Targon and Rick came out of the garbage-covered alleyways to the not-quite-so trashy streets. There were few people about, which Targon felt was odd as he remembered the streets earlier.
“What’s with the lack of folks?” Targon asked.
“I imagine it has to do with the Sith suddenly taking things over,” Rick replied.
“That is likely. But won’t being out here – alone – make us more of a target to the Sith?”
“You of course are assuming that they even know what we look like or who we are?” Rick glanced back at him.
“They could get names and descriptions from the witnesses.”
Rick grunted. “Good point, but we shouldn’t worry about it too much. Now…” he stopped at an intersection in the road. “Which way to the dock?”
“You don’t know?” Targon asked.
“Sure I know…I’ve just lost my direction for a moment,” Rick said.
A blaster shot hit the ground next to their feet. Looking up, they saw the shooter – the Kiffar that they had confronted back in the cantina.
Rick pulled out his pistols and fired back. The man took cover and shot several shots, forcing the pair to get protection as well.
“Are you really still doing this?” Rick shouted to their attacker.
Targon added, “Can’t we talk about this?”
More blaster bolts hitting the dumpster they were hiding behind and the shout “No talk!” was the reply.
Rick sighed. “And to think I was worried about cheating at cards not too long ago.”
“What’s the plan, Rick?” Targon asked. “He probably knows we’re headed for your ship and is going to try to make sure he keeps us from it.”
“Don’t worry, I have a plan…or rather, I’m coming up with one.”
“That’s encouraging,” Targon sighed.
“Here’s an idea,” Rick said. “Why don’t you pull out that lightsaber and cut him in half? That is what you guys do best, isn’t it?”
Targon raised an eyebrow. “Are you seriously asking that?”
“If you’ve got better ideas, I’d love to hear them,” Rick replied.
The blaster fire had stopped suddenly. Rick and Targon risked a peak over the dumpster to check out what was going on. The Kiffar was gone.
Seeing no more Mandalorian, the two of them stood up and hesitantly started down a different street.
“We’ll take a longer route to the dock,” Rick said. “Better to get there late and without incident than with a blaster shot in the ribs.”
“A wise plan,” Targon answered.
“Whatever,” Rick shrugged.
They continued through the eerily empty streets. No beggars, no pedestrians, no gang members, and no Sith patrols. There were only a few speeders a long ways above them, but those didn’t count. It wasn’t that the area had been abandoned, Targon noticed, but rather it had been vacated very quickly. He could sense the presence of frightened people all around him. The citizens were probably inside the buildings, peeking out of the windows. News of the Empire’s move to take over the planet had apparently moved quickly.
Nearly a half hour of silence had passed as they walked. Rick was feeling uncomfortable, so he opened his mouth to start a conversation.
“So, Jedi, how’s your first visit to Calpronica V going?”
“Very funny,” Targon replied. “And I’d prefer that you used my name, instead of the general term of what I am.”
“Oh, right, sorry,” Rick coughed. “I guess I’m not used to being – you know – up close to one.”
“It’s alright,” Targon nodded. “You probably aren’t a big fan of Jedi, anyway. Not many are, apparently.”
“No, I like Jedi…the one I’ve met.”
“That one being me?”
Rick smiled. “Exactly. However, I am still forming my opinion, so we’ll see what I end up thinking about you. You did, after all, save my life.”
“We haven’t seen the last of our collector friend,” Targon sighed. “What is this money issue that he wants you dead for?”
“Well, I don’t know if he wants me dead, but his boss certainly does.”
“Yeah. A little while back, I got a good deal of money from him to invest in a spice running scheme. It was supposed to make us both rich, but it turned out to be a scam. The bum who took our money – Algayne’s money – is probably dead now. But the Mandalorian appears to skin me for the credits I lost.”
“Was this all before your plan to go straight?”
“Well…no. Actually it was after. I just needed to get the money to take care of things. It was honest as far as I was concerned. All I was doing was investing money.”
“Someone else’s money,” Targon pointed out.
“Yeah, you don’t have to tell me. Having a blaster in my face and an angry Kiffar trying to tell me has proven it was all a bad idea. Problem was, nobody else would loan me the money.”
“Not even your Hutt friend?”
Rick shook his head. “Gardogga isn’t the kind of guy to give money – unless you’ve done a specific job for him. That entails either smuggling or bounty hunting. Neither of which I want any part of…anymore.”
“So what did cause you to decide to get out?” Targon inquired.
