkers step.

“…sensitive” was all she caught.

“You want sensitive! I’ll give you sensitive butterbar. I am not a fricking cyborg. The only reason I have an eye implant is because I caught some shrapnel from a grenade someone tossed my way in the rioting that followed the treaty with the Sith.

Boom.

“Save it for the battlefield sergeant, said the Zabrak officer, all I said was that I am sorry to touch on a subject that Is so sensitive. In fact, even if you were a ‘borg it wouldn’t matter. You might have noticed that our medical officer over there happens to be a cyborg.

Boom.

The medical officer offered a distracted wave without looking up from his clip board.

“He’s Needles and they call me Fuse, said the Zabrak officer. If you save that anger for the battlefield you’ll be one of the best….”

BOOM!!!

The sound of an explosion rocked the walker, cutting off Fuse’s last words. Running across the compartment to the forward hatch, he flung it open revealing an opening to the countryside where the pilot’s cabin used to be.

“Where did the separatists get shoulder mounted missiles?!” Yelled the medic.

“How the frizz should I know? Snapped fuse. Obviously the separatists aren’t the mindless thugs we thought they were. Now it looks like they are mindless well armed thugs. Looks like it’s time for someone to go out there and do a little seeking and destroying or the separatists will take out all the other troop convoys that come after us. “

Then looking at Sergeant Maev, he added, “Let’s get out there and take out those troops and any missile launchers they have Sergeant. If we get separated we will meet up at Fort Garnick.”

*****

Tajqa circled around the edge of Drelliad Village, approaching it from the North, the circuitous route allowing her to avoid separatist gunfire. The sounds of the firefight continued to echo off the nearby hills as she approached the warehouse behind which she had docked her light freighter. The front door to the warehouse stood open conspicuously – not for any reason directly attributable to the door itself mind you, but more for the quite dead and very well armed body that served as a make shift doorstop. As Tajqa stepped over the body, it occurred to her that blaster rifle clutched in the hands of the dead separatist hadn’t done him very much good. She also wondered what happened to the proverbial “other guy” that had taken out the separatist with a well aimed shot to the head. The answer soon presented itself in the prone form of Corso Riggs, slumped against a control panel on the far side of the warehouse.

Scattered around the warehouse where nearly a half score bodies by way of a quick mental count. Still, this is not what drew Tajqa’s attention. Nor was it the absence of the man who identified himself as Skavak among the dead bodies. That unspoken question was easily answered in the silhouette of her spaceship fading into the distance against the night sky. As she stood there staring she heard a groan behind her.

“ Oh my head, “moaned Corso Riggs, “I feel like a gundark has been using my skull as a drum.”

Tajqa walked over to Corso and began kicking him. “Get up. Get up” she yelled.

“I am awake” Corso shouted back; and then instantly wished he hadn’t as the pain in his head intensified.

“I mean get your worthless posterior off the floor, said Tajqa, the steely tone of her voice making her seem all the more threatening. How could you let Skavak take off with my ship?”

“Skavic helped those separatists get in here. He stabbed us in the back.”

“No kidding, Tajqa shot back, that much I had figured out. Then she added, How can you not know he was working for the separatists?”

“The separatists broke through the front door. I started to fire back, but the Last thing I remember was Skavic sucker punching me.”

Suddenly a panic stricken look crossed Corso’s face as he reached for his empty holster.

“Where’s Torchy? Corso said looking around. I don’t believe this. Skavic stole my blaster. Torchy’s a genuine Blastech Dl-25 with magnetomic adhesion grip and side mounted range finder. She’s too good for Skavic.”

Tajqa backhanded Corso across the face with force that would have left and imprint on steel.

“What was that for?” shouted Corso.

“Skavak stole my ship, started Tajqa, my livelihood. What is more that ship was my home. And all you are worried about is your BLASTER?”

“We can’t let him get away with this,” Corso said quietly as he crossed over to a nearby holotransmitter.”

“ He’s not getting away with this” said Tajqa calmly.

“Come on. Come on. Pick up blast you,” said Corso has he set the holotransmiter controls to Tajqa’s freighter and hit transmit.

A translucent miniature image of Skavak flickered into life above the lens of the holotransmitter. It seem to sneer at the pair of them before it spoke.

