Thal’s entire encounter with the Force had lasted less than ten seconds, yet to see Johram running up the stairs Thal would have thought he had made the Weequay wait an hour, with the Corellian Port Authority security officers chasing their heels.
As it was, those observations weren’t far from the truth. Thal could feel the two dozen officers combing through the lower level apartments, methodically searching every room for the two murderers. It game them some time, which was part of why Thal had chosen to climb toward the roof, but not much. And their prospects weren’t going to improve much by reaching the rooftop.
True, there were only a handful of officers waiting for them, but Thal wasn’t confident in their ability to take them and the airspeeders that were no doubt on their way.
Thal just had to hope that the overconfidence he had felt radiating from the riot-gear officers on the roof was simply from their lack of experience, and not due to any actual knowledge about the situation.
Somehow, though, Thal didn’t think that was the case. And he certainly didn’t think it wise to rely on such a thought.
As they neared the rooftop door, Thal stopped Johram from bursting out into a trap by reaching for the Weequay’s foot, causing the man to fall onto his hands and knees on his way up the stairs.
Thal silenced him with a finger before the Weequay’s angry retort could bring the rooftop officers in on them — that is, if they hadn’t heard the noise of Johram falling on the stairs.
“Listen,” Thal said, and then hesitated.
He couldn’t tell Johram that he knew about the guards on the roof. It would seem suspicious. He wouldn’t be able to explain it.
Yet he also couldn’t let the Weequay barge out and get himself killed. For one thing, Thal’s only chance of escaping this place was by working with the man, not sacrificing him to the Corellians.
“Listen for what?” Johram hissed.
“I meant wait,” Thal said, making a decision. He couldn’t tell the man about his powers, but he could still try to be careful. “Remember what we talked about downstairs? There might be men up on the roof, waiting for us. We can’t just walk out into the open without a plan.”
The Weequay was still angry, Thal could tell, but he was also trying to restrain that anger in favor of discipline and logic.
There were ways to play both to Thal’s advantage.
“Do you understand?” he said.
“Of course I understand,” Johram said sullenly. “What do we do about it?”
Perfect, thought Thal. By implying his ignorance, he redirected his anger at my accusation instead of my idea. I’ll have to remember that trick.
“These stairs offer reasonable cover for us, yet they’ll be out in the open,” said Thal. “That might help us.”
“But these stairs are a deathtrap once the rest of those officers catch up to us,” said Johram. “Besides, there’s bound to be more of them than us on the roof. They can just wait for us to pop up out of cover before taking us out. Too static. Solid, but too static. We’d die.”
Impressive. He seems to be more tactically minded than the rest of his species. Certainly more so than me.
“That’s a good point,” Thal conceded. “So what would you suggest?”
“A distraction , at least. A way out would be best, though.”
“Difficult. And impossible. Your options don’t impress me too much.”
Unless… The thought began to whisper its way through Thal’s mind as they stood there, contemplating which oblivion they wished to encounter. You could handle everything, if you really gave yourself over. If… if you used…
The weapon in its hidden pouch hung heavy against the small of his back.
Too open; too obvious. But still…
There were possibilities in that direction. But Johram couldn’t be allowed to see. It would be a dead giveaway, and Thal couldn’t afford to give up ten years of hiding for a simple escape. Even if it did allow him to pursue the Sith.
That was it, he had to do it. He had to get out.
“Johram,” he said. “Can you climb exteriors?”
The Weequay nodded.
“Break into that apartment there, then climb out an exterior window to reach the roof. You can drop a couple of them and as soon as I hear the blaster bolts, I’ll burst out and kill the rest. They’ll never know what’s happening.”
“Understood,” said the man, a hint of bitterness in his voice.
Sure, it’s dangerous, thought Thal. But at least I’m letting you live.
Reaching behind his back, Thal loosened the ties on his hidden pouch, just in case.
Climbing the stairs to the doorway, Thal brought the channel of the Force into his conscious mind again. The currents of energy — of life itself — flowed through him, filling his mind and perceptions.
Five men on the roof. Only two of them watching the door. He could handle that.
With a deep breath, Thal filled himself with the Force and swung open the door.
The first shot pinged off of the door frame beside him. The second caught him square in the chest, but he neutralized the energy with the Force. It disrupted the flow like a massive boulder landing upon a stream. But it was not enough to completely halt the flow and soon the Force had filled him again.
