Rick awoke with a searing pain in the back of his head. He tried to raise his arms to check it, but he found that he was restrained.
He was in a dark room, fettered to a cold metal wall. The cuffs that chained him to the wall were tight and thick. They beat him easily when he tried to resist their hold. He shivered from the frigid air. It felt like he was in a meat locker.
A light from across the wide room revealed an opening door. A man walked in, flanked by three people. Rick couldn’t tell who they were.
The man looked around at the area. “This is a little dark, isn’t it?” he asked. “How about putting up some lights for our guest?”
A second later, bright lights flashed on, bathing the room in a blinding white. Rick’s eyes took a while to adjust, but he soon was able to tell whom his visitors were. Of the three followers, two were large musclemen, and the third was Gabrielle.
But it was the lead man that caught Rick’s attention. He was dressed in luxuriously expensive clothing. His suit – that could practically pass for a tuxedo – was bright red and laced with gold. The well kept, precisely parted black hair and the cruel smile were a dead giveaway of his identity.
Rick swallowed. “Well… Hello there, Lycos Quinn. It’s been many years.”
The man lifted his arms and walked towards him. “Rick, Rick…how have you been? Why haven’t you ever called?”
“I would have,” Rick forced a smile, “but I’ve been busy. You know, getting out of the smuggling business is a lot harder than people realize.”
Lycos looked him over. “I see the years haven’t been kind,” he observed.
“You don’t look so well yourself,” Rick countered. “I couldn’t help but notice the scar over your eye.”
“Yes, a little trouble here and there is expected in my line of work.”
“So,” Rick swallowed again. “Why the immense urge to bring me here? Unless I’m mistaken, you’re one of the few people to whom I don’t owe money.”
“No, you’re right,” Lycos nodded. “This isn’t about money – as far as you’re concerned.”
“Oh, well, if that’s the case…how about you let me go and I’ll be on my way?”
Lycos laughed. “I’m afraid that’s not in the cards. You’ve been away for many years, so I think we should spend some time catching up.”
“Good idea,” Rick fake smiled. “Why don’t you go first?”
“Gladly. I’ve built a new company, Rick. I think you might have heard of it.”
“If by company you mean criminal empire masked by a monopoly, then I assume you are the owner of the Firm?”
“I see you haven’t lost your astuteness, Rick. That’s something I’ve always admired about you. You probably would have even figured out that I let you skip the line, given enough time.”
“I’m flattered. So this Firm is – what? Exchange? Black Sun?”
“Certain branches of it, yes,” Lycos nodded. “I have dealings with them, and others. But I do a lot of my own work as well. Here on Corellia, and several other worlds.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Rick asked. “If I happen to escape I’ll just report you to the authorities.”
“I know even you aren’t that stupid,” Lycos chuckled. “First off, they wouldn’t believe you – and most of authorities are under my payroll. Second, I don’t think you’ll be leaving any time soon. But don’t worry, I’ll get you out of this miserable cell.”
“Oh, at least you’re a good host,” Rick muttered. “Why am I here? What do I have to do with anything of yours? Why did you send her after me?” He pointed to Gabrielle.
“Ah,” Lycos regarded the Twi’lek. “I am sorry about the poor treatment, Rick. But I had to send my second best bounty hunter to get someone as great as you.”
“Second best?” Rick asked. “She could take any man down with her looks alone. Who’s your best?”
“You’ll likely meet him soon enough.”
Rick pursued the major question, “Why?”
“This is nothing personal, let me assure you,” Lycos said. “This is just…”
“Business, I know.” Rick growled. “The first step in the art of crime is business.”
“Oh, you remember?”
“There are some things you don’t forget,” Rick sighed.
“Well, Rick, since we know each other so well – I figure I can give you some information. That’s a big advantage over anyone else, let me tell you. The Firm has a hand in the entertainment industry, and the highest paying form of entertainment is sporting events.”
“So…are you shanghaiing me into swoop racing?” Rick asked. “If you wanted me to play games you could have just asked me.”
“I am not in the habit of asking for things,” Lycos responded. “And I’m afraid this isn’t quite what you think. Believe me, I don’t like the idea of bringing you into this – but business is business.”
“Care to explain?”
“You’ll find out,” Lycos snapped his fingers. The big men behind him came forward and unchained Rick. They then took him by the arms and led him out of the room, followed closely by Lycos and the girl.
Rick tried to crane his neck back and look at them. “Does it really have to be this way, Lycos? Do we really have to make this all…?”
“Yes,” the man cut him off. “Yes, I’m afraid it’s necessary.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s almost time for your debut, Rick. I have things to attend to, but Gabrielle will fill you in on the details.”
Rick glanced at the Twi’lek. She was in the same outfit, but there was a distinct change – she had a pair of blasters holstered at her hips.
“I understand that you have other places to be,” Rick said to Lycos. “I’m sure I’ll manage with just her to keep me company.”
