[ARC] Sins of the Past - Episode IV, Team Gentlelek

(Tali Sroka) #1

“Steady, steady, put ‘er down. Gently…” the voice of the hoversled driver below chattered through the speakers in the overhead crane cockpit with a metallic ring. Wiping sweat from his brow, the operator grabbed the greasy control columns yet again and began lowering the cargo module onto the back of the waiting sled. The tractorbeams yielded to gravity as he dialed down their power until his weary hand slipped and the crate bumped onto the carriage, the sled hitting the floor before the repulsorlifts could manage to compensate.

“I said gently, ya frakkin’-” He cut the line before the peeved driver could get started and yawned, reaching for a cup of stale caf held next to his seat within the cramped cockpit that reeked of sweat and lubricants. The nerfhide seat had been worn down to the durasteel frame and as he peeled himself off it, he could feel the way it clung to the seat of his overalls.

It had been a long night shift, but the lady in charge demanded overtime from all work crews. Said it was for the good of Arcona, and the Company. Mostly the Company. Shuffling along on the walkway towards the break room while another took his place at the crane’s controls, he stepped outside onto a small balcony for a smoke, only to be met by a rock striking the balcony railing with a resounding clang.

Recoiling back inside amidst angry shouting, he wiped grime off the door window and peered at what was going on. A veritable sea of lights swarmed the compound just beyond the chainlink fence that surrounded Sinchi Logistics Hub 12, each a torch or flashlight held by an angry Selenian. Others were waving signs that he couldn’t make out, while others still carried rocks, bottles and clubs or lengths of pipe.

An empty bottle sailed over the fence and crashed against the door, shattering loudly enough to rouse the attention of the work crew within. For a moment, they all looked at him as if he’d been responsible.

“Raise the Overseer, we’ve got a problem.”

(Kordath Bleu) #2

The office was a mess of datapads, flimsy paper and half empty caf mugs. Behind the desk was a haggard looking Ryn, the top few buttons of his shirt undone, jacket hanging from his chair, head in hands. He rubbed at his eyes and looked up at his bodyguard, the massive Chiss who as being uncharacteristically quiet.

“Who’s next, then, Strong?”

"Next would be…," the big man squinted at the pad in his hands, “Tali Sroka. I must protest, Master Bleu, her file is tagged by the medical department. It is not proper to send a lady in her state to somewhere dangerous!”**

Kordath groaned and fell back in his seat, one leg hooked over a chair arm.

“Why would ya think I’d do that? Just bring her in eh?”

The massive Chiss grumbled to himself, a low rumbling, as he went to the office’s waiting room.

"Miss Sroka! Welcome! The Consul will see you now. May I get you anything? Some milk or other nutritious beverage?"

“Ah, no, no thank you,” spoke the Twi’lek, scurrying past the bodyguard and entering the office.

“Take a seat, luv,” spoke Kord, waving at the pair in front of the desk. Both were covered in files, which the Ryn would notice if his eyes weren’t closed.

From behind the purple-skinned woman came more grumbles, and the sound of something hitting the floor heavily. She turned to find an overstuffed armchair, and nodded gratefully to the Chiss.

“Vhat is it you neededt, Shadow Lordt?”

“Shadow Lord,” sighed Kord, sitting up in his chair. “Bloody well call me Kordath, we went through enough crap together before I got stuck in this office.”

Tali said nothing, just nodding and watching him. He looked…tired.

“Anyway, I called ya because it’s all hands on deck right now, yeah? Need someone with yer, uh, talents.”

Her Lekku twitched at his choice of words, and her cheeks seemed to darken. “Pardon, Consul Bleu?”

“I said call me bloody-- oh, uhh, nae, not like that. Sorry, tired, not choosin’ me words too well. Diplomacy, got a, uh, siege? Riot? T’ain’t a strike, tha workers are there, they’re bustin’ their arses processing and distributing foods and stuff. Uhh,” the Ryn shuffled some papers before picking one out and squinting at it.

“Sinchi Logistics Hub 12, they’re gettin’ mobbed by folks, throwin’ bottles, and rocks at ‘em, yellin’. Makes no bleedin’ sense, these folks is tryin’ ta get food out to tha people, and tha people is keepin’ ‘em inside! The protesters or whatever they is are organized, some bloke is leadin’ chants and stuff. So, if yer feelin’ up ta it, o’ course, I’d like ya ta go and have a word. Find out what tha issue is. This, uh…,” he squinted at the paper again, “Yumni…Ha…lady keeps callin’ tellin’ us ta hurry up. Overseer there, I guess. What’s wrong?”

The Twi’lek looked paler suddenly, “Sorry, I am…familiar vith her. Not very, but ve’ve met. I vill meet vith the protesters, the foodt must get out.”

“Great! I’ll see how many security lads we can send along with ya, do nae want ya goin’ alone.”

"Ahem."

“What is is, Strong?” sighed the Ryn.

"This was your last appointment of the day, Master Bleu. Might I offer my services in escorting the Lady Sroka? Security is stretched thin, and I would like to stretch my legs." The Chiss stared down at his master and lord.

Kord waved a hand and collapsed back into his chair. “Great, sure, have a blast. Yer in good hands, luv, Strong will nae let anythin’ happen ta ya.”

The Ryn grew quiet, and the newly minted partners realized he’d fallen asleep.

(Tali Sroka) #3

“Has he always been like that?” Tali asked after several minutes of silent walking through the Citadel’s corridors, the pair having left the tuckered out Consul where he’d passed out. He had other servants to make sure he’d get to bed, or find a couch.

“What do you mean?” the burly Chiss replied with a quizzical eyebrow.

“Vell, that,” she nodded back the way they’d come. “Falling asleep on papers andt such.”

“Do not concern yourself, Miss Sroka. I assure you he is quite up to the task at hand. He merely has-” he paused to search the words. “-a peculiar way of doing things.”

Tali sampled the word in her mouth. “Peculiar,” she mused. “That certainly is one vay of putting it,” she agreed.

The pair made their way to a turbolift that would take them down to the Citadel’s speeder bays at the foot of the mountain stronghold, the elevators sparsely populated out of superstition. As the levels zipped past and a mild sense of vertigo overtook them, Tali shifted her head minutely towards the Chiss. She’d never made much of the stoic mountain of blue muscle that seemed to have become Kordath’s… aide? She wasn’t exactly sure what function he performed, though it had been more than once that she’d seen the Consul draped across the man’s broad shoulder like a ragged scarf, hauled out from some drinking den and to, what she presumed, was a waiting bed.

“Vhat do you suppose ve’ll findt there?” she asked the Chiss, striking idle conversation. The silence in the Citadel mirrored the turmoil in the capital like the Light mirrored the Dark and she did not like it.

“I try not to suppose, madame,” the man replied in a tone that felt like a polite snub.

She turned her head back to the door.

“But if I were to guess,” he began anew, offering a verbal olive branch. **“A bunch of unhappy folk who have been led astray, lashing out at anything they think represents the Citadel.”

Tali glanced at him and could almost swear she saw the faintest caress of a comforting smile on his lips. “But it makes no sense. Ve’re trying to help them.” Aren’t we? She left the question unvoiced, though it seemed he heard it anyway.

“Yes, Consul Bleu is doing the best he can, as are we all, but they have been through a great deal and…” he struggled for the right words. “It is hard to understand, sometimes, the necessities of something big when you are so small yourself.” The words seemed somehow ironic considering his bulk.

“Andt vhen you’re kept in the dark,” she added solemnly.

“Yes. Also that,” he agreed.

=====

The speeder came to a halt at the end of a dingy alley, having cleared columns of smoke and clusters of high-rise hab blocks to reach this part of the Sinchi Ring. As the cab opened to let the passengers out, the scent of burning and smothering frustration met them like an overbearing blanket. It settled upon them, choking, all-encompassing.

The street corner was silent, though usually it ought to have been bustling with activity. The riots had drawn everyone away, or scared them inside. Mobs ruled the streets now, preying on the weak, each other and anything that looked like it belonged to the ‘elites’.

In the distance, the utilitarian shape of the Logistics Hub loomed like a block of lazily shaped clay, straight-walled and rounded. The setting sun’s rays bathed the pale grey in radiant reds and vibrant oranges, dying the rising pillars of smoke the same. Had it not been for the nagging dread of what the night would bring, Tali might have found it a thing of unnatural beauty.

“Sounds like the protesters are still besieging the facility. Let’s hope they listen to reason,” she stated to the stoic Chiss who did not seem to share her optimism.