“What’s the matter Corso did I hurt your feelings? Be thankful you’re alive kid. And captain, there you are…On behalf of Ord Mantell’s glorious freedom fighters I thank you for your blasters, your ship, and a big laugh. Have a nice day.”

Corso cut in, staring fiercely at the transmitter while he spoke to Tajqa.

“Skavic and I were working for a guy named Vidu. When he finds out that Skavic is a separatist he will want revenge just like you. Do yourself a favor and go talk to Vidu at Fort Garnick. I’ll guarantee he will help you get your ship back.”

“ And what’s Vidu’s plan, said Skavak with a snort, “Walk around Ord Mantell yelling ‘Skavak’ and hope he finds me?”

Corso got even more irritated at the taunt.

“Vidu is the king of cargo, he shouted at the image of Skavak. There isn’t a payload that comes to Ord Mantell that doesn’t come through him. He’s a smart guy with connections everywhere. If anybody can find you…”

Tajqa interrupted Corso’s rant with a wave of her hand.

With that Taqa reached into her flight jacket and pulled out a small hand held device. To the sound of Skavak’s laughter she plugged it into the holotransmitter. The controls on the device immediately lit up, and numbers started counting down from 500. She turned some dials and the numbers quickly reset themselves to zeros across the dial.

“I think you are celebrating a bit too early” Tajqa said, smiling at the image of Skavak.

The image of Skavak laughed all the louder, but was suddenly cut off when Tajqa pressed a button at the bottom of the device. A brilliant flash of light illuminated the sky where the silhouette of Tajqa’s ship was fading into the distance moments earlier. An instant later what sounded like distant thunder reached their ears. Tajqa just looked at Corso and smiled. Then quietly she said…

“He was celebrating too early”

Boom.

She had only been on this thing for 15 minutes and already she had a headache 3 parsecs wide. The headache started at the metal covering where her left eye used to be and ran up over the top of her head where it hammered on the top of her skull with each step of the walker.

Boom.

Each step of the machine with the four story legs made her regret ever having graduated special forces training, let alone at the top of her class. And what was the deal with a walking machine anyway? In an era when plasma thrusters were powerful enough to move a small moon some bureaucratic hack on Coruscant, who had never seen action outside a simulator, thought building a giant machine that looked like a bantha would be intimidating.

Boom.

So here she was, sitting inside this machine waiting to be dumped out the back end like so much bantha pudu. To make matters worse the Zabrak sitting next to her had been staring at her for 14 of the last 15 minutes.

Boom.

Maev could see the Zabrak’s lieutenant insignia out of the corner of her eye – it was the only thing that kept her from breaking the tension with a plasteel covered fist straight to his tattooed nose. Just when her irritation reached near to the breaking point, Mr. “butterbar” Zabrak decided to break the silence…or what passed for it when you where sitting in a giant metal container with someone hammering on the outside.

“Cyborg?” said the Zabrak .

“Jackass.” Maev shot back.

“Sorry?” came the puzzled reply.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we were making introductions…” and then after purposefully long pause she added in as poisonous tone as possible”…sir

Boom.

Whatever the Zabrak lieutenant replied, most of it was cut off by the sound of the walkers step.

“…sensitive” was all she caught.

“You want sensitive! I’ll give you sensitive butterbar. I am not a fricking cyborg. The only reason I have an eye implant is because I caught some shrapnel from a grenade someone tossed my way in the rioting that followed the treaty with the Sith.

Boom.

“Save it for the battlefield sergeant, said the Zabrak officer, all I said was that I am sorry to touch on a subject that Is so sensitive. In fact, even if you were a ‘borg it wouldn’t matter. You might have noticed that our medical officer over there happens to be a cyborg.

Boom.

The medical officer offered a distracted wave without looking up from his clip board.

“He’s Needles and they call me Fuse, said the Zabrak officer. If you save that anger for the battlefield you’ll be one of the best….”

BOOM!!!

The sound of an explosion rocked the walker, cutting off Fuse’s last words. Running across the compartment to the forward hatch, he flung it open revealing an opening to the countryside where the pilot’s cabin used to be.

“Where did the separatists get shoulder mounted missiles?!” Yelled the medic.

