Targon didn’t like the looks of the other rooms – they were full of gambling, fighting, illegal dealing, and crowding over exotic dancers. Such things were not what a Jedi Knight should participate in. However, he was here, so he might as well rest in the lobby for a little while. There was only drinking going on there.
Reentering the lobby, he sighed in dismay. It apparently was time for some entertainment to liven the mood of the customers. A scantily dressed troupe of girls had been brought in, and they were dancing on just about all of the tables.
Targon ignored the swooning onlookers and made his way over to the bar. He sat in a chair and studied the vast assortment of drinks to choose from. He wanted cheap – and preferably nonalcoholic. There weren’t many that fit his criteria.
“So what’ll it be?” the bartender asked.
“Water,” Targon said simply.
The alien balked. “Water? You want water you can dunk your head in a puddle.”
“Surely water is free?” Targon asked.
“A cheapskate, are ya?” The bartender shook his head. He poured a glass full of the simple liquid and squeezed in a wedge of a fruit. “Here, maybe you’d like some sort of flavor.”
“Thank you,” Targon took the glass. The bartender moved on to other – more prolific and paying – drinkers.
Targon sipped his glass of water and tried to shut out the noise of the cantina to gain some calm in his mind. He had many things to think about – what he would do, who he could help…above everything, though, he was asking the question of why he came here in the first place. He was on a world controlled by two unfriendly powers, both quite dangerous to Jedi.
But he had come here to help people…so he scanned the area, wondering if any of these folks were in a situation he could help them with.
Rick sat alone at a booth. There was an empty glass in front of him, but his attention was towards the nearest dancer. She was a human, and Rick was wondering if he might be able to ask her out.
Of course, he would be leaving soon, so there was no room for a significant relationship. He might get lucky though, and not with cards. She might be the type…but if he was wrong… What if she wasn’t that kind of girl? The memory of seven hard slaps on his cheek from seven furious women came to mind. He wasn’t in the mood for an eighth.
He was about to stand up to get another drink when a heavy hand pushed him back in the booth. Then a man sat down across the table from him. He was a Kiffar, but he wore the armor and insignia of a Mandalorian recruit. But there was another mark that differentiated him from the clans – a black handprint.
Rick winced. Not again…
“Well, Rick Orlan,” the man smiled with malice. “I hope you got our message earlier this week.”
“You mean the trashed apartment?” Rick nodded. “Yes, yes, very nice. I would never have figured it was you if your symbol hadn’t been painted all over the walls. Couldn’t you have stayed and chatted a while?”
“Let’s cut the bantha fodder,” his guest leaned forward, making sure Rick noticed the blaster he held under the table.
“The money, right…” Rick scratched his whiskers. “Well, you see, it’s like this…I knew from your visit to my apartment that you were in town, so I came here to win a fortune to pay Algayne by playing cards. But wouldn’t you know it, these bums I was playing with got upset because I beat them and they started calling me a cheater. Me! A cheater!”
The Kiffar’s face was stoic and uninterested.
Rick continued, “So, they started trying to pick a fight, and the security comes and punishes – who else? – Me! They take my money and I’m the one who’s out of luck. Even though I won fair and square.”
“Touching, really. But I don’t give a frell. Algayne doesn’t give a frell either. He wants his money – the money you borrowed for an investment that turned sour. We’ve given you plenty of time, now it’s time to pay up.”
“Plenty? That deal went down less than a month ago. I would have thought you’d have given me a few weeks more.”
“You thought wrong. Algayne can’t have has-been smuggler scum losing his money and making a fool out of him.”
“A fool? That’s a bit harsh. I lost money just as he did.”
“Only he’s the one who is sending the collector,” the Kiffar pulled the blaster up and held it to Rick’s face. “Now, how about that money?”
“What if I don’t have it?” Rick felt sweat start to bead on his forehead.
“Do I really need to answer that?”
“No, not really.”
Rick gulped. “Can I please ask for an extension? Two days, maybe? I can get the money by then, I promise.”
“And then lose it again, most likely. Algayne sends his regards, Rick Orlan,” he started to pull the trigger.