(Kordath Bleu) #4

”I feel I must apologize, Mistress Sroka. I urged Master Bleu to find someone else for these negotiations,” spoke the bodyguard, his tone serious as ever while they approached the fenced exterior of the hub. ”It is quite possible you heard me say as such to him while waiting outside of his office. I wish you to understand that I have no doubt in your ability, nor do I believe your current medical situation to make you incapable. I just find it distasteful that you are to be put in possible danger while carrying.”

She stared at him as he walked a few paces before realizing she’d stopped, turning to look back at him with quizzical red eyes.

“How many people actually know about my ‘situation’, ah, Mister Garmis?”

He shrugged his broad shoulders in apology, ”I know not. I would surmise your chain of command. I fear that I have a habit of looking over the files of those scheduled to meet with Master Bleu due to security reasons; I assure you, on my honor, if you wish for this to remain in confidence that I shall do so.” He placed a large hand over his chest and bowed slightly as he spoke, before straightening and turning to gesture towards the nearest entrance to the hub’s fenced exterior. She realized he was showing deference to her leading.

The smell of smoke was growing stronger, and the gate that once marked the entry and exit for speeder trucks had been torn from its frame. It looked as if it had been trampled, bent out of shape by many sets of feet. Not far now was the milling crowd, dozens of rioters in various states of protest. Some shouting at the building, often throwing rocks, bricks, and bottles at whatever windows they even thought they could see a shadow in. Others huddled around piles of burning refuse, shattered crates that the pair from the Citadel hoped had been empty when they’d been broken down to be burned. Still, there were those trying to lead chants or some kind of unified protest closer to the main entrance to the logistics hub itself.

Strong nodded towards the security checkpoint that was next to the nondescript entrance, a simple sign above the door marking it as ‘Hub 12’. The guard shack had been abandoned, the glass that made up much of the top half-shattered.

”I see no bodies, that at least is a relief.”

She looked up at him, his brow furrowed and mustache bristling over a set jaw. He did not sound relieved, and a glance towards his hands showed them clenching and opening. The Twi’lek wondered if perhaps the Chiss wasn’t the ideal choice for an escort, he struck her as ready to fight more than engaging in diplomacy.

“Strong?” He looked down at her and took in the look of concern.

”I shall provide you protection, my lady, negotiations are yours, do not worry,” he turned his head and took in the crowd again, eyes narrowing, as if he saw something that bothered him but couldn’t put his finger on it. ”Though at worse, they look to be armed with little more than bricks and bottles. If it becomes a fight, I believe I shall fare decently. I do not like to engage in useless fisticuffs with those who are simply hungry and afraid, though. There is no honor in it.”

“Ve are all hungry, that is something to remember, Strong,” she said, placing a hand gently on one of his arms to try and calm him. Muscles hard as durasteel seemed to ripple under her touch, making her draw away. “Ve must empathize with their situation. Convince them to let the hub vorkers do their job so ve can distribute supplies again.”

He let out a rumbling growl as he looked over the crowd again but simply nodded. They were getting looks from the group around the bonfire, people nudging one another and nodding towards the pair. A particularly skeezy individual stepped away, followed by several others, and approached them. It was difficult to make out their features with the bonfire behind them until they grew closer, and she could sense Strong growing more agitated by the moment. LIkely he couldn’t tell if they were armed. Tali stepped ahead of him slightly but stayed within his reach. There was something comforting about the massive bodyguard watching her back.

“Ah, hello, ve vouldt like to speak vith vhoever is in charge,” she said, hands open, palms up at her sides.

The leader of the group stopped a few feet away, his dark eyes flicking from toe to lekku on the woman and giving her a smile that almost made her admire her Consul’s tact. He had reddish hair, matted down with dirt and sweat, his face pockmarked and body heavy. It was difficult to tell if he was a Human or one of the many races that resembled them. He smelled of smoke and sweat, and through the Force, worse things.

“Well, the Citadel sent some tail-headed tart down to talk us into giving up what’s ours? You want to deal with someone, sweetcheeks, you deal with me. I’m Yuric, and we ain’t leaving till we get what’s inside.” He licked his lips and looked her over again, showing yellowed teeth with a grin.

(Tali Sroka) #5

Swallowing the bitter bile that was threatening to rise to her mouth, Tali maintained her composure despite his best efforts. “Pleasedt to meet you, Yuric,” she nodded. “I am Tali andt you guessedt correctly. However, I am not asking you to endt your protest, only that you allow the vorkers holedt up inside to leave. They have no quarrel vith you. They are only doing the job they’re paidt to do.”

“Work paid by the Citadel? And with what? Meal coupons and a draft waiver? Sounds to me like slavery with extra steps,” Yuric scoffed.

“Paidt for in credits, by the Arconan Logistics andt Shipping Company, vhom the ve’ve hiredt to ensure everyone on Selen gets their foodt andt clothes andt such on time,” Tali shot back, eschewing her diplomatic tone. “Services that ve all needt to survive,” she added, letting her gaze shift from the man before her and glance at his entourage in search of sympathy for her rationale. The few flickers of it soon died when Yuric glanced over his shoulder with a stern gaze.

Growling, he stepped closer, poking his finger right in Tali’s face. “Don’t try to undermine my authority, you Citadel cun-uuurk!” His angry protest died with a meaty blue hand wrapped around his throat, squeezing tighter and making his face turn a similar hue.

“You will address Mistress Sroka with appropriate respect,” Strong grunted, his voice stern and cold, even while veins began to appear on his straining arm that now held Yuric up by a few inches off the ground.

The man continued to choke and cough, clawing at the arm that held him while his legs kicked wildly in a vain attempt to find purchase. The thugs behind him fanned out, pipes and clubs held at the ready, but fearing to attack.

“Mister Garmis, please, let him down. I didt not come here for violence,” Tali urged him, placing a calming hand upon his shoulder.

The Chiss took a moment to respond, before letting Yuric down and patting his hands clean. “As long as they remain respectful, so will I,” he declared before stepping back to let her continue while the ringleader coughed and wheezed at her feet.

Shaking her head minutely, Tali knelt down beside Yuric as he slowly regained his breath. “Like I saidt, ve only vant to see those vorkers reunitedt vith their families. Let them go, they have no part in this.”

Yuric shot a venomous glare at her, eyes red and watering from the Chiss’ tender ministrations, but a quick glance at the towering man behind her took out the worst of his venom. “And what’s in it for us?” he croaked, rubbing his adam’s apple. “Can’t make deals if only one side’s giving and the other’s taking. We’re all sick and tired of the Citadel taking what it wants.”

“Vell vhat is it that you are after?” Tali inquired, rising to her feet as he did. “Ve’re here to talk, but protesting for the sake of disruption vill not aidt your cause, you must see this.”

Yuric scoffed, but seemed to have had enough insulting for now. “You know our demands, they’re the same as of all the others who’ve grown tired of the Citadel’s rule. We want peace. We want to live our lives without fighting your pointless wars and having our homes destroyed as soon as we’ve rebuilt them. We want to know the people representing us are actually held accountable to what they do to us,” he spat, before adding almost defeatedly, “We want a future.”

The sentiment struck a chord within the Twi’lek’s heart. It was a goal she could well empathize with. Subconsciously, her hand had moved over her gently budding belly, her senses focused inward on that kernel of life that was growing stronger by the day. A future, that was something they all longed for, and who was she to deny it?

But this wasn’t a case of ethics or moral philosophy, she quickly reminded herself. It was one of governance. Her heart screamed in support of these people and had she had the power to do so, she would have gladly given them what they wanted. However, her hands were tied and the position she had to defend could not yield, not even if it pained her to do so. She knew what was at stake, even if these people never would, and much like she’d learned on those bitter sands of a bloodied mining asteroid, she had to stay the course even when it risked lives.

Brushing aside her doubts, she focused upon the others in Yuric’s entourage. She’d already grasped their attention, however fleetingly, and it was worth a try to undo the man’s resistance. “Andt is that all? I mean not to disparage your claims, but I vant to make sure all of your concerns are heardt. Is there nothing else that you are trying to accomplish here? Anything further you’dt vant us to change or give you?”

She could see the gears in Yuric’s head turning, but he didn’t catch up to her intention before the first in his entourage spoke up.

“Well,” he began, unsure if he ought to be speaking at all, but lured by the offered opportunity. “With the war and all, it’s been really hard to find proper boots anymore, and the missus says she’s not found any baby formula and that must be why Ember keeps cryin’ at night…” His words sizzled off as the man glanced nervously at his comrades, having realized he might have gone off on one.

