We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa. They were the last words Thal had ever heard from the council.
Nar Shaddaa, where people go to disappear.
He was sent to be a spy, to find the last vestiges of the old Count’s training commune. They didn’t know if it was here, or on Cato Neimoidia, or Duro, or even Clak’dor VII — his own supposed homeworld. They simply sent him to be the eyes of the Order.
And now he was all the Order had left.
We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa. The words still echoed in his head, ten years after they had been spoken. We have a special task for you that requires discretion and finesse. We hope you won’t let us down.
“I won’t,” he had said.
And so he had gone. They sent him to Nar Shaddaa in secret, and so it was on Nar Shaddaa that he had survived. The purge. The New Oder. These dark times.
His name is Thal Lirin. He was once a Sentinel within the Jedi Order. Now he is alone.
Thal arrived at the swoop shop ahead of schedule. He wanted to give it a once-over before the rest of the Diplomat’s thugs got there. A Rodian stood behind the counter, but Thal could also feel the presence of two other sentient beings in the shop, most likely in the garage, fixing up some wreck or another. Last week’s race had been a brutal one.
“How can I help you?” said the Rodian in Huttese. There was little point in speaking much else on Nar Shaddaa, and Thal sometimes wondered if he still even knew how to speak Basic — or Bith for that matter.
Thal nodded to the Rodian, tipping his bulbous head in a very human expression, and said, “Browsing.” He walked slowly through the racks, noting sightlines and escape points as he went.
No chance for them in here. Cramped quarters. The only windows open onto a threes-story drop. We’ll be covering both doors. That sign is the only thing that could cause a problem.
The only thing he couldn’t account for was the swoop garage. If they had any decent, operational vehicles in there, they might be able to make a break for it.
This was all assuming, of course, that they’d want to run at all. For all Thal knew, they might just pay up without incident.
The Diplomat hadn’t though so, Thal recalled. That’s why he had sent him. If he had wanted a simple payment pickup, he could have sent any of his goons. He chose me for a reason. I have to be careful with this.
“May I see the garage?”
The Rodian looked up at Thal with narrowed eyes. “Why do you need to see the garage?”
Thal tapped his bulbous head. “Curious,” he said. “That’s all.”
The Rodian scowled and shook his head and muttered under his breath as he waved for Thal to follow. “Bith. You ask the weirdest questions.”
“It’s because we’re always learning,” said Thal.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the Rodian snapped, blasting Thal with a predator’s glare.
Thal simply waited for the merchant to lead him to the garage.
It was, as Thal had expected, in the back. The Rodian led him through a storage closet, past the employee lounge, and then into a minimally small maintenance garage, where a Wookiee and a Sullustan were working on a rusted speeder.
“There. Now what?” said the Rodian with irritation.
“It’s small,” said Thal.
“Yeah, so? What’d you expect? We’re a parts and installation venue, not mechanics. You want your vehicle fixed? Wait in line or go somewhere else.”
The Rodian strode back toward the front shop. Thal wasn’t sure if he expected him to follow or not, but decided to do so regardless.
“How’s that attitude been for business?” he said as he caught up.
The Rodian eyed Thal shiftily from the corner of his eyes, then shrugged. “Some days good. Others bad. We get by.”
“I see.” Thal waited until the reached the storefront before he asked his next question.
Unfortunately, someone was waiting. A Kel Dor, it seemed. Moderate height. Face obscured by the life-giving nitrogen filtration mask.
Thal scanned the Kel Dor’s posture, looking for any hidden weapons.
Naturally, he noticed several, which meant there were at least a few more hidden in a way that Thal couldn’t detect with a quick visual scan. It was, after all, Nar Shaddaa.
“What do you need?” said the Rodian. “We’ve got parts from wall-to-wall if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Thal couldn’t tell where the Kel Dor was looking. It was difficult enough for him to read the Rodian, or his own kind, with their opaque eyes. But this Kel Dor, with his mask, was an impossibility.
Humans had spoiled him. Damn.