The blaster suddenly left his hand and landed on the table. Both men looked up and saw a cloaked man standing over them. He was young – barely looked out of his teens. Rick and the collector both studied him with a hint of contempt.
“Is there a problem here?” Targon asked.
“None of your concern, stranger,” the Kiffar snorted. “Mind your own business, kid.”
“I’m not sure about rules here,” Targon persisted. “But I don’t believe violence is welcome in this cantina.”
“After I fry this mudlicker, I’ll be long gone before anyone can say anything.”
“Well, I’m saying something right now.”
Rick swallowed. “Look, man, I appreciate your concern, but you should really butt out of this…”
“Shut up, Rick!” the Kiffar picked up the gun, still staring up at the interloper. He stood and then started looking down on the young man. “I don’t like troublemakers, and my boss doesn’t like them either. Clear out, fool, or your blood can join this scum’s on the table.”
“There’s no need to get hostile,” Targon held up his hands. “I’m sure we can resolve this issue without any trouble. If this is an affair of money, perhaps I can assist?”
“This isn’t about money,” the Mandalorian growled. “It’s about honor and image.”
“That’s not how it seemed to me,” Rick said. “I’d say our talk was about money.”
“I told you to shut up, worm!” The Kiffar turned the gun on Rick and prepared to fire.
Targon grabbed his arm and pulled him away, causing the shot to scorch the wall above Rick’s head. Then the young man pushed the Mandalorian backwards with his shoulder.
Recovering as he bumped into a table, the Kiffar growled. “You’ve got a death wish, kid. First you, and then the fool!”
Targon’s hand pulled out his lightsaber from his cloak. The green glow and the recognizable humming silenced the entire cantina. Everyone – drunk or less so, dancer or watcher – stopped and was staring at the man who revealed himself to be a Jedi.
The Kiffar was unimpressed. “Algayne has killed dozens of Jedi, and he teaches his men to kill them too. I’ll gain great honor by bringing him your head.” He fired his blaster four times.
Targon blocked each bolt, sending the last one into the shooter’s leg. The Mandalorian’s armor was punctured by the powerful gunshot, and he gripped his wound in pain. He cursed and glared at the Jedi.
Maintaining a defensive pose, Targon realized his expression was a little more severe than it should be. He should have been calm and clear, but the Mandalorian’s disrespect and desire to kill Jedi had evoked a sense of agitation in Targon’s mind. He tried to clear his emotions, and made a personal note to work on his attitude and expressed behavior.
The Mandalorian did not choose to shoot again. He started limping to the door. Once there, he turned and shouted, “This isn’t over, Jedi. For you either, Rick. Algayne will see you both dead – I assure you. But your head will be my trophy.” He pointed at Targon. Then he left.
Targon sighed and deactivated his lightsaber. There was a long and awkward moment of hushed silence. But soon enough, the patrons of the cantina returned to their business of drinking and the watching the dancers continue their performance.
With the music starting up again, Rick sat still a moment, gaping at the Jedi. His hand was still gripping hard to one of his twin blasters in the holsters at his side. The situation had been going the direction of needing his guns, but the stranger’s intervention now made them unnecessary.
Ideas and thoughts rushed through his head. Should he get out of there? Jedi meant trouble – they were trouble. Then again, a Jedi could be a good bodyguard to keep the thugs and creditors away. But that would mean he would have to pay him, and Rick didn’t have money on him. Wait…didn’t Jedi work for free anyway?
He shook his head and exited the booth. Facing the young Jedi he stuck out his hand. “I guess thanks are in order,” he smiled. “The name’s Rick Orlan.”
The Jedi shook his hand and replied, “I am Targon Karashi.”
“Well,” Rick clapped his shoulder. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“I’m really not much of a drinker,” Targon shook his head.
“Nonsense!” Rick guided him to the bar. “Barkeep, how about a round for my friend here and me? How about two?”
“That’s not necessary,” Targon protested.
“Alright then, two for me!” Rick announced. “Let’s have…um…a Corellian scotch for both of us. That shouldn’t be too distasteful should it, Targon?”
“No, I suppose not,” the Jedi conceded.