“See you on the stadium,” Lycos smiled and then walked off down a hallway.
Rick was led to a large equipment room. The guards let go of his arms, but kept their hands at their weapons if Rick made any moves.
Looking around, Rick noticed lots of odd things. There were guns, staffs, boots, gauntlets, armor padding, helmets, swoop bike parts, and other objects that he wasn’t exactly sure what they were.
“So…what sorts of games does Mr. Quinn want me to play?” Rick asked.
Gabrielle pulled off his jacket and shirt, pointing to a flight suit. “Put that on,” she ordered.
“A little brusque, don’t you think?” Rick asked, reacting to his missing attire. “Couldn’t we at least have a little privacy?”
“Put it on,” she snapped.
“No,” Rick folded his arms. “Nobody takes my jacket away. Nobody. You can just forget it…”
Gabrielle pulled out a pistol and shoved it up against his head. It was an older design, resembling a six-shooter revolver with a few significant adjustments.
“Umm…” Rick crossed his eyes to see the gun. “I don’t think Lycos would appreciate you shooting my brains out before he tells you to.”
“I could make all sorts of lies about how you tried to escape,” she countered.
“Sure, you could,” Rick shrugged. “But how would it look that you let a prisoner get out of control and had to kill him? I imagine Mr. Quinn and his associates would not be impressed.”
The bounty hunter scowled. There was a long moment, and Rick was starting to fear that she might actually pull the trigger. But then she put her gun away and handed him his clothes back.
“Thank you,” Rick sighed. “I could take my time with putting these back on if you want. Most folks like what they see…”
“Alright, alright…” Rick complied. “So what sort of thing am I going to do?”
Gabrielle grabbed his arm and dragged him to a door. They went down a short hall, followed by the guards. Through a door, Rick found himself in a garage. Sitting in the middle was a speeder bike. It was small, but it was modified with weapons.
“What’s this?” Rick asked.
The answer he received was Gabrielle thrusting him on and strapping him in to the bike.
“Now listen,” she said. “These bikes can’t climb high enough to get out of the field, and there are auto-turrets that will fry you if even try. Just drive and follow the rules.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Rick smiled uneasily. “But um…what are the rules? What am I supposed to do?”
“Last one standing wins,” Gabrielle replied and then started leaving.
Rick gaped. “Wait…wait! What?! Last one standing…Wait!”
She stopped and turned. “Drive around and kill the other riders before they kill you. It’s that simple.”
“And this is legal?”
“Of course not. What part of crime boss did you not understand about Lycos Quinn?”
Rick swallowed hard. “And if I win?”
“Then you get to live. Live long enough, and we’ll see about letting you go. You should probably start that up now.”
She disappeared, leaving Rick alone, strapped to an armed bike. He started up the engine, and the vehicle roared to life. There were bright red lights along the bike’s sides.
“Huh,” Rick nodded. “Red is my favorite color.”
The garage door opened. Sighing, he revved the engine and headed out. There was a bright light for the moment, and then the sound of a massive, cheering crowd filled the air.
Looking up, he saw that he was in a massive arena, and thousands of people were lined in seats high above him. The field was a bright grid, and there were twelve other riders already zooming around it.
Loud techno music blared over the crowd’s cries. Then a voice came over the speakers – Lycos’ voice.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “to the sixteenth annual Gaming Tournament! We’ve got a great show for you tonight. The energy suppressor fields will drop in ten seconds – I hope your bets are down.”
A series of beeps signaled the timer. Rick didn’t take long to figure out what would happen when they reached the end. It would be gladiator games…on bikes.
He happened to look up at the VIP box, where he could make out Lycos, with a bunch of other guests. There was only one other that he could definitely identify from this distance. A large, fat slug – one he had seen many times and could never forget what he looked like.
A deafening buzzer went off and it was followed by a roaring scream of excitement from the crowd. Then came the sound of blaster fire, from the other riders. Some came Rick’s way, and he did his best to avoid them. He wasn’t interested in shooting people…he’d just stay out of the way.
He saw some of the other riders. They weren’t hardened fighters or swoop riders. They looked like…smugglers. Yes, most of these men were fellow smugglers. One looked like a cop, and another looked like a shop owner. He could tell because he knew what people usually were by looking at them…and he glanced up at a massive roster board. It listed them by titles – apparently their occupation. His name, he assumed, was Lone Eagle. Figures…since it was his ship.
A rider came towards him, guns blazing. Rick gasped and veered to the left. The man followed him, his blasters trailing him.
“Stop it!” Rick shouted. Nobody heard him.
He swerved in different directions, zigzagging across the field. Another biker was coming his way, and if he kept his vector, the two of them would T-bone each other. Rick choked on the engine, causing his bike to fling into the air a bit. Just enough to clear the incomer.
His pursuer happened to be too close to Rick. Instead of him, the other two riders crashed. Their bikes exploded into a massive burst of flame. Apparently the bikes were made to make as big a bang as possible. For show.