Before anyone could chastise him, however, the Twi’lek offered an understanding smile and nodded. “Of course, these are very important things andt I apologize that you andt your family have hadt to suffer, but as I’m sure you understandt, the var makes certain demands from all of us. However, I vill make sure that your daughter, or the children of any others,” she added in a loud enough voice so that everyone could hear, “vill not go hungry. I am sure ve can arrange shipments of more civilian goods in short time, but as it stands, all of those goods vouldt be shipped through these hubs andt that means they must operate normally.”

(Kordath Bleu) #6

The men arrayed behind Yuric were muttering amongst themselves at this point.

“Missus would like to be able to clean some clothes with more than just water.”

“Kid misses those sugary things, the Hutt bombs? He loves that crap, keeps being a handful without them.

“T’ain’t had a proper drink in weeks!”

“Thought The Pub and a few other places had figured out how to produce some swill?”

“Well I ain’t allowed in those joints no more, now is I, Josef?”

“Sundry goodts are of course important, friends, but please, please understand that our focus is on making sure people can eat. That is vhy this hub must open back up. People are hungry, andt tiredt, andt maybe vorse for vear. But supplies are coming in. Things are better than they vere. But attacking a supply hub helps no one. Perhaps you get vhat is inside, and your neighbors? They vill starve, or they vill steal.”

She sighed, seeing the anger rising in Yuric as his control of his mob broke down.

“You accuse us of being from the Citadel, andt you are right, ve are. You vish to live in peace, andt you are right for vanting this. The new Principal Trustee vishes for this as vell. He has no desire to expandt. He vants to see our home prosperous andt vhole once more. The only fighting the Citadel vill not condemn is stopping those vho harm us, or seek us harm. Our fleets are here, they are staying here,” her voice remained neutral throughout, knowing how much ‘ve have a fleet above your heads’ could be construed as a threat.

The men shuffled behind their leader, who looked hesitant himself.

“No more sending people off to war? No more bringing fights back home?”

Tali spread her hands and, despite herself, felt her shoulders sag a little. “Ve have all lost much this past year. No one desires more bloodshedt. The Citadel vill defendt its people shouldt enemies come to us. Ve cannot promise that they vill not. But ve vill not be seeking out conflict, or new enemies.”

Yuric turned and bowed his head, his colleagues closing in around him for discussion.

”Masterfully handled, Madame, perhaps they will listen to reason after all,” rumbled Strong in what was his effort to speak quietly.

She shot him a glare, which took the Chiss aback. “As long as you do not feel the needt to manhandle any of them again, please?”

The big man had the grace to look sheepish, cheeks flushing a purple and bowing.

”I overreacted, and I apologize, to you and I shall apologize to Mister Yuric before we are done here. Ah, they appear to be coming to a consensus of some kind.”

“…don’t care what she says, this is the most the blasted Citadel has come down to talk to us since this hell started! I was here for the good times, I remember Estle being a great place to live! If they’re trying to bring it back, why shouldn’t we let them get on with it? We can demand changes when everyone’s bellies are full and the kids aren’t getting sick from lack of good water.”

“She’s gonna be pissed, Yuric, you know she will be,” spoke up another, looking nervous, eyes shifting around the hub yard.

“Tough poodoo, Josef, she’ll just have to get over it.”

“She? I apologize, Mister Yuric, but ve vere under the impression you vere in charge?”

The pasty man turned, eyes wide and gave a cough of embarrassment. “Well, uh, I’m in charge of, uh, these folks, sure.”

”These folks?” rumbled Strong with growing alarm. ”Are you saying these sorts of acts are planned throughout the city? A network of treason, denying rations and necessities to your fellow Selenians?”

Yuric paled more than he already was, backing away from the mountain of Chiss, hands up. “L-l-look, I, uhh, think we were the first group, okay? A ‘let’s see if it works’ kind of thing! B-b-but your, uhh,” the man seemed to wrack his brain for a non-offensive means to address Tali, “diplomat? She made some good points. We’ll pass those along, of course, and see if we can’t get everyone to, uh, calm down. Yeah?”

The man and his friends were edging further back from the Arconan pair, right until one of them made a choked noise and grabbed Yuric’s sleeve. “She’s here,” hissed the man.

(Tali Sroka) #7

What had, for one glorious moment, looked like a job well done soon soured into congealed mess as a second group of Selenians arrived to reinforce Yuric’s outfit. These looked much like the others, but appeared far more outraged and were carrying signs stating as much.

DOWN WITH THE CITADEL!

BRING OUR BOYS HOME!

HANDS OFF OUR DAUGHTERS!

SELENIAN WORK FOR SELENIAN LIVES!

It was immediately apparent they were not happy with the way things had been handled, but as Tali reached out to gauge their true motivations, she could not help but feel faintly disquieted. There was something off about them, something which made them stand apart from their brothers.

Unlike the first group, these held a far more burning desire for protest and what she sensed was less organized outrage, but more akin a raging hatred for anything that represented the Citadel. And yet, amidst that roiling sea of furious emotion, there was a calm center of calculated malice. Of something far more dangerous than Yuric or any of his thugs. She could see why they’d seemed apprehensive.

Instinctively, she sought the proximity of the bulky Chiss, a hand shifting to cover her belly. The mob was on a hair trigger and she would have to play her cards very carefully, but the presence of this eye in that breaking storm consumed her every thought.

Her curiosity was duly indulged.

“Yuric!” a sharp voice called out, the man snapping to like a dog on a leash. The bark had been far from effeminate, though the natural treble of a female voice could not be hidden entirely. In a similar vein, the green hued Falleen that made her way towards the paled man did little to inspire affection in her appearance, though her gender was hardly at question.

The pronounced ridges of her forehead matched a short buzzed hair that echoed of military service, the loose bantha leather jacket and cropped top hiding a modest endowment that was the only assured sign of her gender. A long skirt of roughspun fibers swayed around her waist as she strode, brisk paced and gleaming purple eyes nailed to Yuric’s brown orbs, flashing lightning in a bottle.

Before he could utter a word in his defence, the firebrand Falleen tore into him with a verbal vibroblade. “Why are you consorting with these Citadel scum?! Did I not tell you to send them packing?”

“Glis please, I-I was not consor…”

“Shut it! And what of your fellows? You let them be swayed by this Citadel tart?” She did not even have to gesture at Tali for the Twi’lek to take the insult.

“Now listen here. If ve couldt all just settle down andt…” she began, stepping closer to the pair in an attempt to alleviate the tension, only to have the snarling Falleen snap around and swing wildly at her face.

Her senses screamed a warning, the shrill cry to duck or dodge painful to behold as her head lurched back on instinct, and within a heartbeat slipped back again to let the cut find its mark. The shiv, little more than a vigorously sharpened nail file, made but a superficial cut but the pain was still there and a faint trickle of blood dyed her purple fingers red. “Damn you andt your lies, Kordath,” she thought bitterly, playing her part to a fault.

“You stay out of this, Schuttadel. This is between me and Yuric here,” Glis snapped.

(Kordath Bleu) #8

A broad, warm hand fell on Tali’s shoulder, gently but firmly pulling her back a step from the angry Falleen.

”Miss Glis, I would ask you to keep some form of civility to your actions if you wish to accomplish anything but chaos,” rumbled the Chiss.

The woman turned and jabbed her file at him as well, the shank sinking into his torso with little more than a grunt from Strong. She raised a brow and jerked the weapon back, her eyes traveling up to the man’s hard planed face.

“Sent a big one too, huh? This the one who scared you and your boys, Yuric?” she asked, not breaking eye contact with the Chiss. She even quirked a slight smile, much to the worry of the Twi’lek.

”Miss Sroka spoke sense to your fellow protestors, madame. These actions do nothing to help those in need—”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand and turned her back on him. “Calling them my fellows means you think they’re as important as me, Citadel Dog.” Her voice was low. Yuric and Tali could hear her, Strong as well, but many of the others couldn’t. She looked back first at the Twi’lek, and then at the Chiss. This time she spoke loudly.

“So! What did the Citadel schutta promise you all? That everything would be okay? Or did she just offer free turns?” she sneered as she spoke.

“I vouldt never!”

“Then what!? Creepy Citadel magic? Messing with their heads? We all know you’re just a bunch of witches up there!”

There was a rise of grumbling from the crowd, some shouting and waving their signs. Tali felt exposed, and those she’d thought to win over with words were sinking back into the mob, not meeting her eyes. Glis stopped Yuric when he tried, turning to give him a toothy smile.

“No, no, you stay up here where I can keep an eye on you.”

“Y…yes ma’am.”

”Miss Glis, violence will solve nothing.”

