Ol’val was one of the few “free ports” in the subsector and the only one in Dajorra that operated under the assumption that business came first. Run from the shadows by a mysterious individual called the Blindman, the whole complex was a series of caverns, tunnels and exterior facilities merged into one. From the outside it looked much like any asteroid, but for its many-glowing lights and apparent activity.
Four ships slowly edged out of the darkness into view of the station. One by one the Gallofree transports and the Hammerhead corvette docked into the massive sills carved out of sheer rock. Zahlia, the Godless Matron’s Quartermaster, jumped off of the loading ramp as it descended towards the metal floor, followed closely by several of her crewmates. They had taken the corvette with a minimal crew while the rest of her team piloted the Gallofrees, twelve of them in all.
“You two,” she turned to a Twi’lek woman and a Kel’dor, both in traveling clothes, with blaster carbines strapped to their shoulders. “The coast is clear. Tell her to come out and then you stay behind. Someone has to watch the cargo.” The two nodded and went about their business, leaving Zahlia with two humans — former Iron Legion recruits — to oversee the meeting. Moments later, familiar footsteps echoed in the dock as Morgan Sorenn — the real Morgan Sorenn — walked down the ramp and onto the pad.
“You’re paranoid,” Morgan said as she lit her cigarra and gave her Quartermaster a look of annoyance.
“You say that now, but give it time. It’ll settle in,” she said in a very serious manner.
“Kark’s sake, Zahlia, I got my blasters and my saber. And those aren’t even the worst of my weapons. I can handle more than the three of you could, and I can do it karkin’ alone.” She clicked her tongue and threw her cigarra with irritation.
“S’my damn job to keep you alive! Now, shall we go, your highness, or do I have to ask politely?”
Morgan rolled her eyes, turned around and knocked on the metal ramp several times. “Vatuu, c’mere boy!” she hollered and whistled. Seconds later, a small furry creature skittered across the ramp onto her arm and latched onto her fuzzy collar. It purred with delight as Morgan scratched its head.
“Ugh,” Zahlia gave a disgusted grunt. “That furry thing o’yours keeps spreadin’ its dung all over my ship!”
“Your ship?” Morgan asked quizzically as she swaggered towards the Ducts.
“Fine, your ship, but still—”
“Vatuu can spread his dung all he wants. It’s his home, now shut up and let me think. I have a meeting to catch.” She walked a mere ten feet before she felt something. Not unlike a lingering feeling of dread in her bones. A disturbance. She was never particularly good with those premonitions, but when it came to the people she cared for, they were unusually strong. A single thought whispered through her mind: C’ree.
Her wrist-comm beeped and she stood there, frozen in space, looking at it as if it were the worse call she’d get all day. She pushed the activation switch and replied, “yes?”
“Captain.” Iden Sult’s voice came through, clear and true.
“Mister Sult. News?”
“Yes, captain. We have achieved our task, despite… complications.”
“Complications?” Morgan’s gut twisted. She knew her Majordomo well enough that he wouldn’t have bothered with a report unless something went awry. And it usually did.
“Miss C’ree. She’s been… incapacitated. Very much by her own doing, I’m afraid,” Sult said calmly, but Morgan could detect a sliver of anxiety in his tone that wasn’t usually there. She also knew what had likely happened. C’ree had never been the most stable individual. She had had episodes of pure rage and uncontrolled lunacy in the past, and it was usually Morgan who could help her, and even then... Sult’s anxiety, while subdued, was very much justified. “Ma’am, I cannot find the words to explain what had happened. She asked for you by name. Perhaps it is best that you not linger.”
Kark it. Morgan thought as she bit her fingernail nervously. This whole business with Ol’val would have to be done quickly. She hoped that nothing would go awry. “Understood, mister Sult,” she finally said, after a moment’s thought. “Keep her in her room. Post a triple guard if you need to, but do not approach her in any way, someone will die otherwise. Sorenn, out.” She pushed the switch and broke the connection without Sult’s acknowledgement.
Morgan’s breathing intensified as that same gut wrenching feeling traveled up her throat, and she walked it off. Nothing else would distract her from the deal she was about to make. Ol’val was too important for their efforts to let it slip by because of an incident like that. Followed closely by her crew — a suspicious and worried Zahlia included — she moved towards the Ducts.
The station was fairly large, something they had become accustomed to of late on the Matron. The Ducts were an area connecting the docks to the main plaza where most of the activity was happening. That was where, hopefully, Morgan would meet someone to take her to the Blindman. She didn’t much care for the secretive title, but she also knew who the person likely was, so it mattered little. They had their secrets, but she had her ways of uncovering them.
As they stepped onto the plaza, Morgan’s gaze stopped on a group of individuals. Really, it was their Force signatures that gave them away. Pirates and lowlives were rarely that strong in the Force. Rrogon Skar, someone she had seen before in the Citadel on Selen and who was very hard to forget, stood near the Duct entrance with two others, a Wookiee and a Twi’lek. Apparently, they were waiting for her. I guess they have their own ways of finding information.