“You heard him! Corellian scotch!”
The bartender grumbled and poured the beverage into two glasses, which he handed to the pair.
Rick held up his drink. “To the wonderful timing of this fine young man. Without his arrival, the janitor would be cleaning up my mess.” He tapped his glass against Targon’s and took a swig.
Targon sipped his slowly; even still, he coughed several times. It was strong stuff.
The buyer pounded his emptied glass on the bar’s surface and sighed with satisfaction. “Let’s have that second round!” When his cup was refilled, he chugged it faster than the first and announced his satisfaction in the same manner.
He turned to his drinking partner. “So, Mr. Karashi, what brings you to Calpronica V? It can’t be the atmosphere or the locals. Last I checked, Jedi weren’t on good terms with the Sith or the Hutts. And, frankly, both are the bosses on this rock.”
“Quite true,” Targon nodded. “Maybe it was the hopes of finding a nice fellow like you, Mr. Orlan.”
Rick laughed. “No, that can’t be it. Nobody goes looking for Rick Orlan…unless they’re trying to get money out of him. Not even the ladies come a calling anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Targon said. “I take it you weren’t always so solitary?”
“Are you kidding? In my smuggling days I was a top dog. The spacers couldn’t quit asking me for tips and autoprints, and the lady-folk couldn’t get enough of me.”
“What happened?” Targon asked. “You can’t have retired – you look only a few years older than me.”
Rick sighed. “Nope, not age, not boredom…I’ve decided to go straight. Become a model citizen again. No more breaking laws and getting into trouble for this man, no sir!”
Targon raised an eyebrow. “Is this a goal you made recently?”
“Um…well, no. I got out of my business two years back.”
“And you’re still ‘going’ straight? I didn’t realize it took that long to turn your life around.”
“Sometimes it takes longer,” Rick replied. “It’s not easy, I can tell you. Plenty of folks still trying to get you doing a job or fly them around. Then there are the folks who you crossed…most of those fellows keep grudges for a long time.”
“So I imagine,” Targon said. “Who was your pal giving you trouble?”
“Him? Oh, that’s one of Algayne’s boys. A nasty lot, as you no doubt noticed.”
“I did,” the Jedi nodded. “Who’s this Algayne?”
“You haven’t heard of him? Well, I guess most wouldn’t have. He’s the head of a Mandalorian splinter cell, though he’s starting to become a rising crime boss. A dangerous man he is, quite deadly.”
“Are all the people you associate with like him?” Targon inquired.
“No…not all. I mean, I’m here drinking with a Jedi. You’re not going to go and try to hit me up for credits and dump me in an alley, are you?”
Targon simply raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, I know it’s a stupid question, and a poor joke. This appears to be an off day for the most part.”
“The day’s not over yet,” Targon smirked.
Rick chuckled. “That’s true, but don’t make me regret buying you a drink…speaking of which…” He pointed to the entrance. The door opened and with the new arrivals, all music, chatter, dancing, and drinking ceased at once.
Half a dozen Sith soldiers marched in, headed by a lieutenant with the foulest sort of primness in his clothes and in his face – at least according to Rick.
Targon sighed in dismay. So much for laying low. Only one thing would bring Sith troops in here. Him.
The lieutenant spoke. “There is word of a Jedi in this establishment, and I want to know where he is.”
Through the hallway came a pair of security droids and Leedo, holding a blaster pistol. They planted themselves in the path of the soldiers.
“What do you think you’re doing, Sith?” Leedo sneered. “You’ve got your area of the city – and the Hutts have theirs. The contract specifically stated you stay off out turf and stick to your jurisdiction.”
“I am in my jurisdiction,” the lieutenant stated.
“What? You can’t come in here…”
The lieutenant pushed him aside, and the troops had their guns up and aimed at the droids. “On the contrary, alien, the contract has been changed.” He spoke loudly, addressing everyone in the lobby. “Calpronica V is now under Imperial control. Lord Orgys is now governor, and all areas of the city fall under Sith law and jurisdiction.”
The drunken crowd was too shocked to be outraged. There was nothing that could be done. More troops would come if they resisted – and no one was willing to lose their lives over the their rights.
