The Lone Eagle was comfortably docked in a hangar – and Greyhawk was lounging comfortably within.
Rick and Targon entered the streets of Corellia, taking in the clean air. They looked around and started pondering what to do.
“Well,” Targon said, “we might find a hotel or something…”
“A hotel?” Rick punched his arm. “We’ve got the ship. We don’t need a hotel…besides, I haven’t the money for that.”
Targon sighed. “So I suppose the first thing we need to do is get some money?”
“You would be right,” Rick nodded. “I’m sure there’s a cantina or a casino around here somewhere. Using what I do have, I’m sure I can get into a high stakes game and…”
“You’re going to gamble your money away?”
“Away? Are you kidding? I’ll make triple what I’ve got in the first few rounds and then…”
“And then you’ll get caught cheating and be thrown out and you’ll have lost all the money you got, and what you already had.”
Rick bore a hurt look on his face. “Have you so little faith in your captain?”
“I have only what I’ve seen to go on,” Targon said.
“That’s all anyone really has – and then there’s the blind faith in trust.”
“Should I go with you?” Targon asked. “To make sure you don’t have any trouble with Mandalorians or anyone that wants to kill you?”
“Nah,” Rick shook his head. “There’s nobody like that on Corellia. Nobody that’s after me, anyway.”
“How very reassuring…”
“Why don’t you go help somebody? There’s probably an old lady crossing a street or a kid who has lost his dog.”
“You’re a funny man, Rick,” Targon smiled.
“Always have been,” Rick winked.
The young Jedi watched his companion walk off to the south, looking like he knew exactly where he was going. Targon figured he probably didn’t, but it wouldn’t hurt to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Then he turned around and started scanning for anyone he might assist, or at least something to catch his interest… He stopped and realized he should use this time to meditate and focus. But on what?
Targon saw a park not too far away – and it looked plenty peaceful to sit and concentrate. He walked along its paths and took in the shade of the trees, the aroma of the flowers, the gurgling of the fountains, and the chatter of others in the park. It was calming, and he breathed deep and easy.
He knelt in an open clearing, away from the paths and therefore out of the way of people. Closing his eyes, he felt his connection to the Force strengthen as he let his mind leave the confines of his body and drift in the currents of life on the planet. He heard the voices of hundreds of people – their words were indiscernible.
There was something underneath the level he was on, as though he were on the surface of a pond, and this…thing…was lying on the bottom. He tried to dig down and see what this feeling was. It wasn’t difficult to reach it, and when he found it, the voices – that had been whispers – became screams and cries for help.
Targon winced and tried to subdue the noise, but he couldn’t. The emotions swirled around him: fear, anger, grief…and another thing that overshadowed them. Greed.
He tried to isolate one of the voices to find out what it was worrying about. After a long effort, he found a single voice. Its focus was on a major debt – and a fear of men coming to take away his home. That person suddenly was replaced with another. This was a woman, desperate to feed her children, wanted to break the window and steal the loaves of bread.
Targon heard a dozen more voices, all of them similar in their hopeless desperation. His ears pounded as they suddenly merged together as a single crying shriek of pain. Behind that was a jeering crowd.
Finally, he broke out of it and panted. He glanced around, and it appeared he hadn’t been meditating very long…and nobody else noticed anything. Calming himself, Targon then returned to his trance – this time focusing on other things, though he kept the thought in the back of his mind for further investigation.
Rick found that much had changed on Corellia during the years since he had last visited – and he didn’t like the changes. Especially that his favorite cantina had been torn down and replaced with a…library.
How dare they? That place was a quality establishment, with the best drinks and service in the Core. And there were plenty of dumb rich people that frequented the cantina and were always willing to lose credits at the card tables. How was he supposed to have a good time and make some money if there wasn’t the old Gin City?
He sat down on a bench and sighed. “I guess I’ll have to go find a new joint,” he muttered to himself.
Rick heard a noise and looked up. Some teenager was breaking into a parked speeder. The kid got in, hotwired it, and drove off to a nearby garage down the street a ways.
“A chop shop?” Rick was surprised. “Right here? In this part of town? There’s a library right here and a bunch of regular folks…”
He happened to notice a pair of police officers walking down the street. They were fully aware of what had just happened – they had even seen it. Yet, incredibly, they just kept walking and turned the corner without a word.