“How the frizz should I know? Snapped fuse. Obviously the separatists aren’t the mindless thugs we thought they were. Now it looks like they are mindless well armed thugs. Looks like it’s time for someone to go out there and do a little seeking and destroying or the separatists will take out all the other troop convoys that come after us. “

Then looking at Sergeant Maev, he added, “Let’s get out there and take out those troops and any missile launchers they have Sergeant. If we get separated we will meet up at Fort Garnick.”

*****

Tajqa circled around the edge of Drelliad Village, approaching it from the North, the circuitous route allowing her to avoid separatist gunfire. The sounds of the firefight continued to echo off the nearby hills as she approached the warehouse behind which she had docked her light freighter. The front door to the warehouse stood open conspicuously – not for any reason directly attributable to the door itself mind you, but more for the quite dead and very well armed body that served as a make shift doorstop. As Tajqa stepped over the body, it occurred to her that blaster rifle clutched in the hands of the dead separatist hadn’t done him very much good. She also wondered what happened to the proverbial “other guy” that had taken out the separatist with a well aimed shot to the head. The answer soon presented itself in the prone form of Corso Riggs, slumped against a control panel on the far side of the warehouse.

Scattered around the warehouse where nearly a half score bodies by way of a quick mental count. Still, this is not what drew Tajqa’s attention. Nor was it the absence of the man who identified himself as Skavak among the dead bodies. That unspoken question was easily answered in the silhouette of her spaceship fading into the distance against the night sky. As she stood there staring she heard a groan behind her.

“ Oh my head, “moaned Corso Riggs, “I feel like a gundark has been using my skull as a drum.”

Tajqa walked over to Corso and began kicking him. “Get up. Get up” she yelled.

“I am awake” Corso shouted back; and then instantly wished he hadn’t as the pain in his head intensified.

“I mean get your worthless posterior off the floor, said Tajqa, the steely tone of her voice making her seem all the more threatening. How could you let Skavak take off with my ship?”

“Skavic helped those separatists get in here. He stabbed us in the back.”

“No kidding, Tajqa shot back, that much I had figured out. Then she added, How can you not know he was working for the separatists?”

“The separatists broke through the front door. I started to fire back, but the Last thing I remember was Skavic sucker punching me.”

Suddenly a panic stricken look crossed Corso’s face as he reached for his empty holster.

“Where’s Torchy? Corso said looking around. I don’t believe this. Skavic stole my blaster. Torchy’s a genuine Blastech Dl-25 with magnetomic adhesion grip and side mounted range finder. She’s too good for Skavic.”

Tajqa backhanded Corso across the face with force that would have left and imprint on steel.

“What was that for?” shouted Corso.

“Skavak stole my ship, started Tajqa, my livelihood. What is more that ship was my home. And all you are worried about is your BLASTER?”

“We can’t let him get away with this,” Corso said quietly as he crossed over to a nearby holotransmitter.”

“ He’s not getting away with this” said Tajqa calmly.

“Come on. Come on. Pick up blast you,” said Corso has he set the holotransmiter controls to Tajqa’s freighter and hit transmit.

A translucent miniature image of Skavak flickered into life above the lens of the holotransmitter. It seem to sneer at the pair of them before it spoke.

“What’s the matter Corso did I hurt your feelings? Be thankful you’re alive kid. And captain, there you are…On behalf of Ord Mantell’s glorious freedom fighters I thank you for your blasters, your ship, and a big laugh. Have a nice day.”

Corso cut in, staring fiercely at the transmitter while he spoke to Tajqa.

“Skavic and I were working for a guy named Vidu. When he finds out that Skavic is a separatist he will want revenge just like you. Do yourself a favor and go talk to Vidu at Fort Garnick. I’ll guarantee he will help you get your ship back.”

“ And what’s Vidu’s plan, said Skavak with a snort, “Walk around Ord Mantell yelling ‘Skavak’ and hope he finds me?”

Corso got even more irritated at the taunt.

“Vidu is the king of cargo, he shouted at the image of Skavak. There isn’t a payload that comes to Ord Mantell that doesn’t come through him. He’s a smart guy with connections everywhere. If anybody can find you…”

Tajqa interrupted Corso’s rant with a wave of her hand.

With that Taqa reached into her flight jacket and pulled out a small hand held device. To the sound of Skavak’s laughter she plugged it into the holotransmitter. The controls on the device immediately lit up, and numbers started counting down from 500. She turned some dials and the numbers quickly reset themselves to zeros across the dial.