“Now,” the lieutenant continued. “I want the Jedi. The one who hands him over will be rewarded by Lord Orgys himself.”
But before anyone could start pointing fingers and revealing the Jedi, Rick stood up from his seat and walked over to the lieutenant. The officer regarded his simple garb and appearance with overt contempt.
“I suppose you know where the Jedi can be found?” he asked Rick.
“That could be true,” Rick nodded. “Actually, I came over here to give you some advice.”
“And what is that?”
“You didn’t bring enough men.”
“Enough men? You think my contingent is insufficient to handle as single Jedi?”
“Not even that. They’re not enough to handle me.”
Before anyone could react, Rick drew his twin blasters from their holsters and fired off two shots from each gun. The lieutenant and three of the men went down. The remainder started firing at their attacker.
Rick dove for the bar, pulling Targon along with him as the shots whizzed overhead. The bartender and a few patrons were hit.
“What are you doing?” Targon asked.
“Starting a fight and paying a debt,” Rick smiled at him. “You saved my life, now I’m saving yours. I’ve got a ship at a dock not too far away. You can come with me, and get off this world.”
“But I just got here…”
“It looks like your welcome wore out early,” Rick said as he emerged from the counter and opened fire on the remaining soldiers. With quick precision, he gunned the last of them down. The lobby had become chaotic, with people ducking for cover and starting fights with each other. He glanced down at the Jedi. “Let’s get out of here before their friends show up.”
“The entrance is probably covered,” Targon pointed out.
“Hmm, you’re probably right,” Rick holstered is pistols. “Come on, we’ll take the back door.”
Targon stood up and followed Rick through the halls. An alarm was ringing, and panic was starting to spread to all the other lounges and rooms. Drunkards started getting aggressive, dancers started screaming and bolting for their dressing rooms.
“I take it this place has a system of handling these issues?” Targon asked.
“Well, it used to, but it’s under new management.”
“That would leave things in disorder, and something like this so soon…”
“Exactly,” Rick said as he opened a door. It was a docking bay. “Oops,” he muttered. “Wrong door. I guess it’s been a little too long…”
There was a large airspeeder getting loaded up with valuables, slave girls, and important staff. Leedo was heading the operation, but he was taking orders from a massive Hutt.
“Gardogga? Getting out of here so soon?” Rick asked.
The Hutt turned to him. “Imperials cause problems for everyone, and I need to vacate myself before an investigation starts.” His brown eyes narrowed. “This had better not be your doing,” he rumbled.
Rick laughed uneasily. “Me? Of course not! Why would I get myself mixed up in this nasty business?”
“Who’s your friend?” Gardogga asked, pointing to Targon.
“My new first mate,” Rick answered.
“Don’t forget our agreement,” the Hutt said.
“Forget? Never!” Rick threw up his hands. “In fact, I’m headed to my ship right now. And I’ll get that shipment off right away.”
“I knew I could count on you,” Gardogga smiled. He then barked to Leedo, “Get all the trinkets and girls on! I don’t want anything of real value lost to Imperial confiscation.”
“Of course, sir,” the Rodian bowed. “What about the prisoner?”
“Yes, yes, him too. I don’t want the Empire taking my special guest away.”
Leedo nodded just as two of the Hutt’s men came through a door, dragging a battered man between them.
“Come on, Targon, let’s get going!” Rick grabbed his companion’s arm and pulled him through the door.
Targon resisted for a moment long enough to see the face of the beaten prisoner. His hair was gray, and he was wearing a Republic insignia. When he saw he caught the glimpse of his face, Targon’s gasped. But then he was pulled through the door and he continued to follow Rick through the halls and out the real exit.
They didn’t stop for a moment in the alley. Speed was important – speed to stay ahead of the Imperial response. No doubt there had been a report of weapons fire and a missing patrol.
Targon simply trailed in Rick’s wake, not thinking of direction for himself. His mind was focused on the man he had seen being dragged like a sack to the speeder – a prisoner of the Hutt.
“Marc,” he whispered softly. “You’re alive… What happened?”
The feeling the Force had brought him here became stronger.