“Herald,” Rrogon hissed. “These are Kelviin and Tali Zorah. They are my associates. Please follow us. The Blindman will see you.”
Morgan turned to Zahlia with a satisfactory expression. The Zabrak simply rolled her eyes and hated every moment of the unsafe visit. Hell, she’d have prefered to have that crazy psycho-schutta C’ree here, but with her and the pompous Majordomo working a job, Zahlia was stuck “babysitting” queen-schutta.
“So,” Morgan started as they walked along towards some sort of side tunnel. “How’s business in Port Ol’val?” she asked no one in particular.
“The Blindman will explain,” the Twi’lek, Tali, spoke up. Kelviin remained silent, though Morgan would have probably just nodded like a brain-damaged Hutt to whatever he’d have to say, considering her knowledge of Shiriiwook.
“Fine bunch,” she sneered under her breath, just enough for Zahlia to notice. Vatuu seemed to hiss silently over her shoulder as if to agree with his master.
They took a longer trip down the tunnel and several side passages, finally coming to mag-car station. It was small, private, and secluded. Probably secret. Arcona liked their secrets. They entered one of the cars that ferried them across the asteroid into the unknown. The area they’d entered was in no way different to the previous one, even more tunnels and passages awaited. Morgan did, however, notice a stark contrast in whatever rooms were littered around. Most held weapon caches and supplies. She just might have picked a good place for her new operation after all.
They finally arrived in front of a metal door that lead, supposedly, to whoever the Blindman was. Rrogon opened the door. “Herald.” He pointed simply. Morgan walked in leisurely without delay; recent events had postponed her stay already. As Zahlia tried to enter. The Wookiee, Kelviin, stopped her with a low rumble.
“You wanna go, tall-an’-ruffly? I need a new carpet.”
“Zahlia,” Morgan spoke softly but with volume enough for everyone to hear. There was authority in her tone and that was all the Quartermaster needed. For all their back and forth, Zahlia knew very well who the boss was and just how capable she was at protecting herself — she felt that power in her own bones. The Zabrak fell back, leaning against a wall with her two crewmen and stared down the Arconan trio as the doors closed behind her boss.
Vatuu was tense in the darkness of the room, coiled like a spring ready to jump, but Morgan’s soothing touch made him relax. The room was as plain and practical as a Mandalorian barracks; three or four chairs and one table with plenty of datapads and other necessities for running an asteroid base; overhead light, dimmed; table light pointed at whatever was on the agenda. There were boots on the table and she could hear the creaking of a metal chair against smoothened rock. She knew the man in the chair even before he spoke.
“Herald,” his tone revealed no respect. The title was there out of sarcasm more than anything.
“Terran Koul. You can drop the titles. Morgan works just as well.”
“That so? I thought you Council-types liked your titles?” He leaned forward, putting his feet back down.
“You’re one to talk, ”Blindman”.” She smirked and scratched Vatuu under his ear.
“Ha. Sit. What can I help you with today?” he said, curving the topic to business rather than replying to the quip. Morgan’s heels clicked and clacked as she straddled the empty chair. Vatuu jumped off of her shoulder and, skittering across the table to Terran’s hand, sniffed it.
“Don’t mind him, he’s just exploring,” Morgan said preemptively, before Terran decided to push the weasel away. Another figure walked in from a small side door; a large figure with long fur, dressed in red garments. She had a hair braid and carried a bowcaster, just in case Morgan had any ideas.
“To business, then,” Morgan started, ignoring the imposing Wookiee. “You’ve no doubt heard of my ventures in other systems by now. Knowing Arcona, you even have some information I haven’t shared through regular channels.”
“Might be we heard, yeah. You got some beef with Black Sun, I hear.” His tone was obviously skeptical, but intrigued at what she was saying.
“Had. They’ve fallen in line. At least the ones that matter in that sector. But I’m not here to talk pleasantries. Here’s my proposal—” The door of the office opened sharply as Uji Tameike, Proconsul of Arcona, walked in and interrupted the Herald. Rrogon tensed as Uji entered, the Kaleesh growling but nonetheless bowing slightly. Terran sighed as he looked up, the only one seemingly unsurprised by the visit. The door closed again and Uji came to a halt to Morgan’s left, next to the table.
“Somethin’ I can help you with, Tameike?” Terran used the Scion’s surname rather than first name, Morgan noticed. Not something she’d expect.
“While I trust your business sense, Koul, this particular meeting is on behalf of the Clan, not just the corner I chose to give you.” The Proconsul didn’t attempt to hide his disdain for his surrounding or the individual beside him.
“You can leave for all I care,” Morgan said indifferently.
“So long as Ol’Val remains Arconan, I will do what is necessary to ensure the safety of her possessions.” With that, Uji took the third seat and waved for them to continue.
Terran coughed and turned his attention back to the Herald. “You were saying?”
“I need Ol’val for my business. It’s large enough, has enough room, has a good hyperspace connection, and it can store a hell of a lot more than most dung holes I’ve seen in the last year.” She laid her cards on the table to see if they’d bend.
