Calpronica was a city planet to rival the other major metropolises in the galaxy – greater than Taris was three centuries ago, before its destruction. It wasn’t on quite on par with Coruscant, but then again, the Republic’s capital had suffered quite a beating during the war and hadn’t quite recovered.
While the gleaming skyscrapers shone of prosperity, Targon could easily smell the stench of poverty and corruption. He could see it too. Unlike Ord Mantell – ravaged by war – this world had not experienced any serious conflicts. Instead, the poor lived in destitution by the greed and exploitation of the wealthy.
Targon scowled as he exited the ship. Those wealthy were no doubt the Hutts – and their constituents.
He wasted no time in making himself scarce around the docking authorities. Rushing off before anyone could see or question him, he made his way to a crowd of people that were headed along to their numerous destinations.
The people were dressed in peculiar fashions. Some wore filthy rags, some wore high-end fashion material, and there were plenty of styles in between – and the distant bizarre as well. Targon figured he wouldn’t stand out too much, being draped in a cloak and hiding his face with a hood.
Still…if he ran into Sith, they would probably recognize his garb.
The streets were packed with people – even as streams of hover-vehicles flew overhead. There were folks headed to and from work, beggars looking to elicit sympathies, and drunks lying about in their stupor. Except the alleys were full, so many were in the middle of the street, forcing people to step over them as there was no room to go around.
Targon kept with the flow for a while, observing the buildings and sights – though most were rather unappealing. Advertisements for drugs and other vices, scandalous and offensive advertisements…things that should be expected on a world run by two groups that care little for the details of the population.
On nearly every street corner, there was a Sith trooper or two. They had rifles at the ready, as though they were expecting to be shooting someone at any moment. Each time he saw one, Targon felt himself tense up and twinge with apprehension. He tried to keep them in his sights while avoiding their attention.
A large patrol happened to be walking through. The crowd incredibly was able to part to allow them passage through. They came within a few meters of Targon, and his heartbeats quickened.
He needed to get out of the way and get his bearings. It wouldn’t do to be simply walking around the streets forever. He couldn’t do any good that way. However, stopping to help anyone in the middle of the street would certainly draw attention. So he started to look for a place to rest – away from the eyes of the Sith soldiers.
Targon noticed a change in the atmosphere a little ways past the patrol. While the streets were definitely lacking care and cleanliness, the ones up ahead appeared even more so. And there seemed to be no troops standing around. Instead, there were signs of gangs marking out territory and hanging out in alleys and on corners. After a moment of pondering, Targon figured he had just left a Sith controlled region of the city, and had entered gang turf – area under the Hutts’ influence.
“Well, I guess that suits me well enough,” he sighed to himself. “At least the Hutts aren’t discriminating against certain individuals – such as Jedi.”
Yet it wouldn’t do to be mugged and be left for dead in the street, Targon decided. There was little in the way of rest areas in this part of town, and the apartments were atrocious. He wasn’t excited at the prospect of long-term stay, but to be a real benefit to the people of this city, it was going to take time. However, the apartment complexes looked like they saw gang fights on a regular basis. Targon had no desire to get caught up in that.
There was only one place that actually looked good enough to consider. One of the blocks was dominated by a large structure adorned with multi-color fluorescent lights. Signs called it “Hondor’s Cantina”, but to Targon, it looked more like a club than anything else. There were bouncers at the door – two burly men who kept a close eye on who went in and who went out.
That didn’t bother Targon much, though, as there were no Sith troops around. He could handle a few thugs that gave him trouble well enough. Soldiers brought more soldiers, and they had bigger guns.
He didn’t see any line, which he found odd since everything else seemed like a club. Folks that the bouncers seemed to recognize just walked right in. Soon he was near enough to draw their attention, and unfortunately, he happened to be far away from anyone else that they could tell he wasn’t a member of a party. That meant he would be dealing with them one on one.
“Good evening, sirs,” Targon nodded. One of the men stepped in front of him and held up a hand.
“You got an invite?” he asked.
“Invite?” Targon raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, pal, an invitation. Not just anyone gets to go into the Hondor’s Cantina. You think this is some open place to the entire city? We have standards, bud.”
“I see,” Targon nodded. “And I don’t fit them?”
“Not necessarily, but you do look suspicious. And we don’t like suspicious people.”
Targon waved his finger subtly. “I can go in,” he said.
“You…can go in,” the bouncer repeated. He stepped aside and allowed Targon to pass.
“Thank you, sir,” Targon said as he went through the door.