“I think you are celebrating a bit too early” Tajqa said, smiling at the image of Skavak.

The image of Skavak laughed all the louder, but was suddenly cut off when Tajqa pressed a button at the bottom of the device. A brilliant flash of light illuminated the sky where the silhouette of Tajqa’s ship was fading into the distance moments earlier. An instant later what sounded like distant thunder reached their ears. Tajqa just looked at Corso and smiled. Then quietly she said…

“He was celebrating too early”

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Smuggler’s Blues – Part 3

Smuggling is 90 percent mind numbing boredom and ten percent terror. The ten percent part usually comes in some backwater spaceport as some local version of whatever pass for a drug sniffing bothan, …usually.

But not this time.

Having landed near a warehouse in Drelliad she found it to be much like a Justicar prison on a Saturday night – it was easy to get stuck in one but once you are there it was difficult to get out. Between Ord Mantell’s twin moons overhead and the explosions on the horizon, Tajqa found it easy to make her way to the edge of the Drelliad Spaceport. There she saw the gun emplacements that Corso Riggs was talking about. Easily three stories high they looked more like missile launchers than anti-aircraft cannons. They looked as if they could take down her light freighter from orbit, let alone upon takeoff. The massive cannons where indeed a marvel of modern engineering. But as all good smugglers knew, the more advance and complex the technology, the easier it was for something to go wrong. And unless Tajqa made sure something went wrong with the targeting computer, she was never going to get off this war torn rock.

As she neared the gun emplacement she could see sentries pacing on the far side of what appeared to be a haphazardly placed razor wire fence. Using a monocular that Corso had given her she studied the guards through the intermittent flashes of light caused by the distant explosions. They were carrying what appeared to be archaic slug throwing full-auto weapons, not dressed in any sort of a uniform. It appeared that the separatist in this case where not well armed mercenaries but just some dock worker who had just about enough to pick up a gun and do something about it. Which, as far as Tajqa was concerned, made them all the more dangerous despite their lack of anything approaching professionalism. A mercenary was only a paid thug. It was like hiring the school yard bully when you were a kid – they would only fight as far as they felt their pay, or lack thereof, justified. But a rebel with any sort of a cause? That was different and dangerous. A rebel, especially one pissed off enough to pick up a gun, would fight to the death…yours, his, or both. It didn’t matter. What is more, poorly armed with archaic equipment or not, a bow and arrow that hit it’s mark could kill you just as easily as a sniper with a high powered blaster rifle.

After a vain attempt to time the explosions, Tajqa just waited for a lull and ran for the edge of the razor wire. Reaching into her boot she found the vibroknife stiletto that was her last line of defense. As she grasped the blade the ultrasonic generator began to hum, vibrating the knife. If the razor wire was electrified she would know in an instant. Despite the handle being insulated the blade was made of cortosis weave. Which meant that while it was made to resist light sabers and slip past personal shields, it also a superconductor – the practical upshot of which was that the electricity would connect with the blade’s energy cell resulting in an explosion that would take her arm off long before she could be electrocuted. She hesitated for a moment. It wasn’t like she had much of an option; when she landed her freighter all she expected to have to do was drop off the guns and take off again. She hadn’t exactly came equipped for breaking into military compounds.

The knife cut through the wire fence with ease.

Cutting through just enough of the fence to crawl under, she waited for the sentry to turn the corner of the building upon which the cannons where permanently mounted.. When her chance came, Tajqa tore across the courtyard and threw herself against the wall. Edging along the wall, she reached the corner the guard had rounded a few minutes before. A quick glance told her that the doorway was located about 15 meters from the corner. She waited for the guard to round the next corner and edged toward the doorway. Whether or not she came equipped for breaking in to gun emplacements, there was one thing that a Tajqa always came equipped for and that was picking a lock. It took her about 30 seconds and she was inside.

The far wall was line with main frame computers and stations for two technicians. The rest of the facility held living facilities for what she presumed must have been the Republic military technicians stationed here before they were forcibly retired. The problem Taqa faced now was disabling the targeting computer and doing so without attracting attention. What is more, she had to disable it in a way that was not going to be easy to fix. Oh she had used guns before. Her ship had its own blaster cannons. But being able to use something and knowing how it was constructed, and thus disable it, was something altogether different. She could try just cutting wires, hoping she would cut the right one just by chance. If she was wrong, when she tried to take off from the spaceport it would be a very short trip.

