“Snare” Short Story
The sun had set hours ago, leaving only harsh artificial lights and their shadows—good for an ambush, terrible for a chase.
Shae Vizla sparked her jetpack, but it sputtered and didn't ignite. Broken or burnt out, it was done. She cursed. Twice now, Gauss—a recruiter for the most dangerous people in the galaxy—had slipped through her fingers. Once on Taris, where she learned that limitless credits could buy you a ticket into a no-fly zone after a chemical spill, and once on Hutt-controlled Darvannis, where an unexpected squad of well-equipped guards kept Gauss out of reach. That was when Shae decided she needed a new plan.
Now she was running across rooftops in the slums of the Duros Sector on Nar Shaddaa. A place so unplanned, mashed together, and chaotic that, with the right paint job, you could hide an Imperial Cruiser in a back alley. It was fitting that her last chance at grabbing Gauss was here, in the heart of rock-bottom. If she lost her prey again, he was gone forever, and any chance of hunting down his latest customers—Heta Kol and the Hidden Chain—disappeared with him. They had attacked her ship and killed her people. There was more to it, but that was all she needed to fuel her hunt.
The same elite guards were now hustling him through a packed street towards the spaceport. Shae had a better look at them. They wore blue and gold armor and had some very expensive gear: multi-scan visors, custom durasteel blades, antique slug-throwers, and the occasional blaster. There was no doubt they were Mandalorians from Clan Ha'rangir. A group infamous for wealth beyond kings that seldom got involved with politics, they never got into blaster fights in the street for some go-between . If Heta recruited Clan Ha'rangir, the game had changed.
Shae was tracking the big bruiser pulling Gauss through the crowds. He had three curved horns on his helmet and left a trail of blood and broken bones as he smashed his way forward. Shae ran on. The end of the roof was getting closer. She leaned forward, preparing to jump across the alley to the next building. A few steps before the edge, she heard the unmistakable crack of a slug thrower and felt a blossom of pain in her calf. Her jump was awkward and weak. She fell short, colliding with the hard edge of the adjacent roof. Her chest piece absorbed the blow, but the impact delivered enough punch to knock the wind out of her.
Shae held on, gasping. Her hands scratched a hold out of the metal surface. Swinging a leg over the lip of the roof, she lifted herself up and rolled away from the edge. The sling on the longrifle at her back caught on something. She took a deep breath. Her calf pulsed in pain. The splattered blood showed someone got a lucky shot between the plates. Two more cracks in the distance, and divots exploded out of the rooftop, inches from her helmet. She yanked her longrifle free and jammed the butt end into the roof to help lift her to her feet. A bead of sweat rolled down her cheek under her helmet. She carried the rifle in one hand and ran on. That leg was going to be a problem.
Two Mandalorians shot up from the right side of the building and high into the air above her. They began firing even before they cut their jets and landed hard on the roof, their pristine blue armor reflecting the dim light from the streets below. Shae drew her own pistol and pulled the trigger. Dry click. Empty.
A slug pinged off her shoulder, throwing her arm back. She used the momentum to spin around, drawing a second blaster with her free hand and fired. The red bolt of plasma splashed against the jetpack of the Mandalorian on the left. A thin whistle, followed by a blast of flame from his jet pack, jerked him to the side and off the building.
Shae's armor was ping-pinging, with more slugs fired from the remaining Mandalorian. She fired again, but he turned to let his chest piece deflect the brunt of the blast. It knocked him off his feet, buying her a few seconds.
She saw two more coming in on her left. With no jetpack, she was at a disadvantage. She jogged to the edge of the building and scanned the floors below. Slugs ricocheted around her. Gauss and his handlers were nearing the end of the street.
Slinging the longrifle back in place, she jumped to a balcony below, smashing a row of potted plants. She heard a scream of surprise inside the apartment as she vaulted over the rail and let herself drop to the next floor down. She let herself fall again and again, until she hit the ground, landing badly on her bleeding leg. A shiver of pain ran up her hip and along her back. Gritting her teeth, Shae lurched forward, ducking into an alley overgrown with awnings and cables. If they wanted her, they would need to come down into the mud and play.
Ping! They found her in seconds.
"Haar'chak!" She didn't spare a look behind her as she pushed off of the wall, tipping a stack of crates down. Blaster fire and a streak of red-hot divots appeared along the wall where she had just stood. Fast footsteps were gaining on her. Shouts from two—now three—sources. She ran to the end of the alley and into the street.
Gauss and Three Horns were disappearing around a corner up ahead. Shae was close, but the spaceport was closer. She picked up speed despite the fire in her leg.