“Okay, now there’s something wrong here,” Rick frowned. “Gin City was not in a crime infested part of town. In fact…nothing around here even suggests that there should be crime. Yet…I just saw…”
Rick stood and walked towards the garage that the stolen speeder was taken into. Upon arriving, he glanced through one of the windows – and it was definitely an illegal operation going on in there. The stolen vehicle was already being disassembled.
Rick turned around and walked back, hoping he wouldn’t have been spotted by one of the workers. Looking up, he heard a man shouting and saw what appeared to be the owner of the ill-fated vehicle. The fellow was circling where his speeder had been and asking if anyone had seen anything. Nobody answered him and he could only storm off on foot.
Discomfort twisted inside of Rick’s gut. It looked like there was a major presence here that kept things hushed up. He didn’t like what all he was seeing, so he decided he was really going to have to find a new place to drink.
Not too far off, there was a brightly lit establishment. It glowed with bright, fluorescent pink lights. The sign said The Showtime Affair, and from the music and the drunks stumbling out the door, it looked like a cantina.
Rick smiled and nearly ran to the door. There were on bouncers and no line. He walked in and was greatly impressed.
Everything was bright and cheery. The colors of the furnishings were warm shades of red, blue, yellow, white, and pink. Lots of pink.
The tables were nicely set and prepared – almost as though it was a fine-dine restaurant. There were viewscreens on the walls, all tuned to a single station called The Firm. On it was various programs: music, races, sporting events, game shows, newscasts…and all of it provided by The Firm.
Rick regarded it with a bit of confusion, but he shrugged and figured that since the Republic was a capitalist society, it shouldn’t be too strange to have a company monopolizing parts of the entertainment industry.
He walked up to the bar, which was right next to a large stage. The curtains of this stage were drawn up, and there was a pair of musicians. Musician was not the proper classification of these men, Rick figured. They were performing some sort of babble that was supposed to be…hip-hop or rap? It sounded like the banging of pans together mixed with a burned out engine.
Rick sighed as he sat on a stool. “Some people start putting out trash and try to pull it off as art,” he groaned as he waved his hand to signal the bartender.
“It’s bad business if someone isn’t enjoying the show,” a voice said next to him.
Rick turned his head and spotted a face he hadn’t seen in years.
“No,” he rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t imagining. When he looked again, the bright pink face with the fantastic blue hair was still there. Rick was amazed. “Alen? Alen Heigren?”
The Zeltron grinned and laughed. “The one and only.”
For a moment, all Rick could do was gape. Then he gathered his senses and shook the man’s hand. Alen returned the handshake vibrantly, nearly shaking Rick off the seat.
“Goodness,” Rick shook his head, smiling. “It’s been – what – eight years?”
“Any length is too long,” Alen said.
“How have you been?” Rick asked. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m great,” the Zeltron replied. “I’ve been making lots of money.”
“Sure you have,” Rick winked. “Stealing it right out of people’s wallets, right?”
“No, they give it to me freely,” Alen laughed. “I ran a country club here for a few years, but things changed. Now I own this fine establishment.”
“You own this place?” Rick was surprised.
“Sure. Folks needed a place to drink after Gin City closed down three years back. I opened up this place, and we haven’t seen a dull night since day one.”
“What happened to Gin City anyway?”
“Oh, things went sour for a little while – I was caught in it too. Most of the entertainment places closed down, and the government took them over to put in public services. Like the library down the road you probably saw.”
“I did see,” Rick nodded. “But it looks like you’re doing well.”
The Zeltron nodded emphatically. “I am indeed. A new business called the Firm moved in, and they’ve been fantastic in getting everything running great. Not only my business, but just about everyone on Corellia – and much of the Core.”
“Really? I’ve never heard of this organization.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have, being in the outer regions of the galaxy for so long.”
Rick scoffed. “I’ve kept in touch with things…and it’s not like I was out on backwater worlds…mostly.”
Alen clapped him on the back. “Come on, Rick, I’m only teasing you. I see you’re still a lot of fun to josh around.”
“Some things never change,” Rick said.
Alen snapped and brought the bartender over. “Some drinks for my friend here – Scarlet Firewater.”
“What’s that?” Rick asked as the bartender went to fulfill the request.
“A specialty of mine,” Alen smiled. “You won’t find it anywhere else.”
“Is it something I’ll like?” Rick inquired.
“Have I ever given you something you didn’t completely enjoy?” Alen countered.