Once he was through, he caught a huge whiff of the atmosphere and gagged. The air was thick with odors of alcohol, sweat, and filth. Not to mention the haze of smoke that hung just below an average head’s height.
There were plenty of tables, and drinkers occupied most. Some were slumping in their chairs, some were starting to sink into unconsciousness, some were lost in revelries and grievances they freely voiced in their intoxication…and some were getting ready to pick a fight. The bartender – a four-armed Besalisk – was busy getting rounds to the many patrons.
Targon knew the building was large, so there were probably more rooms to be had. And he might be able to see if they had rooms available. The place might stink, but at least there was security to be found here that would not be available in those apartments he passed by earlier. It wouldn’t hurt to check.
He made his way through the tables, and stopped at the bar.
“Excuse me,” he said.
The bartender turned around and growled. “I’ve got a lot of orders to handle, you can wait your turn.”
“No, no,” Targon shook his head. “I’m not looking for a drink, I’m wondering if there’s rooms available?”
The large alien chuckled, causing his great potbelly to jiggle. “You must be a new customer. Just invited – or did you sneak in?”
“Does it matter?” Targon asked.
“Not to me, as long as you’re pay for your drinks. I don’t do tabs here.” He handed a glass off to a man sitting nearby, who scanned his credits on the table to pay his fee. “Here’s the deal, stranger: you got invited, so you got a place to stay. There are couches in some of the other rooms, and plenty of entertainment. You can stay as long as you like, just pay for drinks, food, and pleasure up front. If you want privacy, there are a few bedrooms. Extra charge, though.”
“Ah, I see,” Targon nodded. “Thanks for the information.”
“Yeah, sure, now I’ve got orders to take care of.”
Targon left the bar and headed off to the hall to check out the other rooms. Hopefully, he’d be able to find one that smelled better.
There were only a few tables in this lounge – one of the more exclusive areas. Most of the patrons of the room were focused on the platform in the middle of the room, where they could drool over the dancing girls.
But there was no time for such foolishness at one particular table. Three men, a human, a Trandoshan, and a Devaronian, sat at it, a pile of credits in the center. They were deep in the business of high stakes card playing.
The human, Rick Orlan, stared at his opponents. He then glanced down at his cards for a second, and then his eyes went back to the aliens.
“Alright, gentlemen,” he said. “It’s the moment of truth. Let’s see the cards…” He turned to the Trandoshan. “Molsskin, what have you got?”
The lizard placed his cards on the table, face-up. Rick nodded as he looked at it.
“Two pair…not bad, not bad,” he said. He then looked at the Devaronian. “Jagi? How about you? Think you can beat that?”
With a grin, the horned alien showed his hand.
“Ooh,” Rick grimaced. “That’s a good hand. That’s a very good hand.”
The two aliens stared at him, waiting. He let them wait a while longer as he scratched his head and then his bristly chin.
“Well?” Jagi asked.
Rick ignored him for a moment, running his hands through his brown hair that was in need of a visit to the barber. Then he sighed in a sorry tone. “Well, gentlemen, it’s been a fun game…” He revealed his hand. “…But it looks like I win again.” It was clearly a game ending hand.
Jagi and Molsskin’s eyes widened, and they shoved their fingers into Rick’s chest as he was gathering the credits.
“Cheater!” Molsskin howled.
“Nobody can win that many times!” Jagi snarled. “Nobody!”
Rick sat back in indignation. He scoffed. “What? Are you accusing me – Rick Orlan – of cheating? Do honestly think I would do that to you?”
Jagi’s fist answered for him, smashing into his face. He fell backwards in his chair and the aliens were about to leap on top of him when a security droid entered and picked Rick up.
“Come with me,” the artificial voice ordered.
“Don’t touch me! Get your hands off me!” Rick shouted, thinking that it was some normal person and not a machine.
“Comply,” the droid said in a tone that could almost be called menacing.
“Oh, okay,” Rick resigned.
The room had become silent with the scene. As the droid dragged Rick out, his opponents started gathering up the credits.
“That cheater!” Jagi growled. “I should have seen right through him…Hey! These credits are mine!” The two began squabbling and when the door closed behind the security droid, the music and entertainment resumed as though nothing happened.
Rick was taken down the hall to the door of the owner’s chamber. There was a Rodian standing there, with lugubrious amounts of piercings on his face – ears, nose, mouth, and even antennae. He regarded Rick with his one good eye; the other was completely removed.
“Well, well,” he said in his blabbering language. “It’s the little troublemaker. Still wearing that jacket, I see?”