She stood there a moment considering what to do.

“Oh the hell with it,” she said aloud. Crouching behind what appeared to be a gun locker she drew her blaster and open fire at the far wall. A few well aimed shots had both the desired effect, and the expected result – the same blaster fire that had destroyed the targeting computer would bring the sentries running. A moment later the door to the control room flew open and she found herself face to face with the same sentry she had managed to avoid earlier. He with the side of his body toward the interior of the room. Sweeping the room with the rifle, he saw Tajqa and instantly his personal shield snapped into existence, causing the guard to shimmer slightly. It appeared that either the rebel or the Republic soldier he had retired where better equipped than Taj thought. What is more, now she knew why the guards where equipped with old slug throwing weapons. The personal shield would make blasters, the common weapon of choice, totally ineffective, but still enabling bullets to penetrate the shield…

…and vibroknives.

…It was the reason that cortosis metal was woven into vibroknives in the first place. It allowed them to easily slice through personal shields.

An instant later the guard was dead on the floor of the control room and Tajqa was running for the gap she had cut in the razor wire. It’s one thing to fire on someone in self defense; that same situation had presented itself in more than one backwater cantina. But this was different. This was the first time she had to fire on someone for just doing their job. As she crawled under the wire and ran in the direction of her ship it occurred to her that more than once someone’s last words must have been “it’s just a job.”

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Smuggler’s Blues – Part 2

“I’m Corso and this is Skavak” shouted the younger of the two, attempting to make himself heard over the sound of gunfire.

What is going on out there” Tajqa shouted back.

Skavak, glanced at the younger smuggler and yelled back at Tajqa “WHAT?”

Tajqa leaned over and spoke closer to Skavak’s ear.

“I said, what is going on out there? It sounds like a war zone.”

“That’s because it’s a war zone” answered Corso.

The war with the Sith Empire had been over for five years, and much of the central Republic worlds were still dedicating what scarce resources they had to rebuilding their infrastructure. This meant that much of the worlds on the outer rim where left to fend for themselves – and Ord Mantell was about as far out on the outer rim as it gets and could still be called “civilization.”

When the Sith war machine made its way across the galaxy, leaving destitute worlds in its wake, joining the Republic alliance had seemed like a good idea to people of Ord Mantell. But when the dust settled and the varied armies of the Republic limped back to their home systems things were different. The promised reciprocity in return for military support never materialized. What little aid was proffered was little more than symbolic, allowing politicians to claim they had upheld their agreements at least in part.

In the end, what issues where important to politicians where meaningless to the average citizen. As it was, when the populace doesn’t have enough to eat, it didn’t matter whether the owner of the local market was Sith or from the Republic; it only matter who could stock the shelves. So when push came to shove to shove, you can only shove so much before someone starts to push back….

And the first people to get shoved off world were the citizens of the central system Republic worlds who had become wealthy off supplying arms, and not always to the same side. The Republicans had come to Ord Mantell meddling in local politics, buying up property and business’ at desperately low post war prices. It was about this time the people of Ord Mantell Republicans had dubbed “separatists” turned to the same underworld figures upon which they had once heaped disdain to supply the arms to do the shoving. And people like Viidu, for whom Tajqa smuggled, were more than willing to supply the needed firepower.

As Viidu was wont to say, his mother only raised on stupid child, and it wasn’t him. That was why he chose a small warehouse in remote village on Ord Mantell to make the drop of arms that were smuggled past the Republican blockade.

“ I’m picking up those blasters in your cargo hold, said the man who identified himself Skavak. Excuse the rush but I need to get out of here quick. This village used to be safe but the separatists are taking over.”

“Where’s Viidu,” said Tajqa, “he was supposed to meet me here to take delivery of the blasters.”

Skavak point out the large warehouse door, past Tajqa’s light freighter, toward explosions that where lighting up the darkening evening sky.

“He’s on the other side of that.”