“No, I suppose not,” Rick responded.
The rappers on the stage had finished, and to Rick’s surprise, the patrons applauded them. When they exited, the curtains came down and the lights dimmed.
“Those guys might not have been to your liking,” Alen said as he slid one of the drinks to Rick. “But I think you’ll enjoy this next performance. You’ve come at a special night, you lucky scoundrel, to see Gabrielle perform.”
“Oh?” Rick took a sip. He took a moment to take in the taste, and then he swallowed and grinned. “Well, if it’s as good as this drink, I may have to make an investment in your little business here.”
The cantina went quiet, the lights went low and a spotlight shone on the curtain. Silence continued, building up a certain suspense and anticipation.
A smooth, blue leg emerged, followed by the rest of an incredibly attractive Twi’lek. She had leggings up to her mid thigh, laced with shimmering gold. She wore a sleek, black leather coat, with a pair of coattails that lightly flapped as she walked out onto the stage.
Her face was brilliant, her intense eyes pierced the dark room and into the hearts of all the customers. The pair of long, silky lekku swayed behind her, and the audience swayed with them.
From her lips came a golden, seductive voice. The light music that accompanied her was almost entirely ignored and unnecessary, for she held her audience’s admiration from the first sound. Rick included.
He gazed at her, gaped at her, and took in every gorgeous inch of her. He had seen a lot of lovely women on many occasions – and a lot of Twi’lek eye candy among them – but he hadn’t seen one quite like this. Her fantastic blue skin appeared like the sapphire glory of the ocean, and her eyes seemed just as endlessly deep.
The woman continued her performance, walking slowly down the stage. When she reached the end, she merely stepped over and mounted the bar counter. The gazes of the whole audience followed her.
To Rick’s surprise, she stopped her strut right above him and Alen. Looking up, he thought he was staring into the sky – if it had been in the shape of a beautiful woman.
She slowly slipped off her coat, holding it in her arms for a while. Then she let Alen take it for her, and she nodded to him. Her newly revealed outfit was pearly white and a more typical dress for a Twi’lek dancer or performer. White sometimes makes one appear unattractively bigger, but such was not the case for her. The cloth was cut professionally and perfectly.
Still singing, she bended her knees, and stooped down to look Rick directly in the face. She tapped his nose with her finger, and then closed his gaping mouth. The paralyzed man felt his heartbeat try to break his ribcage with her so near. Her eyes were as incredible as her breasts – which were most considerable.
Alen helped her step down, returned her coat, and smiled at the astonished Rick. The audience – Rick more devotedly – followed the singer as she navigated through the tables, returned to the stage, and finished her song. Then she vanished behind the curtain, and the lights rose as the music ended. The applause was thunderous and awed.
Rick was caught in a trance, his eyes continuing to replay the image of her. Only after a quick shaking of his shoulders by Alen did he snap out of it. He breathed hard for a while, taking a large gulp of the drink.
“Who was that?” he asked softly.
“Amazing, isn’t she?” Alen grinned. “That’s Gabrielle Vao – the hottest star that has graced my stage. I’ve got to admit that I’m jealous of you, Rick, you lucky dog. I’ve been trying to hit on her for ages. You know how I’m usually so successful with the ladies, right?”
“Well, with her, nada. Nobody sparks her interest, I swear. She seduces the entire crowd, but she doesn’t care about a single one of them. Never before have I seen her actually stoop and make physical contact with someone.”
“Are you saying…?” Rick stuttered.
“Yes, indeed,” Alen nodded. “I think you’ve got her attention.”
For a moment, Rick smiled. Then he shook his head and scoffed. “Nah, that can’t be true. I’ve had zero luck with the ladies for a long while now. It always ends badly. She can’t possibly be interested…”
“Excuse me,” an angelic voice interrupted from behind them.
Rick slowly turned around, his face and hands frozen in their position. She was there, standing next to them, in her outfit. Rick could feel his breath shorting out.
“Care to buy a girl a drink?” she asked him.
Alen clapped him on the shoulder hard. “Well, I think I’ll see to some of the other guests,” he said as he walked off.
Rick struggled for words, but he kept his trained suave he had created for women. “I...I think I’ve had a little too much to drink, ma’am. Perhaps you should avoid me before I do something stupid…or get any sort of…temptation.”
“That looks like your first,” she stepped closer, leaning against the bar. “I don’t think you’ve had enough.”