A Mandalorian stepped out from an alcove, levelling a blaster at her. She was moving too fast to dodge aside and crashed into him, taking them both to the ground. His pistol skittered off down the street. Shae used a pipe to pull herself to her feet. She turned to see his lost blaster replaced with a blade. Power hummed along its razor edge.
Shae was losing blood, and her prize slipped further away every second she wasted on distractions. The Mandalorian dove towards her. She deflected his arm at the wrist and struck his unarmored neck with the side of her hand. He coughed. She grabbed his knife arm and twisted it in front of her. A muffled crack and a shout of pain. She kicked out his leg, dropping him back against the alcove. More jetpacks were approaching. With a grunt, she stumbled down the street.
She rounded a corner and collided with several pedestrians. Pushing her way through, she searched the press of bodies blocking her way. Where is he? She climbed up on the hood of a parked speeder to get a better view. People cast her confused looks.
There were too many shadows and too many people crisscrossing her field of view. Nar Shaddaa was always busy, and getting lost in the crowd was almost a religion. Unslinging her longrifle—the confusion turned to screams—Shae looked through the scope. Everything about the rifle—an involuntary gift from an ex-Mandalorian back on Mek-Sha—was new and expensive. Shae keyed the scope—one of the special modifications she made to the weapon since Gauss escaped the first time—to pick him out in a crowd.
A red square appeared around a sliver of a half-turned face. Gauss. Shae looked up and found Three Horns pushing people out of the way as he pressed forward. Their group was moving towards a shop door. Someone didn't clear the way fast enough and got the butt of Three Horn's blaster across his face. The pedestrian fell back as Three Horns shouldered the door open and shoved Gauss inside.
Shae slung the longrifle on her back and jumped off the speeder. A shock of pain reminded her that she didn't have a lot of moves left. She managed a wry smile as she ran. Exhausted, bleeding, certain death seconds away, and she smiled. A hunt, an actual hunt, after years in a pretty cage of politics and bureaucracy as Mandalore the Avenger. She felt the familiar rush of her first hunt so many years ago. The rust had fallen away, and her instincts began to howl.
Ping! Shae wobbled to the right as the slug knocked her forward onto her bad leg. She was bleeding enough to leave a trail a child could follow. This might be where she belonged, but it didn’t mean she would survive. Better to die with blood in my mouth than rust on my blade.
She found the shop and pushed the remaining crowd aside before stepping through the broken door frame. It was a pawn shop of some kind, unkempt and filled to the ceiling with forgotten wares. Overturned shelves and debris slowed her down. Shae hopped painfully over the worst of it and picked her way through the junk to a hallway.
Massive arms grabbed her from behind, lifting her off the ground. She struggled to break free, her legs flailing. Driving her head back, her helmet smashed into an immovable beskar. The grip remained.
She shouted, "Orar T’ad!" Her standard list of verbal commands was another modification she added to her longrifle, handy for when you couldn't reach the trigger. The weapon, still strapped to her back, fired a thunderous round into the ceiling. The trick worked, and the grip loosened. Shae slammed a boot down on a knee. A leg buckled, and she dropped free. Shae crouched and swept the thick legs out, knocking her attacker to the floor. Her own wounded leg protested the move. Breathing ragged gulps, she guided herself along the wall and pushed open the exit.
The alley was unlit and dark, but her visor adjusted automatically, casting everything in an orange and white glow. The last of the fleeing Ha’rangir was a quick dash up the street. She heaved herself out of the doorway and down the pavement. Broken crates, metal scraps, and other trash made for unsteady footing. She could make out the smell of exhaust fumes and the ozone of welding through her helmet's filters. Glancing up, she saw lights reflected against the low clouds in the distance, the spaceport. She broke into a limping run, the longrifle listing left and right with each step. The fire in her leg turned to ice.
"Stop her!" Gauss shouted from up ahead. She couldn't see him, but he was close.
"You're dead, Gauss!" she shouted back. Shae needed him alive, but it was getting hard to remember that. They had cut a hole in the fence. The metal was still red around the edges. Glaring white lights illuminated the smooth concrete ahead. Unslinging her longrifle, she jumped through and kept running.
A glossy blue and gold ship sat in the distance. Its engines hummed, and the loading ramp was gliding open. Three Horns, Gauss, and two others ran toward the ship while a small group turned and began firing at her. She dodged to the side as a rain of metal slugs pitted the pavement around her. Still running, she raised her longrifle and fired a volley of shots at closest. One found its mark, and his orange and white avatar fell back.
With the endless landing area the only obstacle between her and Gauss, she ran. Her leg numb, her lungs grabbing what air they could, Shae cursed any plan that involved this much running.
