Chapter 18

Chapter 18

Thal stared down at his fallen enemy. The Weequay’s anguished howling had subsided to a dull whimper.

Zyn Par appeared then.

“Impressive, Sentinel.”

“Zyn,” said Thal. “Where’d you go? I called to you for help.”

“You told me to stay hidden, Sentinel. Did I disobey?”

I guess I’m still not as good at that trick as I’d like, thought Thal.

“I was trying to tell you to wait and help me ambush him. But… well, I suppose it doesn’t matter now. I managed well enough on my own.”

“Next time, I will look more closely for your signal.”

Thal nodded. That would work. For now, they had to keep searching.

Returning to Johram, Thal grabbed the Weequay’s ponytail and yanked his head back.

“Where is your temple?”

The man howled at first, then gritted his teeth and presented a stony grimace to Thal in reply.

Thal pulled out the datapad, switched to the relevant page, and shoved it in the Weequay’s face.

“There’s the rumor. I want the truth. Where did you train, Johram?”

The hatred in the man’s eyes burned Thal as he continued the interrogation.

“Zyn. Make him fear me.”

A moment later, Johram stared lifelessly at some invisible horror. Slack-jawed and empty-eyed, he did not respond to any question or threat Thal made.

“You may have overdone it,” he said to the Kel Dor.

“Have no worries. He will come around.”

Sure enough, after a few minutes of staring into space, the Weequay began to stir from his catatonic state.

Thal was in his face as soon as he was sure the man could see him.

“Do you want to go through that again? Or would you rather face me?”

Johram may have still been in a catatonic state for all the reaction he gave.

“Hm? I can’t hear you, Johram. Me? Or him?”

Zyn played his part magnificently. As Thal leaned aside to display the Kel Dor’s visage, Zyn leaned in and began to breathe heavily, adding such an ominous noise to the presentation that even Thal was a bit creeped out. And none of that was even taking into account the subtle machinations of the Force that Zyn was weaving into Johram’s mind.

If this didn’t break the Weequay, Thal would have to consign himself to releasing the man without the information.

He really didn’t want to do that.

The Kel Dor worked his tricks for a time, trying to pry out the information with a deft combination of questioning and the Force. But in the end, they still had nothing.

“What do you want to do about it?” Zyn said after leaving Johram in another near-coma of fear. “We are unable to retrieve any useful data from him. He is useless to us now.”

Thal nodded.

“You’re right. Let’s go.”

“Sentinel. We cannot leave him here.”

“What do you mean?”

“He could reveal you to his masters. He is an enemy. Is it the Council’s will to show mercy to our enemies?”

The cold, mechanical quality of the Kel Dor’s voice only added to the ruthless course of action he suggested. Yet Thal was not surprised. Nor was he opposed to the attitude. Somewhere, he knew it was necessary. Somewhere, he had been planning to kill Johram all along.

Find the Sith, and destroy them.

Yet Johram wasn’t Sith. At least, Thal couldn’t bring himself to believe that Johram was Sith. He felt a darkness in the Weequay, of course. But he felt darkness in every citizen of Nar Shadaa. Darkness was a part of life here.

What he didn’t feel was the all-consuming darkness of corruption that he had been taught was the taint of the Dark Side.

He had been sent to destroy the Sith. The true enemies of the Jedi Order. Not some half-baked imposter. A fool with a lightsaber.

And yet, hadn’t he been part of hunting down other false orders. The Dathomiri. The Jal Shey. The Krath. The Bando Gora. The Zeishon Sha. All of these had been hunted by him at one point or another, when they grew out of control.

And just because Johram wasn’t Sith now, there was nothing preventing him from becoming a Sith in the future. He may even be on the path to the Dark Side now.

He was not Jedi. That alone should have been enough.

“You’re right, Zyn. Well done. We’ll wait for him to come back around, and then… we’ll move on.”

They waited in silence for Johram to rouse himself, then Thal had Zyn hold the Weequay down to the ground. Igniting his lightsaber, Thal lined it up above Johram’s neck.

“Johram,” he said. “As a Sentinel of the Jedi Order, I have been sent by the Council to hunt down its enemies. You have embraced the power of the Force outside of the Order’s will and teachings. For this, and other perversions as yet uncommitted, I hereby sentence you to die.”