Realizing it would probably seem strange for him to stand by the counter, staring, Thal turned away from the conversation and perused the shelves.
The Diplomat’s other men would be here soon. They were supposed to wait for him before entering the shop, but they didn’t know that Thal had come early. If he delayed too much longer, they might decide to move on without him. And what if they found him in here?
Well, there wasn’t anything they could do about it, officially. The Diplomat was respectable like that. But if it came to blows, he could easily get “caught in the crossfire” if one of those thugs decided that he’d been double-dealing.
No, Thal realized. It wouldn’t be that easy. The entire crew would have to agree on it, or else it’d be one man’s story against the others’. The Diplomat would see through that soon enough. That was one of the things Thal liked about him: he was discerning, for a human.
But still, he didn’t have much time and he needed to deal with this situation in a bloodless manner. That would be best for everyone involved: the crew, the shop’s owner, the Diplomat, the Diplomat’s entire operation, and Thal — especially Thal’s conscience.
He didn’t want to kill anyone if he could help it.
Emerging from the aisles, Thal approached the counter again. The Kel Dor was just leaving, apparently without incident, so Thal was about to have the Rodian’s full attention.
“I have a question,” he said when he reached the counter.
The Rodian looked up to indicate that he was listening.
“How is the crime in this area?”
The Rodian’s eyes narrowed and he tilted his head askew as he stared at Thal. “What do you mean?”
“The crime,” Thal said. “This is Nar Shaddaa. Crime capital of the galaxy. Surely you have regular break-ins, robbery attempts, threats made against you and your co-workers. What happens when you botch a repair job? Or if you don’t have the parts in stock? Or if someone simply wants your credits? Do any of these things bother you?”
The Rodian fidgeted a bit and then shrugged and shook his head. “We, uh, don’t have much trouble with those things, no.”
“Oh? Well, that must be some incredible good fortune. Tell me, what do you have trouble with?”
“Nothing,” said the Rodian hurriedly as he looked down at the counter. “I mean, like you said, sometimes we make a mistake, or don’t have the parts. People get angry. But nobody gets hurt.”
“And why is that, Reesh?”
The Rodian’s head snapped up at the mention of his name. His eyes locked with Thal’s and even he could see the fear present within.
The Diplomat had given Thal the Rodian’s name, of course, but he hadn’t wanted to let the Rodian know about that piece of information, so he could use it an appropriately effective time.
“Who-, Who are you?” said Reesh. “How do you know my name?”
Any public records office could have told Thal the Rodian’s name. He owned a business within a kilometer of the Promenade. Nar Shaddaa may have been corrupt, but it wasn’t completely devoid of structure. The Hutts had standards, especially now with the Empire in control.
But Reesh wasn’t likely to think his way through all that. Especially now, in his unnerved state. So Thal used that against him.
“You know full well why your shop is left alone, Reesh,” he said. “The Diplomat takes care of you. He’s looking out for you. And if you ever have any trouble, he’ll fix it for you. But this kind of compassion isn’t free, Reesh. You made an agreement, and you haven’t been keeping your end of the deal.”
The Rodian’s ears began to quiver a bit. Thal took that as a sign that he was getting to him.
“Now, you’ve had plenty of time to make it up to him, and the Diplomat — though one of the most patient humans I know — seems to have given up on you.”
“No!” Reesh’s outcry startled even Thal, who didn’t consider himself to be easily surprised. “No, please. I’m begging you. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I thought the payments were over.”
Thal shook his head and sighed through his skin, creating a melodious and mournful echoing sound. “The payments don’t end, Reesh. I’m sorry if we misled you, but this is a service that you have to renew each week. And you’re three weeks behind on renewal fees. That’s going to cost you extra. You know this.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll pay. I’ll pay, I’m sorry.”
“Good,” said Thal with a nod. “The Diplomat will be glad to hear it. Just give me the credit codes right now and I can be on my way.”
“Wha-, what?” The Rodian stared at Thal blankly. “I-, I don’t have them right now.”