“It’ll make them feel better, Dog,” she growled, turning on Strong once more. She stepped closer, craning her neck to look up at him. Tali watched, feeling an odd warmth spreading through her, and saw a flush rising in the Chiss’s face. He was darkening to almost match her own tone. She wondered if she should be concerned. “So, what do they have on you to keep you on your leash? Is the little tail headed tart your master, or your bit of fun?”

”Pardon!?”

“Vhat!?”

“Oh, did I hit a nerve?” she asked with a smirk. “They send little miss witch out here to kark with my people’s heads, and send you,” she jabbed a finger into Strong’s chest, “to loom over everybody.”

The finger lingered for a moment, tracing a line down to where she’d stabbed him, the shirt clinging to his skin.

“You do loom well, Citadel Dog. You sure you’re on the right side?” she lifted her head to look at him, turned slightly and smirking again.

Strong shook his head, feeling an innate desire to agree with the woman. Something felt wrong, but his mind, no, more his body, was finding her words agreeable. Words tumbled from him before he could stop, even though his mind seemingly fought for air.

”Perhaps we should hear her out, Mistress Sroka.”

“Strong!” hissed the Twi’lek, laying a blood stained hand on his shirtsleeve.

“Strong, huh? Good name for such a good boy,” spoke Glis, her hand lightly touching his wound. “Sorry for this, big fella, I was angry.” She looked up at him again, her lips in a pout. “Forgive me?”

Vhat is she doing to him?

”Of course, Miss Glis. You acted on impulse because you are angry with your treatment, I understand.” Strong shook his head after speaking, his mind feeling strange. This wasn’t the Force, he’d had more than a few try and play with his mind in such a manner. This was more like spending time with Lucine, except where the red haired Aedile wielded charm like a dagger, this woman was waving a club about. ”I feel odd, Mistress Sroka.”

“Mistress,” parroted Glis, sounding as if she were rolling the word around, “mistress.”

The Falleen turned to the Twi’lek, a smug look on her face. “So you do hold the leash?”

“Ve do not leash people! Ve wish to help those in needt, andt obstructing the vork of the logistics hub does nothing but harm those in the greatest needt!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” clicked the ringleader of the protestors, stepping away from the befuddled Chiss and towards Tali, who backed a step away on instinct. Her voice was low as she spoke. “So if not the leash holder, do I need you? I mean, it could be fun, I’ve heard Twi’leks can be pretty flexible. Though you look a little pudgy, Tails. You know what’s fun,” she whispered, closing in on Tali, who had a stubborn look on her face and a hand at her belly. “If I snapped a finger and told all these nice boys to make you go away, they’d have you dumped in a ditch in ten minutes. Or, I could just tell them you’re a gift for all their hard work. Wouldn’t that be fun, Citadel Tart?”

(Tali Sroka) #9

Kill her!

The response was so sudden, so visceral, she almost pulled her saber to gut the leering Falleen. More than Glis’ attitude and bare threats, the sound of a rasping voice hissing at the back of her mind and calling for murder struck her speechless. As if she hadn’t enough to focus on, the internal struggle to wrestle down the calls for blood was wearing her thin and the Falleen took her hesitance as an open invitation to press on.

“I suggest you turn around and scurry back to your precious little Citadel with your tails between your tits and go freshen up for when we take it by storm as well. You hold no sway over us anymore, witch, and it looks like your friend has seen the light as well.” As she spoke, Glis trailed a hand down Strong’s bulging bicep. The Chiss stood beside the Falleen as if transfixed, staring semi-blankly ahead while his head was awash with conflicting feelings.

“You don’t want to go back into that cold, harsh castle, do you big boy?” she cooed into his ear. “Not when there are so much more fun things we can offer one with your abilities and standing. Wouldn’t you like to see what we – what I have to offer?”
The gulp he gave was distinctly audible.

Tali pursed her lips into a tight line, the temptation to cut the bitch down almost overwhelming. It would be so easy, but it would be the wrong move. “Srong! Remember vhy ve came here for! You have to –!” she gasped as she felt something move inside her. Wincing, she clutched her budding tummy and stood in stunned silence as she felt the first kicks from within. The first signals of her baby.

The moment of sobriety banished all thoughts of violence from her mind and not even the Falleen’s sneering insinuations of a tummy ache could reignite that anger. A sense of serenity and purpose descended upon her mind as the back-footed Twi’lek regained her footing. Eyes clear and mind focused, she caught the Falleen’s gaze and held it in an unyielding vice.

It was the first moment she saw Glis shiver.

“You talk much, but your vordts are poison. As much as your seiren’s scent,” Tali stated calmly, as if daring the mouthy Falleen to rise to the challenge. “You don’t have anyone’s interest at heart, not even your own. You vant to break the Citadel, not because you think it vouldt help anyone, but because you just vant to see it burn. I’ve seen your kindt before andt you vill stop at nothing until everything you touch is in ruin.”

Glis’s eyes shimmered with rage, a litany of insults crossing her mind as she sought the perfect one to throw at the Twi’lek’s face, but none seemed to fit or match her accusation. All that came out was a stuttered mess of frothing slurs.

“I can see you’ve become unbalancedt. Perhaps once you’ve calmedt down, ve can talk again. Until then,” Tali stated calmly, as if talking through her to address the crowd beyond who were now witnessing their leader in a wholly different light, perhaps for the first time. “Strong, ve’re leaving.” Tali turned around briskly with her lekku swaying in her wake.

As if snapped out of the alluring chemical trance, a force more potent than pheromones brought the Chiss back to his senses. Even as he shook his head with a mild sense of vertigo, he could still feel the cool caress of something ethereal brush against his mind.

Glis, for her part, stood in utter outrage, fuming at the audacity this pudgy Citadel bureaucrat had displayed. A swift glance over her shoulder saw the bitch’s words at work, the mob she’d assembled exchanging wary glances as their faith in her leadership wavered. She had to act fast to reclaim it.

“Don’t you turn your back on me, Schuttadel!” she screamed, globs of saliva spilling from her lips as she lunged after the retreating Twi’lek with her shiv outstretched.

She never got further than a pace before a meaty hand wrapped around her forearm, halting her motion as if she’d struck a brick wall. Strong’s expression was as stoic as ever as he stared at her enraged visage and said. “Do not threaten Mistress Sroka again. I do not take kindly to those wishing to harm expecting mothers.”
And with that, he let her arm go and walked away in Tali’s wake, leaving Glis to stew.

“A-are you alright, ma’am?” Yuric gingerly inquired, shuffling nervously towards her to offer any aid she might desire.

“Don’t karking touch me!” she snapped, glaring venomously at him. “You let this happen? Let her say these things to me without repercussion? What sort of man are you!?” she turned her vitriol at the stunned mob behind him. “What sort of men are any of you?”

The gathered stared at their feet in cowed silence. Someone coughed awkwardly.

Well? Get after them and make sure they don’t report back to the Citadel and bring in reinforcements!” she screamed, green cheeks turning a rosy red.

Yuric and a handful of others took off at once, breaking into a brisk run though perhaps more out of a desire to be anywhere but near her.

“As for the rest of you, get back to that Hub. It’s time we showed these bastards we won’t be smooth-talked into submission!” She punctuated her demand with a raised fist, answered in half-hearted kind by a less than inspiring number in her mob.

Her mind racing, Glis knew full well this verbal skirmish had not been a triumph, but neither had it been a decisive defeat either. And now she knew her enemies, and that the other carried an obvious weakness.

=====

(Kordath Bleu) #10

They’d made it halfway down the alley back towards the parked speeder, which was, remarkably, still parked there. That’s when Tali turned her head slightly, lekku shifting in irritation and worry, enough of a sign for Stres’tron’garmis to stop in his tracks and turn around.

“Strong? Vhat are you doing?”

He rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder, clearly loosening up. ”We are being pursued, are we not? I may not have your senses, Madame Sroka, but I have seen my Master react in much the same manner.”

She sighed, yes, she’d felt the perhaps half dozen rioters following them, but she’d hoped to get to the speeder before they arrived. “Ve shouldt go,” she stated in a tired yet firm voice. The Twi’lek took a hesitant step back when he turned around, red eyes fixed on her own golden gaze. His glowing eyes changed focus, flicking down for a moment before returning. If it had been his ‘Master’ she would have assumed he was checking out her ‘assets’ and making mental comments about ‘pregnancy doin’ ya well, luv.’ Instead he lifted a large hand up and with surprising gentleness touched her chin, lifting her face higher.

“S…strong?” she stuttered, wondering if the Falleen’s pheromones had gotten him more worryingly riled than she’d thought. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him moving his other arm, and her lekku twitched in confusion. He’d been a perfect gentleman thus far, surely he wouldn’t take advantage of their situation just because of the chemicals Glis had filled his head with. She was frozen, uncertain of what to do and found herself staring up at him. He is quite handsome, I think? I understand vhy Lucine is so enamored, now.