Rick was silent for a while. “I’d…prefer not to talk about that.” His tone had the tinge of remorse and pain.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Targon said quickly. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
There was silence for a moment again. Then Rick perked up, changing the subject. “Enough about me, what about you? I understand you’re a Jedi Knight…and you probably don’t have gripes or problems like me.”
“Not quite,” Targon assented. “I’m afraid I haven’t had my share of run-ins with criminals.”
“And you might hope to keep out of their business,” Rick said, and then added, “However, it could be unavoidable if you hang around me.”
“We’ll see,” Targon smiled.
“Whatever you say, I’m just issuing a friendly warning.” Rick thought a moment. “Say, you mentioned a name – Marc – I think, after you saw that man…who is he?”
Targon winced. “I believe that was Marc Avis, a Major in the Republic military. I met him a few weeks ago on Ord Mantell. We, uh, had a little adventure.”
“You believe?” Rick then shook his head. “What would an officer be doing as a prisoner of Gardogga?”
“I don’t know…he was a supporter of the separatist cause, and an enemy of the cartels that run the government on the planet.”
Rick frowned. “Then it’s pretty clear.”
“What is?” Targon asked.
“Gardogga is a guy of many interests – and connections. He’s got a slimy hand in just about everything…and from what I understand, he has family that runs things on Ord Mantell.”
Targon winced as though in physical pain. “I’ve got to free him! It’s my fault he’s in trouble.”
“Rescue him? How in space are you going to do that?”
“Well, where can I find Gardogga now that he’s left the cantina?”
“Where?” Rick was incredulous. “That slug’s got a hundred places to be! Don’t you know that Hutts are the builders of criminal empires?”
“It doesn’t matter, I’ve got to do it.”
Rick scoffed. “Well then, you go ahead.”
“I…” Targon realized the situation he was in. “I think we’ll need to get off this planet first.”
“A wise plan,” Rick smirked. “Now, we’ll just head down this street, and then down a few more…and then we’ll be at my ship and we can leave, and we can…”
He was interrupted by a voice from behind a helmet shouting.
“You there! Stop!”
Turning around, Targon and Rick saw a Sith patrol coming their way. There were nearly a dozen soldiers, three battle droids, and an officer.
“Oh snap,” Rick groaned. “Got an idea?”
As much as he hated it, Targon replied, “Yes, I do. Run.”
He activated his lightsaber and pulled down an advertisement sign to distract the troops as the two of them dashed for an alley. They got in and started climbing over the fence that blocked it off from the backyard of an apartment complex.
“What’s the plan now?” Rick asked.
“Well…” Targon thought for a second. “We take an even more indirect route to the dock – maybe up on the roofs?”
Rick glanced up to the tops of the buildings. They looked close enough together that he felt he could jump the distances. And he was with a Jedi, after all.
“That’s better than anything I’ve got,” Rick shrugged. “And I don’t have anything.”
“Alright then,” Targon said, heading towards the entrance to the nearest apartment building. “You point the way to the dock, and I’ll see about making sure we can get there.”
Rick shook his head, sighed, and joined up with Targon. Hopping from roof to roof, avoiding Sith patrols that were definitely looking for them, an angry Kiffar still hunting them…and to think that earlier today he was worried about having been caught cheating at cards.
For all the good, this Jedi seemed like a catalyst to a string of bad luck. Then again, maybe it was the planet, or just a bad day. Whichever it was, Rick wanted it to stop. Now.
Marc was dropped on the ground quite unkindly. The brutes that carried him remained in their position, looming over him with menacing and cruel grins on their faces.
He looked up and saw he was kneeling before the bloated slug. His chief of security and a couple slave girls that submissively rubbed his slimy skin with oils accompanied the Hutt. It made Marc sick to look at him, and he tried to avert his eyes, however, the slug was so big he was present wherever he turned his head.
Gardogga chuckled. “We haven’t had the chance to get formally introduced. I know what you are – but I don’t know who.”
“The name is Greyhawk,” the soldier spat.
“And I am the great and glorious Gardogga,” the Hutt smiled. “You’ve cause quite a bit of trouble for my constituents on the planet of Ord Mantell. I find this odd, since you are an officer of the Republic and therefore an ally of the planetary government.”
“I don’t ally myself with criminals,” Marc said.