He lowered the golden blade without giving the Weequay a chance to speak, severing the head from its shoulders in a swift swoop. There was no blood. Lightsaber blades instantly cauterized the wounds it inflicted.

Even knowing that, Thal was surprised.

Deactivating his lightsaber, Thal clipped it to his belt and then hid it beneath folds of his coat.

“Let’s go, Zyn. We need to find a secret temple.”

#

The morning was growing by the time they returned to the Red Sector. There were a few folks meandering the streets, even fewer walking with purpose. The majority of those who could be found in the Red Sector during the day were drunks and other pleasure-seekers who hadn’t had the sense to leave in the night. Few had the compassion to help any of these near-delirious wanderers on their way to a bed, so they stumbled about, unable to care for themselves.

The more respectable members of the morning crowd were petitioners. While the Brokers held open petitions during the night, allowing anyone of any social level or means to come make their request, during the day they chose to be a bit more selective. Wealthy business owners, influential mid- and upper-level crime lords, celebrity criminals, and others with some renown or clout to throw around could set up an appointment with the Brokers to discuss their “legal difficulties” and “information opportunities” and other arrangements of various repute.

The most common suppliant came to secure the Brokers’ excellent negotiators to maneuver a way for the client to escape some manner of legal trouble with either the Hutts or the Empire — after all, the unofficial motto of the Brokers was that they could “find a legal way to commit any crime.” Granted, sometimes it was cheaper just to pay up to whoever was pressing charges, but there were clearly enough situations that demanded the Brokers’ unique brand of legal advice to make the concept profitable.

Whatever the reasons, the entire arrangement made it difficult for Thal and Zyn, at best.

They needed to meet with one of the Brokers’ representatives. But the only ones who were allowed to meet with them were the folks who had already made an appointment. Outside of them, there was no way to get in touch with the Brokers. It was impossible to even find a representative.

So they either needed to impersonate a member of some prominent criminal agency, or else hunt down a representative’s location and force him to talk to them.

The second option sounded more direct, and thus more efficient.

Thal decided to start with the cantina where he had met the representative the previous night, before he had descended into their sanctum. Somewhere in there, they had to find a clue.

Better yet, they found a Broker.

Hiding in the same back room where Thal had met and dismantled the representative and its guards, Thal felt a full-rank peripheral Broker meeting with some group of other beings.

He pulled Zyn to the side.

“All right,” he said. “There’s a small group of humanoids in there, hard to tell if the Duros, Humans, or Twi’lek, but they’re in there. We need to get them out so we can talk to the Broker. I’m going to try being polite, but if that doesn’t work, I need you to scare the Sith out of them.”

“Very well, Sentinel.”

Thal nodded, then turned toward the office and opened the door.

The guard droids naturally tried to stop them, but Thal disabled them with a flick of his wrist and a slight pulse in the Force. It seemed he was growing more accustomed to its flow through his body and mind with each passing hour.

Three Duros turned to look up at him as he and Zyn Par entered the inner office. The Broker and its attendant representative also looked up, though they were clearly unsurprised — networks made it difficult to surprise a droid.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Thal said, assuming their gender. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave now. We have a few things that need to be said in private with this droid.”

“We’re at a prearranged meeting,” said one of the Duros. “You cannot just burst in here and expect us to leave without concluding our business!”

“Actually, my friends,” the droid said, calling everyone’s attention. “I believe we have made sufficient progress for today. My associates will be contacting you with another appointment time that should fit your schedule. We will finish then.”

The vocal Duros looked back and forth between Thal and the droid, apparently uncertain of what he should say. So he simply settled on, “Fine, then,” and huffed out, with the other two trailing behind.

“Thank you for your continued use of our services,” said the droid as they left. Then it turned to Thal and, somehow, caused its expression to instantly darken. “Thal Lirin. You left quite a mess. I doubt you are here to clean it up.”

“Let me speak to the Verpine,” Thal said. “I want to talk to your little self-styled queen.”

“I’m afraid that is quite impossible. The master is a very busy creature. Besides, we are a fully functional business network. We are more than capable of making arrangements, should you require it.”

Thal was amazed at how neutral this droid could be, when he had been responsible for exposing their secret mere hours before. Any other being would have likely been so irate it would have shot him on the spot. But these droids… they were true professionals.