”You should see to your cut, Miss Sroka,” he rumbled, holding the medpac he’d pulled from his belt. ”There should be a bacta patch within, to keep from scarring. Some scars should be borne with honor, but this one…an anarchist with no agenda beyond causing chaos does not deserve to have marred your face.”

She took the medical supplies and felt herself blush, looking down to break the exchange of gazes. “Ah, thank you, Strong. But I can do this in the speeder.”

He shook his head, ”No. That woman tried to manipulate me. My head is still buzzing, still filled with thoughts quite ignoble. For a brief moment, I am ashamed to admit, as I inspected your wound I did think to make an advance.”

“Is that so,” she mumbled, digging into the medpac and not meeting his eyes. Her lekku twitched in a way that made her glare at one of them.

”I apologize, my task was to defend you, and you have been injured despite my guardianship. As I said, my head feels strange.” Noises began to echo down the alley from the direction they’d come, boots on duracrete and the voices of men. ”I believe I would benefit from clearing it,” he spoke in a manner that sent a chill down the Twi’lek’s spine.

“Strong,” she began to speak, before he laid his hands on her shoulders and gently, yet firmly once more, pushed her back several feet.

”Please, Madame Sroka, see to your wound. I shall endeavor to teach these rapscallions some manners. Do not fret, I will not kill any of them,” he stated in a matter of fact way, reaching up to undo the top button on his shirt. Strong turned as the noise escalated, leaving Tali to watch his back as he shrugged his way out of his shirt, folding it over his arm and setting it atop a nearby pile of trash. He dug bands of metal from his pockets, threading his fingers through them and stretched his shoulders.

Oh my, thought the Twi’lek, the pain in her face all but forgotten for a moment. Then the baby kicked again, and it was like leaving a trance.

Yuric and his posse entered the other end of the alleyway and stopped, the men piling into one another. Ahead of them was over seven feet of muscle and a set of glowing red eyes, knuckler covered fists held out to either side of him.

”COME THEN! SHOW YOUR COURAGE!” shouted the Chiss. He began to walk forward, slowly, like the impending avalanche as the sun rose. The men shoved at one another, trying to back away but impeding themselves in their rush.

“Oh grow some spines you frakkers!” shouted Yuric from the back, “Remember what Glis will do to you if we come back empty handed!”

Strong reached the group, anger burning away the indecisions and distractions in his mind. He grasped the first man he could reach and turned, slamming him into the wall once, dropping them when they went limp.

“Oh no,” one of them managed before a knuckler impacted with their face, sending them tot he ground. For the Chiss, it was good to deal with a problem he understood, nice and direct, after dealing with Glis. He even allowed himself a smile as he turned on the next rioter turned thug, who didn’t appreciate the expression at all.

(Tali Sroka) #11

Turning away from the sounds of ensuing violence, Tali tried to calm the roiling tempest of emotions savaging her mind. It was looking like being one of those days in Arconan service.

“At least Yumni’s safe, for now,” she muttered to herself. Maybe she ought to give her a call anyway, just to make sure.

======

“… so I says to them, why’s it that we’s gotta be doin’ all the heavy lifting…?” The hushed, conspiratorial voice of a Hub worker sounded across the break room.

“That’s easy, Joff, ‘cus we’re the stewedores, mate,” a rather pleased voice replied

“Nah, I meant all figuratively-like. Ya know, like we’re shoulderin’ all the burden while others, they don’t lift a finger to help and just tell us lot to get it done for ‘em.”

“Whossat then?” the same man as before inquired, somewhat slow wittedly.

“The Citadel,” Joff whispered, as if it had suddenly become a foul word. There were murmurs, and some wary looks exchanged between them before the work crew shuffled out and back to their stations as the klaxon chimed the end of their break.

==

“…andt ve foundt out that this mob is being ledt by a Falleen namedt Glis. She’s an anarchist, only interestedt in doing harm to the Citadel.” Tali Sroka’s electric voice chimed in through the hololith on Yumni Ha’s desk, painting the purple Twi’lek in a shimmering blue.

The Kaminoan crossed her long, slender fingers before her mouth and blinked once, obscuring for a moment the brilliant cosmic orbs of her sapphire eyes. By the time she reopened them, her gaze was cold, grey steel.

“I’m afraid you are mistaken in your judgement, Miss Sroka. If this, Glis person, were to truly be after anarchy and little else, she would not have barricaded us in and kept up a guard ever since. She would have destroyed what she could, tried to gain entrance, or left after finding no easy prey. Her actions speak louder than her intentions, she is methodical, determined. I do not believe she wants anarchy at all, but something else entirely.”

There was a moment of hesitation at the end of the line, the Twi’lek taken aback by such a brazen questioning of her empathic abilities. To be second-guessed by a Kaminoan of all people? She’d just about had it with insults for one day.

”Be it as it may, Miss Ha, that is vhat she statedt she vas after, andt I foundt no lie in her statement. Either she is a Jedi trainedt far beyondt anything I’ve encounteredt, save a few, or she vas in fact speaking the truth.” The electric distortion did little to hide the hurt pride in her voice.

“Of course, I should trust your expertise, Miss Sroka, that is after all the valuable service you provide to your employers. I shouldn’t have called it into question, apologies.” The Kaminoan bowed ever so slightly, the passive tone impossible to discern for sarcasm or remorse, a trait which Tali suddenly found somehow even more infuriating.

“But I thank you for your continued efforts to alleviate this matter. For now, we are in good spirits and health. If you could see to it that the mob disperses by the next full hour, we might still be able to make all our shipments on time. Barely.”

“Ve vill try,” the Twi’lek replied with thinly veiled bitterness and cut the link.

Standing up from her desk, the lanky Kaminoan headed for the door when an urgent knock met her. Curious, she opened the door with a gesture and a distraught looking worker entered, his flat cap in his greasy hands. “Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am, but there’s been a development downstairs. It’s Joff, he’s been… sayin’ things… You’d better come see for yourself.”

The faintest sliver of concern caressed her impassive features as she nodded, fleeting behind the stocky male to the loading bay where a group of workers had ceased their labor and instead stood leaning against crates or hoverlifts, listening to one of their number delivering a rambling and poorly pronounced rhetoric.

“…so I says to you, why we keep doin’ this? What good has any of this done to us? Only the Citadel’s gotten…” Joff fell silent as he spied the Overseer enter, the tall, pale alien rather difficult not to spot among a work crew a full and exceedingly generous neck-length shorter than her.

As he fell silent, all eyes turned to face what he was staring at, a dozen or so burly worker men suddenly looking at the Kaminoan with empty, expectant gazes. She could not read their intentions in the least and in that moment she found herself direly missing the Twi’lek at her side.

But she was not there and so she would have make do without. Reaching into the depths of what little commanding presence she could muster, Yumni extended her hand to point at Joff and called out. “Arrest that man and lock him up!”

For a moment, the workers hesitated, Joff included, and in that instant the chips fell down. Desceding upon the would-be firebrand, even his closest allies turned on him and toppling the man off his crate, kicking and screaming, before hauling him away. “No! No, you cannot do this! The Citadel is exploiting us all! We need to unite, fight them, fight the corrupt and the…!” SLAM

The door slammed shut in their wake as Joff was taken to one of the lockable storage rooms to cool down, Yumni letting out a stifled breath and easing her hand off the holster of her blaster pistol she had not even realized she’d reached for. Relieved that the situation had been taken care of, she paced closer to the crate Joff had kicked over when he’d been apprehended, a corner of the cheap plastek box having broken off and some of the contents had spilled on the floor behind it.

Silver orbs, no larger than a child’s fist, littered the concrete floor in a scattered cluster. Picking one up, she brushed her finger along its polished surface and felt the urge to whisper a Kaminoan slur. The Twi’lek had been right after all, Glis was after anarchy. And these were the tools she wanted.

==

(Kordath Bleu) #12

The Chiss came walking back towards the speeder, a cloth pulled from his pocket wiping blood from his hands, shirt slung over his shoulder. Sweat dripped from his face and body as he approached the end of the alley, but his eyes and face were calm once more. He saw Tali resting her head against the back of one of the seats, eyes closed and a look of grim determination on her face.

”Bad news, Miss Sroka?”

She turned her head slightly, cheeks darkening before focusing her gaze on his concerned face.

“I vas in contact with Yumni. Varning her of Glis andt her intentions. She just commedt back to reveal some information. The hub has things besides relief supplies.”