“It would appear so,” the Hutt rumbled. “Listen, Greyhawk, I’m a reasonable Hutt. I know a good time to make a deal when I see one. Your superiors are fully aware of your collaboration with separatists, and your rank and position have been thrown out. I believe the military term is court-martialed.”
Marc frowned, and his soul sighed in anguish. He knew that was inevitable, but the pain was nonetheless potent. If he was to be dishonorably discharged, he had hoped he would have died honorably to make up for it. Not a prisoner of a bloated worm.
“Your life with the military is over,” Gardogga continued. “But I recognize talent – and your escapades on Ord Mantell have drawn my attention. I could use a man like you.”
“I don’t work with Hutts,” Marc stated. “Especially ones that have their thugs beat the snot out of me.”
Gardogga laughed. “But you’re still alive, and in relatively good condition regardless. I’d say that’s a valuable person.”
“What sort of spice have you been chewing that makes you think I’ll work for you?” Marc asked.
“Great one,” the Rodian chief of security interrupted. “This is pointless. We should shoot him and dump his body back on Ord Mantell as a message to any other troublemakers.”
“When I want your opinion I shall ask for it,” the Hutt gurgled. “Come here, Leedo. I wish to discuss something with you.”
Leedo made a gesture for the guards to take Marc away, but Gardogga held up his hand.
“Leave him,” he ordered. “I’m not finished with him yet.”
“Sir?” Leedo asked. “If you wish to discuss important matters…”
The glaring cat’s eyes of the Hutt silenced him, and he subserviently approached his master. Gardogga beckoned for him to come closer, and still closer until he was almost touching the Hutt’s face from being so near.
“You failed me,” Gardogga stated. “Several times today.”
“What do you mean, great Gardogga?”
The Hutt breathed in a massive gulp of air, and exhaled a nasty wave of rancid breath.
“You have questioned my orders, you allowed Sith troopers to barge into my cantina, and let a shootout erupt in the lobby, and you continually contradict my wishes. I’m beginning to think it was a mistake to keep you signed on.”
Leedo’s insectoid face showed a wash of concern, and it intensified when a burly guard stepped forward from the rear door and loomed over him.
“Illustrious Gardogga, the events of today were completely unforeseen,” Leedo stuttered.
“True, and so was your former employer’s untimely death,” the Hutt licked his lips. "Things didn’t settle well when he went down, but I hope it will be better with you.”
“Sir, please…” the Rodian whimpered. “This is not necessary…”
“Do give Hondor my regards when you join him – whatever’s left of him, anyway,” the Hutt smiled. He then opened his massive and gaping mouth as the guard grabbed Leedo and lifted him up and put him in.
The Rodian’s horrified screams were muffled within the cave-like orifice. His waving legs flailed about as though trying to run through the air to escape. Slowly, Leedo descended deeper through Gardogga’s throat until there was no more sign of him.
Gardogga licked his lips in satisfaction and belched. Then he patted his stomach. Disgusting gurgling rumbled from his gut.
Marc could feel his insides churn, and he would have thrown up if there had been anything in there to expel. His mouth, dry and agape, hung down in horror at the barbaric display he had just witnessed.
The slave girls then resumed to rub and pamper the Hutt as he reclined. “Well, Greyhawk,” Gardogga grinned. “It would appear I have a vacancy in my business – my chief of security is…digesting. Have you reconsidered my offer of a possible job?”
“I ought to shove a thermal detonator down your gaping hole, you sick monster,” Marc spat. “You should just shoot me now, because I won’t have anything to do with you.”
“Shoot you? And get blood all over this nice upholstery?” the Hutt laughed. “No, you’ll be my guest for a while longer. There is still possibly valuable information to be gained from you – and I’ll need dinner before too long. I hear humans are especially tasty…although we’ll have to dress you up. Already I can feel Leedo’s metallic piercings and outfit disagreeing with my stomach. Take him away,” he waved to the guards.
He lay back and smiled as the slave girls continued their work over him. He had them dressed up in scanty outfits to be a pleasure for the eyes, and to make them easier on the stomach when the mood took him.
The Hutt’s thugs dragged Marc out, and the old soldier continued to feel dry heaves coming. He was going to need to get out of this. And there probably was no chance for any sort of rescue to come for him.
He had lost his rank and station, he was a prisoner of a ravenous crime lord…and nobody knew where he was or probably even cared. Maybe, he thought, it might have been better if Old Greyhawk had followed protocol a little more and ostracized himself from others less.
However, if he didn’t get out of here, he wouldn’t have long to regret his past.