Order indeed, thought Thal. Maybe the little bug can achieve it after all. If only with his droids.

“This isn’t the kind of business proposition that you’re qualified to make,” Thal said. “I need to speak to the Verpine.”

The droid practically bristled with irritation. “We will be the judge of what we are and are not qualified to do, Thal Lirin. Now state your request.”

“I want information. A location. I want it now, and I want to make an arrangement between us.”

There was a long pause while the request likely propagated through the entire network.

“We are uncertain if we understand your statement,” the droid said, clearly a bit abashed. “Perhaps if you could rephrase it in a direct question…”

“Let me talk to the Verpine and I will.”

There was another pause. Then a rough approximation of the bug’s voice came through the droid’s vocabulator.

“Very well, Thal Lirin. What do you want?”

The irritation was certainly there. That’s what Thal had expected to hear. He still wasn’t sure if he was actually talking to the Verpine or if this was simply the droid’s attempt to convince Thal that he was. But either way, it proved that the droids were listening to him.

“I’ll be straight with you,” Thal said. “I agree with you. I don’t like the way this city is going, and I think you’ve got a big idea that you want to get rolling.”

The droid didn’t interrupt or respond. It just waited for Thal to continue.

“You’ve got a wealth of information,” Thal said. “Information that you probably don’t know what to do with or don’t know how to use. You have to stay neutral or else your entire racket doesn’t work.”

“This is correct. And it has worked well for us thus far.”

“But it’s been too slow,” Thal said. “You know this. You have droids everywhere, slowly trying to buy up and bring order to the ever-expanding Red Sector. But you’re going to reach a point — if you haven’t already — where the territory surrounding the Red Sector isn’t for sale anymore. You’ll stop growing. You won’t be able to continue your crusade.”

No answer. That was a good sign. It meant the Verpine was listening. Perhaps even looking at records to see if that was the case.

“I can help you there. I’m no longer bound to any criminal or government affiliation. I’m a free agent. A rogue agent even. And I’m starting a new kind of crew.”

He motoined to Zyn Par.

“Here’s my first. Soon I will have more, but I’ll need your help. Soon I’ll be a weapon without a target. An army without recruits.”

“Get to the point, Thal Lirin.”

“You can point me in the right direction. We both want the same thing — to clean up Nar Shaddaa. If you provide me with targets, I can soften them up for you. I’ll cover the underhanded, low-class sabotage. You can deal with the overhead, upper-class buyouts. We both get what we want.”

“What is it you want, Thal Lirin?”

“Purpose,” he said with as much conviction in his voice as he could muster. None of it was a complete lie. But it wasn’t the whole truth either.

“What does this cost us?”

“That you simply meet the needs of my crew. You provide information, funds, materials, we provide the service. A simple business arrangement, right?”

“That’s all?”

Thal shrugged. “From time to time, we may need more. But it’s always in the service of our mutual goals. For instance,” he said, reaching for his datapad. “I need the location of this building.”

“Such a place does not exist,” the droid said. “As you can see here: Rumored.”

Thal smiled. “You and I both know that’s not true.”

“Why do you need to know of such a place?”

“It’s going to be my crew’s new headquarters,” Thal said. “Just as soon as I clear out the current residents.”

The droid was silent for a long time. For a moment, Thal thought maybe it had shut down. But then the Verpine came back on and spoke again.

“Very well, Thal Lirin. We accept your offer. We will make an appointment to negotiate terms and contact you later this week. Do not worry about leaving your address; we have ways of finding you.”

Thal held up an index finger. “First, non-negotiable term: I need the location of this factory. I’m going to deal with this issue tonight.”

There was a faint clicking sound, like the thoughtful staccato that a human made by ticking their tongue when stalling for time to deliberate with themselves.

“Very well,” the droid finally said. “You shall have the data. Give us a moment to locate the described destination.”

Finally, Thal thought. Drel, your information had better be good.

Twenty mintues later, Thal and Zyn walked out of the cantina with a map and directions loaded onto his datapad — and their entire lives seemingly devoted to the Brokers’ cause.

“We can worry about that later,” Thal had said when Zyn asked. “Right now, our prime concern is fulfilling the will of the Council.”

And now, if the Force is with us, we finally have what we need to do it.

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