Strong methodically folded the handkerchief, now a dark and unsightly red, before placing it back in his pocket. The Twi’lek thought she saw a monogram of ‘LV’ set in one corner and felt her lekku twitch. She had no reason to be annoyed with the man but the day was grating on. He began slipping his shirt back on and buttoning it.

”Your tone suggests this is poor news. Weapons?”

She stepped out of the speeder, squaring her shoulders and glaring in the direction of the hub.

“She foundt thermal detonators. At least a crate. Perhaps a mis-shipment, perhaps Glis has friends.”

Tali fiddled with the end of a lek while thinking.

“Ve needt a vay inside. Yumni has kept the workers there as long as she can, they are getting restless. She has already had to imprison one for getting disruptive, ve have to get inside. Somehow.”

She looked up to see Strong pacing slowly back down the alley, head down. Something blocky was in his hand, absorbing his attention. At the other end of the alleyway she could pick up the shuffles and moans of beaten rioters, dragging themselves away.

“Strong? Vhat…” she trailed off, walking up to him to see the device in his hands. It flashed an indicator several times when he neared a dumpster and he nodded, letting out a satisfied grunt. Stowing the item, he dragged the trash receptacle to the side, exposing a hatch built into the ground. “Vhwat is this?”

”Access to the city’s utility and sanitation tunnels!”

She wrinkled a nose, lekku recoiling, “As in…the sewers?”

The Chiss lowered himself to a squat, punching a code into the small pad set in the ground by the hatch. It clicked and opened, the door rising. The bodyguard turned and gave her a reassuring smile.

”I assure you, Madame Sroka, that the areas are well separated, even if they are somewhat dark and tight. Why did you just laugh, did I say something odd? Anyway, this should lead us under the logistics hub, I believe. It should be decently marked.”

With that, Strong lowered himself in, twisting and grunting to work his bulk through the narrow entry. His gleaming scalp reappeared several seconds later, along with one hand offering to aid the Twi’lek’s descent. She took a deep breath of the alleyway air, which suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Carefully she stepped into the hatch, feet finding a ladder, and was quietly thankful for the reassuring palm that the Chiss laid on her back as she climbed down.

“I didt not know these tunnels vere here, Strong,” she spoke as he helped her find her feet. It was dry, and while not the brightest, it wasn’t as dark as the Chiss had made it out to be. Nor was it as cramped, though a glance at her companion caused her to feel pity for his hunched over form.

”Nor did I, when first I came to Estle City. Their presence was revealed to me after Master Kordath and Miss Zujenia became estranged,” the bodyguard sounded suddenly tired as they began to traverse the tunnel. ”He went missing for several days, exceedingly intoxicated and at a loss for purpose in life. I was honestly concerned that he would do himself grievous harm. Fortunately, when tracking him, I was informed of the existence of the utility network when the workers reported sightings of a ‘strange, fur covered creature’ prowling about.”

“Bleu?”

Strong nodded. ”I dragged him out when I discovered him, in the tunnels near the Sinchi Ring. Specifically near Sugar’s, I believe. He was in a poor state, but it did lead me to learning more about the utility ways.”

He reached down and tapped the device on his belt, ”Including storing the frequency which the door signal broadcasts in my communications scanner. I have found it to be mildly useful since then.”

“You continue to surprise, Mister Garmis,” murmured the Twi’lek, scanning markings on the walls that she hoped would lead to the logistics hub. It seemed straightforward enough. “Let’s hope we can get inside from down here, as well. And that the rioters do not know of the tunnels.”

The Chiss grunted in reply, obviously uncomfortable in the, for him, tight confines. He followed as she lead the way through the dim tunnel, towards the hub.

(Tali Sroka) #13

The winding tunnels crept on for what seemed like miles, the lack of reference making the distances seem far greater than they truly were and the musty scent of garbage cloying at their senses doing little to alleviate the encroaching claustrophobia. Turning around a narrow corner, Tali felt her foot sink into a soft and squishy puddle from which she withdrew it in an instant, only to find the gooey substance sticking to her foot.

A shiver of disgust ran down her spine as she turned her flashlight down at the goop she’d stepped in, recoiling in horror at the sight of thick, gorey soup. Strong, rounding the corner a moment later, seemed unphased however, instead offering out a handkerchief for her to clean her boot with.

“I’dt rather not touch it, Strong,” she insisted. “It couldt be infectious. I’ll just scrape it off somewhere.”

“Infectious?” Strong seemed surprised, quickly realizing her confusion. “Oh no, Miss Sroka, that is not sanguine. I believe it is merely a pile of condiment.”

“Condiment?” Tali blurted, feeling like his explanation had raised more questions than it’d answered. “Vhat does a pool of condiment do in the tunnels?”

“I do not know, Miss Sroka,” Strong admitted. “However, during my journeys in search of the good Consul, I ran across several such deposits. For whatever reason, they appear rather frequent. I would advise care where you step, lest you soil your pristine footwear any further.”

Tali rolled her eyes and determined never to set foot below Estle’s streets ever again. Too many weird things going on in this city for her liking, let alone what Kord was up to in the Citadel.

The pair emerged out of the tunnels within the hour, climbing up a snug service ladder into one of the Logistics Hub’s vehicle bays. Several hover sleds stood parked in a compact formation, no space wasted under the Kaminoan Overseer’s strict guidance, while a cavalcade of cargo modules hung overhead, ready to be deployed onto the trolleys once they were cleared for departure.

The scent of industrial lubricants was scantly better than the sewer smells, but at this point Tali was ready to take any small victory she could get. As soon as they’d made sure nothing bad had happened inside the compound, the pair made their way to meet with Yumni and discuss their plan.

==

Glis tapped her foot with mounting annoyance as faint rain drizzled down from the night sky. Estle looked even bleaker than before as streaks of dark grey smeared down the duracrete walls and the curfew kept most of the street lights off.

The rather badly mauled Yuric nursed a fractured nose beside her, the Falleen having chosen not to inquire further into the ineptitude that had seen half a dozen men return with their collective tails between their legs from hunting down one oversized Chiss and a pregnant Twi’lek. Her displeasure was palpable enough as is.

“I see movement!” one of the lookouts cried out, pointing at one of the entrances that had opened to a glint. Raising up Yuric’s macrobinoculars, Glis peered through the haze at a thin pale shape that crouched through the doorway and into the open.

“Haaa…!” Yuric croaked beside her.

“How did you know?” Glis snapped, lowering the goggles from her eyes to find the male choking on the sling she’d tugged around his neck. Letting the magnobinoculars swing back into his chest with a dismissive grunt, she stepped out of the idling speeder and walked briskly towards the Kaminoan.

Yumni’s sweeping gait brought her up to the chain link fence in a few strides, seemingly unperturbed by the rainfall in the slightest. Her expressionless form stood against the sea of protesters, all slowly soaking to the bone but determined to see this through. A bolt of lightning flashed somewhere beyond, the momentary illumination etching the two distinct silhouettes, the pale stick and the dark horde, into Yuric’s eyes as he struggled to keep up with his mistress.

“I have been led to believe that a certain ‘Glis’ is in charge of your party. I would very much wish to speak with her,” Yumni told the closest protester, a young woman carrying a sign stating something about kidnappings.

The girl did not know how to react to the polite request and before she knew what had hit her, Glis had barged past her and almost slammed into the fence. “Have you finally had enough?” she spat, raindrops spilling from her sneering lips. “Come to make terms with us?”

“Yes,” Yumni replied monotonically.

“Well they’re real simple, even a Citadel cronie should understand. Everything in that warehouse, it’s ours now. You open these gates and let us in, I promise we’ll let you and your boys come out and go home.”

“Agreed,” the Kaminoan stated, equally monotonically.

A faint irritation rose within the Falleen’s mind, robbed of her right to gloat in her moment of victory. These Citadel scum couldn’t even lose right! She made a note to break that one’s neck with her own hands once the revolt got into full swing, though for now she’d have to maintain the optics of citizen unrest.

“Please, tell your cohorts to vacate the premises, the gates open outward and I’d hate to be liable for lost limbs or other injuries,” Yumni insisted, gesturing at the pair of fence gates directly opposite the transit hall.

Thinking nothing of it, Glis waved the crowd back, turning to face them and begin a short victory speech of how their resilience had brought about yet another in a string of glorious triumphs against the Citadel’s oppression. The gates began to swing open, just as the door to the transit hall clanked up as well, exposing the bulky prow of an idling hover sled.

Precious seconds ticked by as the sectional door panels ratcheted up, the outer gates swinging wide open just as Glis finished her small tirade. When she turned back, Strong turned on the high beams, blinding everyone as the hover sled slipped out from the vehicle bay and accelerated towards the open gates.