He took his first two shots as he rose out of the stairwell, dropping two of the security guards.
By this time, the other three had noticed his arrival, but Thal was out in the open now. They wouldn’t stand a chance.
He leapt into the air, loosing a shot into one of the men as he flew over his head.
Landing on the other side of the rooftop, between the remaining two men, Thal was about to pull off two more shots with his blasters, but they were too fast on the uptake. They pulled off shots at him, which forced him to dive out of the way. The bolts narrowly missed hitting him — and even more narrowly missed hitting the other officers — but he survived.
Rolling onto the ground, Thal came around behind one of the officers and put two bolts into his back, dropping him to the ground.
The final officer had a clear shot at him now, but he wasn’t about to let that last.
Vaulting into the air, Thal flew directly toward the man.
The officer managed to pull of a shot at Thal as he approached, but it went wide, and so Thal landed at the man’s feet to put two shots into the Corellian’s kidneys.
The pain of the blaster bolt in his back was almost enough to make Thal forget the Force, but his well-honed reflexes allowed him to just barely neutralize the energy before it managed to tear through more than the outer layer of skin.
Turning toward his attacker, Thal found one of the first officers standing by the door with his blaster rifle drawn and leveled at Thal.
Fury filled Thal. Fury at himself, first, for allowing his guard to drop before he had ensured the fate of his enemies. Fury at this Corellian for continuing to impede his progress away from this place and toward the Sith. Fury at the Sith woman for saving him and setting him on this path against her corrupt order. Fury at the Council for sending him on this lonely mission in the first place.
Thal took the energy he had absorbed from the blaster bolt and turned it out into tendrils of power surging across the man’s body. The pain was obvious, as the Corellian writhed and twisted himself into the must unnatural shapes.
When it finally caused the man to collapse into unconsciousness, Thal stood above the body and put a blaster bolt into his head, just to be sure.
That was when he felt one more presence on the roof.
Thal spun to find the Weequay crouching on the far end of the rooftop.
Switching to stun, Thal loosed a bolt at his companion. The man dropped into a heap on the ground just as he was opening his mouth to demand what was going on.
With a deep breath, Thal brought himself back to a place of serenity, a position of peace and control.
Passion, yet serenity.
The old words again.
Thal surveyed the scene of carnage he had created. Five dead Corellians, and one unconscious Weequay. Was that a lot? Had he overdone it? Thal didn’t really have any conception of what he should do at this point.
Casting out his perceptions to take in the rest of the building, Thal saw the two dozen other CPA officers making their way up the stairs. They were still several floors down, but growing dangerously close. There was a small group in the supplier’s apartment now as well, likely investigating the damage they had done there.
Damn. This day is not going well.
Making his way to the Weequay, Thal checked his vitals to confirm that there had been no harm done.
Filling himself with the Force, Thal drew strength enough to lift Johram onto his back.
At least, he thought he did. The Weequay was proving surprisingly heavy. It seemed, even with the Force’s help, Thal was still a spindly brain-head, and not suited to lifting or moving with heavy weights.
The Corellians were getting closer now, Thal had to get away. He had to get Johram away too.
Except… did he really?
Thal thought about it for a moment. The Weequay had been useful, yes, but in the end he still might have seen something to betray Thal’s true identity. He couldn’t have the man reporting to the Diplomat. At least not anytime soon. Not while he was still looking for the Sith.
“I’m sorry,” Thal said to the unconscious Johram. “I just don’t have enough time.”
After that, Thal used the Force to leap across the gap between buildings and land in the open window of a neighboring apartment. It still took several hours of touch-and-go encounters with the CPA, but Thal eventually managed to escape the Corellian Sector and made his way back to the Promenade.
Thal came to the Promenade as the sun was setting.
Clearly, I’m not going to have time to visit the Mandalorians today, he thought. But it didn’t bother him. He had recovered far more important information than anything the Mandalorians might have.
Arriving at the Diplomat’s headquarters, Thal made his way wearily to the cafeteria.
“Make it a big bowl, Ganis,” he called back. “I’m wiped.”
“Thal, my boy,” rumbled the Hutt. “Gaul says he wants to see you as soon as you get back.”
Her voice was unusually emotional.
“Is he mad?”
“Not my place to say,” she said. “But you should probably get back there and talk to him. I’ll save you some stew, don’t worry.”