More Mandalorians came spilling out of the ship. Shae heard shouted commands as Three Horns pointed in her direction. They took aim and began firing. A combination of blaster bolts and slugs peppered the ground and her armor, twisting her one way and the other, slowing her progress as she struggled to keep her footing. Her wounded leg pulsed and threatened to give way. With a yell, she pushed through the barrage, raising the arm that held the longrifle across her visor for added protection.
She pulled out her backup pistol with her free hand and returned fire, each shot precise and calculated. Mandalorians began to drop, red plasma scorching a path to the soft tissue between their armor plates. Gauss had found the ramp and used the rails to pull himself up. He stopped and looked back, a smile on his face.
Shae swore, jumping over one of the fallen Mandalorians, his shoulder still smoking. In one practiced motion, she holstered the blaster, went down on one knee, planted the longrifle on her shoulder and took aim. Got you.
She didn’t take the shot.
The thin whine of a missile cut through the air. Shae had time for half a curse before it struck, the explosion lifting her into the air. There was a ringing in her ear, then nothing.
Slowly, murky points of light and security klaxons swam into her consciousness. Shae blinked away her confusion, flexing her hands. She tried to sit up, but her arms were pinned. The inside of her helmet was wet. Shapes swam into view. Blue Mandalorians lifted her up, causing the world to spin and her new bruises to burn. An iron grip held her arms behind her.
Her vision sharpened into the image of Gauss smiling. He was uncomfortably close. Three Horns stood to the side, leveling Shae's longrifle at her chest. It went very well with his polished armor, she noted absently.
“Almost, Shae,” Gauss said. His voice was smooth as silk.
More klaxons. It meant security droids charged with protecting the spaceport were on their way. Turns out security frowned upon blaster fire and missiles. Gauss looked irritated at having his victory cut short. "These people will ensure you don't bother me again, isn't that right, Rubassa?" Gauss continued to stare at Shae as he asked.
“Clan Ha'rangir will see you safe.” Three Horns replied.
Shae scoffed. "You boys got tired of hiding behind your credits?”
Three Horns—Rubassa—turned to look at Shae. “Heta Kol wants a return to the old ways. ‘In war, conquest. In triumph, tradition.”
“Whatever. Can I have my rifle back?”
He laughed. Without taking his eyes off Shae, he slung her longrifle across his back. “See you get a good price for her,” he said to the remaining Ha’rangir. With a final chuckle, he turned on his heel towards the ship, motioning his team to follow. Gauss was escorted up the ramp, still smiling.
Shae strained against her remaining captors, shouting a curse as the engines blazed to life and the ship lifted off. With a flash, the elegant mass of metal raced into the sky and out of sight. Gauss was gone.
The Ha’rangir in front of her watched the ship depart. The man behind her pulled her a half step back into his chest plate. He leaned close and tightened his grip on her arms. "Now, what are we going to do with—"
"Hettir solus." A jet of flame burst from her right wrist, catching the man behind her in an inferno. Shae swung her arm around in a wide arc, engulfing the rest. Not a pretty sight. After a few seconds, the flame sputtered to a hissing finish, leaving blackened beskar plates and piles of ash. She looked up at the sky, reaching for a small datapad at her hip. Two taps and it glowed to life: “TRACKER ENABLED.”
Shae sat at the console of her ship and watched the tiny blip make its way down to the planet. She lost sight of it but didn't dare get any closer and risk detection. She wasn't sure how the ionic storm that raged outside the cockpit would affect scanners. It made the last leg of the journey difficult, but there was no mistake: her hunt for Heta Kol had ended.
She followed the tiny whisper her tracker embedded in all outgoing comms and scanning pings for three days. Rubassa’s ship docked with another and transferred Gauss—likely to throw off any tail. A good plan, except Shae wasn't following Gauss. He was just the go-between with Heta and had served his purpose. Apply enough pressure, and someone directly connected to Heta will arrive. Enter Rubassa and his Ha’rangir Mandalorians.
Shae’s final modification to the longrifle was a tracker. It was a gamble, sure, but a lifetime of hunting down dangerous people had taught her that the best warriors claimed the best rewards. Shae couldn't resist that fancy longrifle on Mek-Sha when she lifted it off an old enemy, and she bet whoever Heta sent to protect Gauss would feel the same.
Shae tapped a console for more information on the planet hiding behind the storm.
Surrounded by an intense storm, out of the way, any industry was decades in the past; it looked like any unremarkable rock in space. Perfect for a hideout. One way or another, Shae would face Heta and decide the future of the Mandalorians.
She stared at the swirling clouds and lightning. It would be stupid to go down into the heart of Heta's lair alone. She cursed and turned the ship around, setting course for Odessen.