“Are you kidding, Leedo? I’ll wear this jacket to the day I die,” Rick pointed to his clothing. His jacket was a rusty red that stood out against his tan shirt and light brown pants.
“It’s been a while, Rick,” the Rodian said. “But as usual, you manage to cause a ruckus that brings you here. As head of security, I’m seriously thinking of having you banned from this establishment.”
“Banned? This was just a simple misunderstanding!” Rick protested.
“I’ve heard that one before.”
There was a deep, rumbling laughter from behind the door. Rick’s eyes widened. “That laugh,” he muttered. “I know that laugh…”
“Leedo,” came the loud voice of the Hutt, “bring him in.”
The Rodian opened the heavily secured door, grabbed Rick by the arm, and thrust him into the large chamber. The room was heavily lavished, with all sorts of fine linens draped on the walls, and gold trinkets littering the floor and tables. There was a large bed, adorned with dozens of expensive pillows. On top of the cushions was a large Hutt, surrounded by half a dozen slave girls rubbing him with oil. Three guards stood watch, two behind Rick at the door and one near the boss.
Again, the Hutt gave out a booming laugh.
“Ho-ho-ho! Rick Orlan, what a coincidence to find you here in my joint!”
“Hey, Gardogga,” he said hesitantly. “Fancy seeing you here. I thought you were still running your businesses on Hutta.”
“I recently…acquired…this place from old Hondor. I’ve been meaning to change the name and issuing new invitations out to the patrons.”
Rick laughed, but without humor. He knew what he meant by “acquired”. He felt a little shaky in the boots. “Look, Gardogga, my favorite slug…this really is just a big misunderstanding. I was just playing a game of cards when…”
“Save it, Rick,” the Hutt cut him off.
“Okay,” he shut up.
The Hutt chuckled. “Cheating again? Getting caught again?”
“Nah,” Rick scratched his head. “They were just poor losers.”
“Right, the usual story,” the cat eyes narrowed. “You probably know what I do with troublemakers, but I think I could let you go if you do a job for me.” He waved his hand to all the others in the room. “Leave us.”
The slaves and guards did as they were told. Leedo remained still for a while.
“I said leave,” Gardogga said.
“Great Gardogga,” the Rodian argued, “I am head of security and Mr. Orlan here is a security risk.”
“Leave!” the Hutt bellowed.
“You heard him,” Rick made a scooting gesture with his fingers. “Out you go.”
Leedo finally bowed and left.
“I see your employees aren’t taking orders too well,” Rick turned back to the Hutt.
“He’s a remnant from Hondor’s employ, and I was trying to cut costs with keeping most of the workers signed on,” Gardogga sighed. “However, it appears that they’re being more trouble than they’re worth.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Which is why I’m glad you’re here,” the Hutt smiled. “I’ve got a job for you, and doing it will let this whole misunderstanding slip.”
“A smuggling job?” Rick asked. “No way, I’m not doing that anymore.”
“Oh?” the Hutt’s giant eyes widened. “Why is that?”
“Haven’t you heard – oh wait, you wouldn’t have – I’ve gone straight.”
Gardogga erupted into a fit of laughter that shook the room. “Rick, you’ve always been able to tell the best jokes!”
“And yet you’re cheating at cards?”
Rick pulled out a high card from his sleeve and chucked it. “Not anymore.”
“Come now,” Gardogga liked his lips. “Just do the job, get paid, and…”
“Oh, wait, you’re paying? Why didn’t you say so?”
Gardogga smiled. “There’s the mercenary attitude I like. Of course I pay – this is business. You get the job done, and I’ll easily reimburse your losses in the lounge several times over.”
“Well…” Rick thought for a second, and then he sighed. “Alright, Gardogga, I’ll do this last job for you. But that’s it – I’m going straight.”
“Yes, yes,” the Hutt smiled. “We’ll see how long that lasts. I’ll have some men load up the spice onto your ship. I assume it’s still in your usual docking bay?”
“You know me too well,” Rick smiled.
He bowed respectfully to the Hutt, no less egotistical than others of his race, and walked out.
Mentally, he kicked himself in the cargo hold twice. Of course it was going to be an illegal substance transportation. What else did crime lords deal in? And the Empire had already got itself dug into Calpronica’s system of imports and exports. It was going to be extremely difficult to get this job done and still be alive to reap the benefits. He had quit the smuggling business for a reason.
But he needed the money. Big time. There were other debts to be paid, and creditors that were far worse than any Hutt.
Rick groaned. Slugs, smugglers, thugs, officers, sharks… He really needed to find better friends.