Now what? Thal thought as he unhappily made his way back to the Diplomat’s office.
“Thal. You’re back. Where is Johram?”
That was quick.
“We got separated,” Thal said. “We were caught by a CPA patrol while investigating the supplier and they thought we killed him.”
Thal shook his head. “No. We found him like that.”
“I see.” The Diplomat set his jaw firmly. “Anything to report on the murder?”
“Not yet. I’m going to be investigating it, though.”
“I see. And one more time, where’s Johram?”
Thal clenched his hands tightly, unsure of what he was supposed to be saying.
“We got separated, like I said.”
“Hm. That’s not what I heard.” The Diplomat motioned and Thal turned to find the Weequay standing just outside the office… along with three other members of the Diplomat’s inner council.
“How-?” Thal began, but then he decided it wasn’t important. Not now.
Even so, the man answered his question. “You’ve got your tricks and I’ve got mine,” he said.
So that’s what this is about. Johram saw me using the Force and told Gaul. Now they’re getting ready to collect.
That, more than anything, told Thal what he needed to do next.
As the Diplomat opened his mouth to speak again, Thal slipped a holdout pistol from his sleeve and shoved it into the man’s throat. He held down the second trigger and then turned to the four members of the Diplomat’s council standing outside the door before they could do anything rash.
“Stop!” he said. “This is a Bryar-class holdout blaster. Nice model; comes with some extra features. Right now, I’m holding down the second trigger, which charges a small, explosive bolt to release when I release the trigger. You startle me, or even kill me, and that bolt is going to go off.”
Thal met each member square in the eyes. Dash, the human. Kadrian, the Zabrak. Cha, the Mon Cal. And Johram, the Weequay. Each one matched his intensity with their own, but none of them moved to act.
“Let me leave,” Thal said. “And I won’t kill him.”
Dash was the first to move — humans always were the first to break, to adopt a new status quo. Cha moved next, and after that was Kadrian — sweet Kadrian with the vibroedged personality.
Johram was the last to part for Thal to pass. His eyes were filled with venom and Thal could feel the hatred radiating off of the Weequay, even with the Force once again surpressed in his lower self.
Thal removed the blaster’s barrel from Gaul’s mouth, but kept it fixed on the man’s face. Moving around to stand behind the Diplomat, Thal forced him forward.
“Move it, Gaul,” he said in a low voice. “I don’t want to do this, but you’re my only way out of here.”
“Let him pass,” the Diplomat said evenly. Thal was infuriated by the man’s calm demeanor, but he quickly brought himself under control in order to continue pushing him out of the office.
They walked slowly down the hallways of the compound, past meeting rooms and lounges where various lower-level members of the organization would abruptly notice the situation before being waved down by the Diplomat as they passed.
Then they passed the cafeteria. Ganis dropped a ladle in her stew as she saw Thal leading the Diplomat out of the compound with a blaster to his head. The confusion and disappointment in her face was, surprisingly, enough to wrench a reaction out of Thal’s gut. But he didn’t think about it beyond that first emotional punch. He had to stay focused. He had to figure out a way to escape.
He was at the entrance now, sure. But that didn’t mean he was safe.
“You don’t have to do this, Thal,” said the Diplomat. “We can work something out.”
“Shut up! I’m getting out, before you turn me in.”
“What happened in the Corellian Sector was an accident. Surely we can negotiate some kind of… understanding.”
“I’m not going to let you blackmail me with this, Gaul. I’m getting out while I still have a chance at the freedom I need to find–”
He cut himself off in time to prevent himself from revealing his mission.
I just need to get away, he thought. I’ll find the Sith on my own. I just need to be free from his authority.
“Tell them to let me go,” Thal said as he noticed the other members of the Diplomat’s council standing beside the entrance to the headquarters. “Tell them not to shoot me or chase me as I flee.”
“Do you even hear yourself, Thal. There’s no need for this. We can all be reasonable.”
“Tell them!” Thal said, pushing the barrel of the blaster firmly into the Diplomat’s neck.
“Thal, listen to me.”
He didn’t. Instead, he turned and bolted up the street stumbling slightly in the dark as his vision blurred from fear and anger and shame. He expected to hear blaster bolts, or the whine of speeder engines, or even the pounding of feet on the pavement following him.
Instead, he heard nothing but the Diplomat’s stony voice echoing faintly off of the empty streets.
“Let him go. We will deal with him in time.”