Rick found himself trailed by two more riders. He tried to outrun them, but there was no way to lose them on a flat and empty field. Blaster bolts zipped above and on either side of him.
All around, the other riders were killing each other. Explosions lit up the field, and with each fatality, the crowd roared with delight.
He couldn’t believe the inhumanity. How could these people be so entertained by people killing each other? Sure, there were gladiator fights all over…but this seemed a little much. Maybe most of these people weren’t even from Corellia. There had after all been a larger than usual line to land…
There was no time for pondering. He was in an arena, with a bunch of men apparently much more eager to kill – or at least survive – than he was. There were these two men on his tail…and if he didn’t do something, then he was going to die.
Rick decelerated suddenly, letting the two riders pass him. Then he turned around and headed into a different direction. They shot at each other with him gone, but another man came after him.
Groaning, Rick tried to lose him as well. However, that wasn’t happening. He felt the rear of his bike get hit, and smoke started streaming behind him.
The man behind him was blinded, and when he veered off, he wasn’t able to stop before hitting the wall.
Seeing an injured biker, several of the others converged towards Rick. He saw them and gasped. They were coming in on all sides, and they were coming at full speed.
Rick spun around, creating a massive screen with his smoke. It grew and became a massive blotch on the grid. The riders couldn’t stop in time before they entered the murk.
Leaping with all his strength, Rick landed on the hard ground and rolled as a massive explosion erupted from the smoke. At least two of the riders had crashed, and the explosion had caught the other riders, destroying their bikes and adding to the flame.
The crowd’s cries filled the air. Apparently, Rick was the last one of the combatants alive. As he stood up, Lycos’ voice came over the speakers again.
“It looks like we have a winner!”
Rick shouted, “Alright, I’ve played your game. Now let me out of this madness!”
Floor panels opened up and guards came out, their guns pointed at him. The lead one motioned for him to follow them back down. It appeared he wasn’t going to be let out.
Sighing with resignation and exhaustion, Rick obeyed. There wasn’t really anything he could do to resist. He wasn’t about to throw his life away because he was displeased with the situation. He would play along…until the chance to escape presented itself.
Rick had been in situations like this – well, not quite like this, but he knew how things worked. If he survived, he would find a way out. After all, his Jedi companion would be looking for him, wouldn’t he?
The dark thought came to mind. What if he couldn’t find him?
Then he would have to handle himself alone. And he had been alone for many years.
Lycos smiled as the guards led Rick away. So he had proved a contender as Lycos had hoped. That was good. He had used quite a few resources to bring him here and get him into these gladiator games.
He turned to his guests – Gardogga the Hutt, several representatives of the Exchange, Black Sun, and other cartels, and a Mandalorian leaning against the wall on the far side of the room.
“Well,” he clapped his hands together. “How was the first game to you?”
“It was rather short,” Gardogga rumbled.
“Yes, but entertaining,” Lycos nodded.
“The winner,” a man from Black Sun stated, “who is he?”
“A former smuggler – though there are many smugglers in these games,” Lycos answered. “His name is Rick Orlan, and he’s a special entry.”
“He’s the whole reason I came,” Gardogga said. “If you get him killed in these games, I’ll be sure to consider a trade agreement with the Firm.”
“And you can be sure I intend to see to your every desire,” Lycos said. “Only the best for future business associates.”
The Mandalorian scoffed and walked into the light. His green armor glinted. “So you want him dead for a load of spice,” he growled. “That’s hardly a good enough reason.”
“Watch your words,” the Hutt frowned. “I know full well that Rick handed the spice over to you.”
“You only have faulty suspicions on that note,” Algayne sneered.
“It’s not just the spice,” Gardogga growled. “He robbed my ship, with me on board! He broke one of my prisoners out and tampered with my slaves. Him and his new crewman.”
“Oh, such an offense!” Algayne mocked. “Spice and slaves…what do those compare to besmirched honor?”
“You and your misguided honor…” Gardogga gurgled. “Mandalorians always were rather foolish and stupid.”
Algayne’s hand went to his blaster. “I’d kill you right now, worm,” he said. “However, I know better than to make a scene in front of my host. You should learn some manners, even if you are a slug.”
“Gentlemen, please,” Lycos raised his hands. “This is about business, not grudges. If we shot everyone who ever crossed us, then the galaxy would be very lacking in businessmen. Both of you want Rick dead, and are willing to sign my contracts if he dies in my arena. I’m here to see it through…but you two need to hold up your ends of the bargain. There will be no trouble in my presence. When these games are over, you can kill each other on your own turf. But this is my estate.”
“You’re right,” Algayne’s hand left his pistol. “I’ll honor our deal for now. But I don’t want to hear this Hutt’s stupid rambling while I’m here.”
“I’m sure we can work things out civilly,” Lycos said. “Now, I’ll have my men escort you to your rooms. The next game is tomorrow. We’ll see how Rick fares.”