Peering at the rapidly evolving situation through the relative shade of her fingers, Glis immediately recognized the familiar bulk of the Chiss and the flailing purple lekku of the Twi’lek bitch. “Stop them!” she cried out, but the shocked protesters were in no hurry to rush in front of a speeding hover sled.
As the vehicle gunned past them, scattering the crowd before it, Tali zeroed in on her target and lobbed a shining metallic sphere into the side of Glis’ face. The object made contact with a satisfying shriek of pain, the Twi’lek doing little to hide the smug smirk of satisfaction that had crept upon her face.

The Falleen rose to her feet and held her aching cheek, tasting blood in her mouth and sure that one of her teeth was looser than normal. Casting a glance at the object at her feet, that sensation of pain vanished before a swelling typhoon of rage. “They took the detonators!” she screamed at Yuric like a woman possessed. “Get back in that speeder and stop them!”

Sprinting back towards their landspeeder, she jumped in not seconds later. Yuric sat already at the helm and looking to take off, when she shoved him aside and assumed direct control. “Step aside! You’ve karked up enough things for one day,” she hissed as she floored the accelerator and sent the speeder hurtling after the cargo transport. “And that bitch is mine…”

Stray neon signs and flickering lights streaked past them as the hover sled raced down Estle’s curving streets, the wind stream a constant bellow in their ears. Tali glanced behind them and saw the pair of headlights trailing them, knowing even without her senses that their ruse had worked. “Seems they took the bait,” she smiled.

“Very good, Miss Sroka. However, if I may, do you presume it wise to have armed our foes with a thermal detonator? I fear Miss Glis’ personality is rather explosive already without external aid.”

“No,” Tali agreed with a sigh, “But I really felt like doing it anyway…”

Strong could find no fault in her logic.

(Kordath Bleu) #14

”Pardon me for asking this, Madame, but did you have a plan beyond this? Glis and her cohort are pursuing us.” The Chiss sounded calm considering their situation. The transport was not fast, which was just as well since he wasn’t that good of a driver it seemed. At least the lack of speed was allowing him to plan his maneuvers.

“Ve headt to the Capac Ring, yes? Perhaps ve can get the loadt out of the city. Or to somewhere already ruinedt.”

Strong simply nodded in reply, jaw tight in concentration. His time in Estle City had allowed him to become familiar with many of the streets, and he recalled one of the sweeping roads that framed the Rings. If they could reach that, it would take them down the mountain, the sidestreets throughout the city would not be broad enough for the cargo transport. Behind them was the anarchist’s speeder, trying desperately to find a way around the wide craft.

(Tali Sroka) #15

==

Yumni watched the speeders vanish into the night, the roar of their repulsorlifts soon the only sign of their passing and that too was quickly dying with distance. The mass of protesters looked around like nervous sheep, unsure of what to do or who to follow. They’d gotten this far, but now what?

The people had an oversupply of questions and the Kaminoan was nothing if not willing to meet that demand with answers. Approaching the first sign-waver, she offered a polite bow. “Greetings, my name is Yumni Ha. I was led to believe you had certain requests for goods to be made available?”

The woman nodded, though only halfway. “Actually, I used to run a shop down at Vinxi and Bataar, but when the war came, I just couldn’t get new shipments anymore. With the Citadel choking imports, I can’t make a living. That’s all I wanted.”

The blue-eyed Kaminoan nodded thoughtfully, a prodigious gesture made all the more pronounced by her elongated neck. “I see, perhaps we could come to an arrangement, then? I believe there are several of your comrades who would happily buy your wares, and I only deal in bulk, so a distributor of sorts would be welcome. What say you if we step aside for a moment and discuss the matter?” She gestured inside the fenced gates, now splayed wide open.

Rain pattered off her brow and matted locks of hair pressed down on her head, the woman weighing her options. A swift glance over her shoulder later, she lowered her sign and stepped forward, following the Kaminoan back inside amidst the puzzled stares of her compatriots.

==

(Kordath Bleu) #16

Glis screeched in frustration, nearly slamming the front of her vehicle into the rear of the loader. The crates were right there, she could almost touch them. She glared over at Yuric riding shotgun.

“Where are any of your idiot friends when they’re needed!? We could have had them jumping aboard!”

“Are you cracked, Glis? That crap only works in the holos!”

“Well I don’t see you doing anything! Check the glove box,” she snapped.

Yuric opened the compartment and stared, a hand shakily reaching for the blaster pistol stashed within. “Why…”

“DO SOMETHING YOU USELESS MAN!”

”We are nearing the boulevard that connects the Rings, Miss Sroka, I suggest you keep your head down. Our pursuers will be able to overtake us!”

“Can you run them off the roadt, Strong?” Tali was white knuckled, grasping one of the handles used to aid in entering the vehicle.

”Easily, if not for our particular cargo, Madame! I fear too many shocks could cause things to end rather explosively!”

“Are you making jokes!? I didt not even know you couldt do that.”

”Time spent with Master Bleu has taught me that a sense of humor is vital to survival!”

The crago sled entered the wide, sweeping curve that would take them to the Capac Ring, accelerating with the aid of gravity. Glis and Yuric’s speeder quickly came around their aft, pulling along the driver side of the hauler. The pasty Human hung on to the side of the speeder, his other hand waving a blaster pistol wildly up at the Chiss. Strong was sitting as far back as his seat would allow him, an attempt to minimize his profile to the gun wielding man. He glanced out of the side of his vision to see Yuric’s conflicted features, with Glis alongside him, her shouts lost to the sound of the cargo sled’s engine.

Finally, a blast bolt zipped past the driving compartment, a flash of red that curled the paint on the hood. Strong wondered if it was meant to be a warning shot, one across the bow as the naval officers referred to it. The way his attacker was struggling to aim, he very much doubted it. They hit the apex of the curve down, turning back towards the city proper. The Arconans both took in the scene before them quietly, it wasn’t often Shadesworn or their associates took this method to move between the city levels.

Worker housing, little more than prefab tenements and apartments littered the area, taking up space between warehouses and processing plants. Smoke rose from more than a few sections, signs of the troubles that the people were suffering from. And they were driving a truck laden with thermal detonators into that, where people still lived and worked. Several more blaster bolts came from the bodyguard’s left, pinging against the metal and leaving scorch marks.

“Who taught you how to shoot!?”

“No one! I moved cargo at the spaceport for a living before everything started! Why did I let you convince me to join this uprising frakfest instead of going back up there for work!? The Citadel is bringing in relief supplies everyday, Glis, but you got me shooting at a truck full of karking detonators!” screamed Yuric, both from frustration and to be heard. Glis glared at him from the driver’s seat, obviously displeased with the sudden surge of independence from her lackey.

“Strong! Aheadt of us!” shouted Tali, eyes wide. The Chiss squinted to see through the haze of perpetual smoke, wondering if his companion had sensed something. His eyes widened and he slammed on the brakes, throwing the sled into a sideways slide over the street, nearly sideswiping Glis and Yuric in the process. Strong let out a long breath when the cargo hauler came to a stop, letting his head rest against the back of the compartment. Just outside his window were protestors marching, filling the road and looking just as surprised to see him as he was to see them.

They held signs, demanding a return to the old days, or better conditions. Food, more rations, power for their homes. They looked tired, hungry, dirty. Tali worried that Glis would try and turn this crowd against them as well, but sensed only rage from the Falleen as she parked her speeder.

“Mister Garmis, I believe we are about to have trouble once more,” she spoke with a tired sigh.

The Chiss didn’t respond verbally, pushing his door open and dropping to the street in one smooth movement. He walked around to the rear of the truck to find Yuric, blaster in shaking hand, waiting him. The man licked his lips and looked past the Arconan, at the crowd that had been forced to stop because of them.

“She, uh, Glis, she said if we, uh, if she can’t have the detonators, nobody can,” managed the man. His pasty features were paler than before, he looked as if he’d be sick. “She wants me to stop you from stopping her.”

“Get out of the truck you Schuttadel” screeched Glis, holding aloft the detonator Tali had thrown at her.

“Should have never given in to that urge,” muttered the Twi’lek, climbing slowly out of the sled, hands clearly visible.

Glis grinned wildly, her face flushed. Her eyes darted past the Citadel tart to see protestors milling about, braver ones coming to the edge of the cargo hauler to see what was going on. Good, an audience would make this more fulfilling.

“I’m taking that cargo, Citadel whore,” stated the Falleen. “Don’t try and stop me, or I’ll tear that baby right out of your guts.”

“I vill not let you have it. Andt you vill not touch me.” Tali stood resolute, shoulders squared, her hand wanting to pull the concealed lightsaber from its resting place. Letting someone like Glis get away with this many explosives would be disastrous for the entire city. She would not let the woman pass, no.