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Smuggler’s Blues – Part 1

Tajqa hefted “tchin” over her right shoulder and shifted her feet into a more comfortable position on the otherwise cluttered control panel of the Corellian light freighter. “Tchin” was the name most Twil’ek gave to the right cone shaped “tail” that extended from the right side of the base of their skulls and hung down their back. But then Tajqa’Secura wasn’t like most Twi’lek. The twin tails, known collectively as “lekku” where at once the most prominent feature of her people and the one with which they held the most pride – where human men were wont to compare the size of more nether regions, Twi’lek men boasted about what hung down their backs. Oh Tajqa had named them alright. She called the left one Flopsy and the right one Mopsy. If they weren’t attached to the base of her skull she would have considered them a pain in the ass. In fact she would have lopped them off long ago if they didn’t contain part of her brain; and being prehensile (at least to a degree – a fact most humans didn’t realize) some words in her native language included their movement. The downside of all this was that if you had injured one of your twin tails and not had it replaced with a cybernetic implant, to another Twi’lek, it was as if you spoke with a strong, if not unusual, accent when speaking your native language.

She took another long sip of Caf and starred at the stars blurring past the windows in the front of the space ship. This was the boring part of being a smuggler. It was a trade which was often thought of as 70 percent boredom, 10 percent terror and 20 percent drunken stupor. At the moment she was nearly at the end of the 70 percent part as the ship approached the blue expanse of the planet called Ord Mantell.

They hadn’t even hit the planet’s atmosphere when the ship lurched like a starving man diving or a plate of turkey; in the process spilling the dark brew imported from her home planet Ryloth all over favorite button down white shirt.

“For crying out loud,” Tajqa yelped, “can’t you hold the ship steady?”

Beside her the ancient R-1 unit chirruped, emitting a sound that even those not acquainted with Robotics would understand as an apology. The R-1 unit was military surplus, about six feet talk and cylindrical. Sort of. The body of the robot was actually the shell from a Mark II reactor drone. It wasn’t something that the military did, nor something Tajqa did. The R-1 unit was just made that way. As a result it was slow, could barely move, and even if the ship took a nose dive into a mountain, the droid was likely to be the only thing to survive. As a result, Tajqa saw no reason not to permanently bolt it into the navigator’s position on the ship to relieve her of all such duties, allowing her to relax on the long voyage, while playing games of 5,920 questions with the little droid (a game the droid was incredibly good at).

As they hit Ord Mantells upper atmosphere, Tajqa chided the R-1 unit once again.

“Hold her steady old boy. Land the ship just outside that that warehouse in Drelliad village. Our contact will meet us there.”

The R-1 unit chirped an affirmative reply.

The fact of the matter was that the R-1 unit wasn’t actually “old” nor a “boy”. It was simply that Tajqa had a very strong penchant for anthropomorphism, and the R-1 unit had become her constant companion. True, the astromech unit had been reprogrammed for multi-jump hyperdrive navigation. But it had also been programmed with games and even included a library of music that would make most nightclub owner’s on Ord Mantell green with envy (an easy thing to do as most natives of the planet where green cat-like people to start with).

The R1 unit was perfectly capable of landing the ship of course, but Tajq tended not to trust much of anyone to begin with. “Trust your mother but cut the cards” was an expression she was wont to quote in many a space port cantina. And it wasn’t like the shipment wasn’t illegal (a fact which tended to both rile Taj’ and cut into her profits). The port authorities could have even inspect her bill of lading (a real one this time).

The only thing that was funny was the destination. Rather than landing at the spaceport, she was landing at a warehouse, in small village, just nearby. But credits were credits, even if they did come legally.

After a short an uneventful landing, Tajqa gave the R-1 unit the rest of the afternoon off to play chess with the maintenance droid. As she clambered out of the cockpit she saw two nervous looking humans approaching her ship. Tajqa considered this as she clomped through the hallways, her tall brown rycrit leather boots beating a cadence against the steel floors.

The two humans met her at the bottom of her ship’s boarding ramp. The thing about humans, is that with all the infinite diversity that comprised sentient beings throughout the galaxy, humans seemed about as vanilla as they come. She wouldn’t say they all looked alike to her; it’s just that they weren’t very interesting. She thought it must be the lack of brain tails that made them look somehow less intelligent. The only thing she could tell about these humans for sure was that they were nervous and seemed to be in a hurry.

“I’m Corso and this is Skavak” shouted the younger of the two, and then added, “We work for Viidu.”

But it wasn’t the fact they looked nervous that alarmed Tajqa, nor was it the fact that Corso was shouting – it was what he was shouting over

…gunfire.

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