Thal measured out a blank, yet disapproving expression and fixed it upon his face. “You do not amuse me, Reesh. And my report will not amuse the Diplomat either. And his report will not amuse the Hutt.”
The Rodian squeaked. “The Hutt?”
“We all have our responsibilities, Reesh,” Thal said as he leaned against the counter and began twirling a pen with one of his elongated fingers. “And if you don’t hold up your end of those, then everyone’s unhappy. And everyone’ll know that it’s your fault. What do you think will happen to you if everyone’s unhappy and you’re no longer protected?”
Reesh shrank back and began to quiver in his lips now. He tried to speak, but Thal cut him off, standing to bear himself imposingly over the shrinking shop owner.
“Do you think this insurance is unnecessary?” he said with a quiet intensity that cut through silence more powerfully than any bellow. “Do you think, because you haven’t had any trouble for a few months now, that your arrangement with the Diplomat is simply an excess expense to be cut from your dismally small budget? Do you think we don’t need the money? Tell me!”
“N-, n-, no!” Reesh choked out. “I’m sorry. I just don’t have it!”
Thal glanced at his chrono. Damn, only three minutes before the Diplomat’s thugs would get here. He had to wrap this up fast.
Pulling his blaster from its holster, Thal brought it to rest against the side of Reesh’s head with one, fluid motion.
“I can’t accept that as an answer, Reesh. You’re responsible for having the money. I need you to give me the money.”
“I don’t have it!”
“On the count of four, I kill you.”
“I’m telling you, I can’t.”
The Rodian tried to squirm away from the blaster, but Thal slammed him against the counter and pinned his head to it with the weapon’s barrel.
“I-, I can’t…”
A roar from behind alerted Thal to the Wookiee’s presence long before the creature would’ve had the chance to attack. Sliding his second blaster form its holster, Thal spun around to level it at his potential attacker, still keeping Reesh pinned to the counter.
“Don’t come any closer or else I kill him and you,” he said.
“S-, stay there, Gor!” Reesh called out between choking sobs. “Stay there, I’ll take care of this.”
Thal kept his eyes on the Wookiee, but returned his attention to Reesh.
“The money, Reesh. I need you to give it to me.”
“I don’t have enough!”
“Then give me what you do have.”
“It’s not enough!”
“Okay! Okay. Okay… I’ll give you what we have, just… just let me go. Let me live.”
Thal slowly slid the blaster away from the Rodian’s head, but he kept the other one pointed at the clearly-agitated Wookiee. By this point, the Sullustan had also ducked into the shop, but he kept himself safely behind the Wookiee.
“That’s all I wanted, Reesh,” said Thal as the Rodian opened a safe beneath the counter. “Your cooperation is the only thing the Diplomat has ever wanted. I’m glad you came to your senses.”
“Here,” said Reesh, shoving a sack across the counter at him. “That’s all we have.”
Finally deciding that the Wookiee probably wasn’t about to tear his head off, Thal turned back toward Reesh.
“Thank you, Reesh. I’m sure this’ll be enough for now. Next time, I hope we can be a bit more civil.”
The Rodian nodded meekly, but Thal noticed that he never once looked up at him as he left. No matter. With any luck, he wouldn’t ever have to come back here again.
In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.
The thought strayed through his mind without provocation. Thal paused, stopping in midstride on his way out of the swoop shop. Where had it come from?
It was a memory, he realized. Something he had once heard a fellow Jedi say. A much older Jedi than himself, but still…a brother in the order.
Who was it?
Thal shook his head as the sight of the Diplomat’s thugs gathering across the street drew him back to the present. Holstering his remaining blaster, he hoisted the bag and exited the shop.
It doesn’t really matter, he decided as he crossed the street. Whoever it was is probably dead.
These were his brothers now. This was his life. There was no escaping that, especially not by dwelling on the past.
As he led the rowdy gang of low-level enforcers back to the Diplomat’s headquarters, Thal realized that the swoop shop’s owner would probably never realize what he had done for him today.
That, more than anything else that had happened, filled him with regret.