Glis gave her a glare that twisted into a fresh smile, “Fine. If I can’t have them, neither can you. I’ll just destroy the lot. And everyone will know it was a Citadel cargo sled that exploded down here in front of a crowd of peaceful protestors,” Glis spat the word peaceful out like it was poison. “That many detonators in this nice, tight packed place?” The Fallen turned slowly, looking up at the tenements that framed the street.

“Why, it could bring down all these buildings atop these poor, sad people,” Glis stuck out her lower lip, a faux pout. “Try explaining that one away, whore.”

”I do not wish to see these people hurt, Yuric, stand aside and allow me to stop your leader.”

“C…can’t do that, big man, she told me to stop you, she told…told me…” the Human still wasn’t looking at Strong, instead at the protestors. “Is she right? Is this gonna kill a lot of folks?”

”Most likely, yes,” stated the Chiss with a bluntness that came from the stressful situation. ”Please, stand aside and allow me to stop her!”

“How? You ain’t gonna reach her before she can throw it. Even you ain’t big enough to jump on the damn thing and keep it from doing what it does. Just vaporize you and blow up the sled, then bring these buildings down on folks.” Yuric spoke without seeing to realize what he was saying till he was done. “All these people…this isn’t what we wanted,” he whispered. “Just wanted things to get better, ya know? Then Glis showed up and…and…”

Put down the detonator, Glis,” stated Tali, her words laden with the Force. The Falleen’s eyes began to glaze, before shaking it off.

“Witch,” she hissed, cocking her arm back to throw, thumb sliding the thermal detonator’s activation switch to armed. “Their lives are on your head tails!” Glis spat at her, tossing the flashing explosive in a wide arc towards the hover sled.

Not an instant later, a blaster shot rang out, and Glis looked shocked, unbelieving as smoke escaped her open mouth. The burning hole was in the upper center of her chest, just below the throat. To the side, a shaking Yuric dropped his blaster and sunk to his knees, screaming in futile anger and despair.

The explosive sailed overhead, the dull blood red light flashing on its side at a growing cadance. Shocked gasps and cries of alarm flushed through the protestors, a wave of panic sweeping over them as a handful realized their peril. Tali watched with eyes wide in horror, a small voice of obedience crying out to stop what she was about to do. But she couldn’t let this end in blood.

Eyes closed, she seemed to resign herself to her fate, standing still as the explosive descended on its inevitable arc. Yet the tip of her left lek twitched, the scarred end of her self-mutilated head-tail swaying up and to the side with a motion so slight that seeing it in the dark would have been almost impossible.

The thermal detonator descended, but slower, drifting ever so slightly away from the hover sled as if caught in some immaterial breeze. Though gripped by gravity, the grenade’s fall seemed to settle for but a moment, hanging precariously in a localized updraft like an oversized bumble bee.

The course correction was minor, and seemed to defy the laws of motion, but the results played out in strict accordance to the scriptures of celestial mechanics. Bouncing off a low-hanging bar sign, the grenade pinged upward with a metallic ring, reaching a safe altitude just as the miniaturized explosive blew.

The white-hot flash seared the retinas of anyone caught watching it, but a momentary blindness was not an explosive demise and this Tali could live with. The boom was loud enough to scatter the people, forcing the crowd to disperse in a panic as the fiery explosion lit up the night sky. The entire city block would be needing new window panes.

Strong cleared the distance to Tali in a few long strides, putting himself between her and Glis. Though the woman was dead, the instinct of protection did not leave the Chiss alone.

”Not quite the ending we wished, Miss Sroka, but less disastrous than the alternative,” managed Strong, sounding as if speaking caused him pain. **”I believe you’ll have to drive us back, as I seem to have caught some shrapnel with my back. Apologies for being bothersome.”**X

“O-of course, Strong, I…” Tali stuttered, looking over and seeing the upper sleeve of his shirt matted red with his own blood. “Ve needt to get that lookedt at.”

“Again, terribly sorry for the inconvenience, but perhaps there might be room for one more?”

She raised a questioning eyebrow, only to have the Chiss point his good hand at Yuric. “I believe a hero ought not to walk.”

She stared at him with a stupefied look, much mirrored by that of the pallid Human, before it melted into a warm smile. “Of course,” she agreed, turning towards Yuric. “Hey, needt a lift?”

(Tali Sroka) #17

==

“Please sign here, here and initials there. I will be expecting your presence at the Hub at 8:00 sharp. Next!” Yumni Ha pulled the flimsiplast sheet aside and handed it over to a clerk who swiftly filed it away in a makeshift cabinet, the directory filling up quick with new employees and contracts.

After she’d struck a deal with the former merchant, things had fallen into place like pieces in a puzzle. One by one, she took each protester inside, offered to hear their plight and concocted a means by which they could find some meaning back in their lives. Employment, future prospects and the soft promise of more varied goods and essentials to meet their immediate needs soon took the bite out of any lingering resentment; the rain finishing off the rest.

By the time the banged-up hover sled returned, the crowd had largely dispersed, with only a few more left to be integrated into Selenian society.

“Ah, miss Sroka, I trust the explosion we heard did not impede your work?” Yumni greeted them as the trio dismounted their transport. “Though if I am not mistaken, is he not one of the ring-leaders?” she added, gesturing at Yuric.

“He is,” Tali replied, but was cut off almost immediately by Strong’s booming voice.

“Was, my ladies, he no longer has any qualm with us. He is no more a ring leader, just like he no longer is a cargo crane operator.”

Tali appeared slightly puzzled by this odd addition, but Yumni gave the closest she could to a conspiratorial smile.

“If that is the case, perhaps we could find some work for you, Mr.Yuric,” she suggested, gesturing towards the Hub. “I have been running my work crews overtime as of late, so fresh blood would not go to waste. You would not believe what these poor men have to go through…”

==

The speeder ride back to the Citadel was spent mostly in silence. A dutiful worker had helped pull out the shrapnel from Stres’tron’garmis’s arm and bandage it well enough until proper medics could take a look at it. The rain slowly petering out, Tali reflected on what they’d done that day and how close she’d come to injury. Though not a stranger to pain in the slightest, she now had a real reason to avoid being hurt.

Could she go on serving Arcona like this?

“I will inform Master Bleu in no uncertain terms that he is not to deploy you anywhere until you’ve completed your term and recovered sufficiently,” Strong said, as if sensing her thoughts. His eyes were fixed ahead, much like hers, but she could still feel a sense of vigilance over her.

“Thank you, Strong,” she whispered. “I am gladt I hadt you by my side today.”

“Though, perhaps you shouldt see Lucine after you stop bleeding. Seems like you couldt vork out some aggression.”

He turned to look at her with an incredulous expression.

“Don’t vorry, you big oaf, I von’t tell her,” Tali replied with an amused chuckle. “After all, I’dt much prefer her jealousy be directedt at someone else…”

(Kordath Bleu) #18

The door to the office slid open silently, the Chiss stepping in with a tray of caf and a folder under his arm. It hadn’t even closed before the Ryn’s head came up, eyes half open yet every muscle constricting as if to leap from his seat. A moment later, as his senses focused and it became clear who had entered, he relaxed and sighed, rubbing at his sleepy face.

“Aye? Yer back. Guessin’ you and tha ‘Lady Sroka’ had an eventful evenin’?” The Chiss deigned to ignore the waggling eyebrows of his Lord.

”Indeed, Sir! Mistress Tali was in good form, an excellent diplomat! The logistics hub is back in operation, with additional personnel and we’ve gained a better understanding of the rioters’ methods and ideology.”

“Bleedin’ grand, mate. Send it ta tha DIA, sure they can make somethin’ of it,” stated the Ryn, nodding at the folder under Strong’s arm. He’d been eyeing it warily since coming to, as if one more piece of paperwork on his desk would be the straw that broke the Dewback’s spine.

”Ah, I do apologize, that task has already been performed, Master Bleu. This is from Miss Yumni, at the logistics hub. She requested it be delivered to you, personally.”

Kordath took it with trepidation, flipping open the folder and sighing, rubbing at his eyes. He reached for a mug of caf from the tray his bodyguard placed upon the table, not noticing the man making a tactical retreat from the office as he began reading. The cup didn’t reach his lips before his eyes blinked in confusion, then widened in shock.

“Damage ta a cargo loader? Fence repairs? Cargo inconwhats? Tha hells is all this, Strong!?”

He looked up, realizing the Chiss was gone. “Oh you sleemo,” he grumbled and began trying to figure out how to shuffle credits to fix this new problem.