“What kind of business d’you have in mind?” Terran stroked his nose, probably knowing the answer already.
“Smuggling, mostly. We have a lot of traffic on artifacts from Antei and other worlds around the Shroud. Obviously, there’s fencing goods as well since pirates usually do the dirtiest work.” She had one more card to play but she didn’t want to push too hard. “And slave trade.”
She could see Terran’s fist tense up. Uji’s posture turned stiff and coiled. There it was, the crux of the thing. Even Vatuu sensed it and skittered back to Morgan’s collar, away from the Quaestor and Proconsul.
“We don’t deal slaves, Morgan.” Terran’s tone turned much more dark as he slowly turned his head towards his fuzzy companion. She had held her bowcaster very, very tightly.
Morgan gave it some thought to let them simmer a bit. “Fine, no slaves. Ol’val won’t see any of those.”
“And other places?” Uji interjected.
“That’s not your concern.” Morgan didn’t even look at him. She swore she could sense his expression through the Force.
“That’s not good enough, Sorenn,” Uji added, intentionally using her surname. It always reminded her of her brother.
Morgan draw out a cigarra, slowly, and lit it. The smoke coalesced into a ring and flew off into the ventilation shaft overhead. “You don’t get to dictate how I run my show. Neither of you do. Some business deals come out of necessity.”
“Then you can expect no assistance from our Clan,” the Proconsul sneered.
Terran exhaled as he looked at Uji with a raised brow. Obviously there was more going on here than either of them lead on. “Is there something here I should know about?”
“No. I’m here to talk business with the Blindman, not the skirt-saver of Selen.” Her gaze returned to Terran and she inhaled another whiff of smoke. “Gentlemen, my visit here is a courtesy I’m extending because I need partners, not drones. The other members of the Dark Council would just take this place by force. Let’s not forget what happened to Odan-Urr and Taldryan when they defied the will of the Grand Master. I hear say that even your Clan wasn’t unaffected by it.” Terran eyed Uji with a measured expression. Tameike’s aura fumed at the mention of the new Voice and the ordeal another one of their clanmates, the Barabel Zakath, had gone through.
That was a genuine threat, not just lofty words. The Grand Master was fully behind Morgan in any endeavor that brought profits to his efforts. There wasn’t much they could do, either way.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Morgan mellowed and added before either of them replied. “You run your business as usual, I won’t send any slavers to your door and you get two percent off the top of every deal the Shroud Syndicate makes on Ol’val. I’ll also include three transports, a corvette and a heap of cargo you can fence to anyone you’d like,” she ended by squishing her cigarra in an ashtray on the table.
“Partners,” Terran said, contemplating the long-term consequences should he accept.
“You get a spot on my ship as well. We hold regular meetings, discussing the finances of our little microverse. A holocall every so often should suffice.” The Herald smiled.
Uji gave Terran a severe look, but he knew little could be done. Morgan was, by far, the most moderate of the Councillors and the profits she brought in would benefit the Clan. Whatever problems they’d have in the future would have to be resolved then.
“Supply a trading hub and storage for cargo, entertainment for the crews — the fancy kind — security for the number of folk comin’ in daily. Call it five percent and you got yourself a deal,” Terran replied and mentally crossed his fingers.
“Three should be more than enough to cover an enterprise this small, and you get four ships with cargo.”
“Fine. Three and the ships. You got yourself a base,” the Kiffar concluded.
Morgan reached for her comm device, punched in several commands and sent it to Terran’s glowing datapad. “There’s my number. Call me.” She winked and walked towards the door.
“Herald,” Uji stood up abruptly, clearly disatisfied by the meeting. “I’ll have a few words before you leave.” Morgan shrugged and walked out the door with the Proconsul following suit. Terran simply exhaled and relaxed, finally rid of both of them.
Zahlia fell in step with her boss but Morgan waved her away as Uji walked beside her. “What’s the cargo?” Uji asked intently. Something about this deal smelled wrong.
“Excuse you?” Morgan raised a brow and stopped in place.
“What’s the cargo on the ships? You failed to mention that.” There was no give in the Proconsul’s stance. He wouldn’t let it go.
Morgan paused for a moment. “Weapons, supplies.”
“There’s something more. The deal is not square, and I know your reputation and experience well enough to know you don’t make deals that you don’t come out on top of. You’re willing to do anything to improve your standing, as you’ve often shown in your past.” There was the bait she’d been expecting from him.
You have no idea what you’re on about. Good, keep guessing. Morgan brushed her nose with her index finger. “There’s also some two hundred people stashed neatly in the cargo hold of the corvette.”
“It’s a shame, Morgan. You’re willingly becoming the thing your brother tried to save you from. I didn’t think you’d sink this low. Is a seat at Pravus’s table really worth this?” Uji sounded more disappointed than angry.
“That so?” She didn’t bother answering the latter question. “See, you make me look like this evil thing. You toss me in the same box with murderers and psychopaths. Yeah, I killed and robbed my fair share, but I own it. Meanwhile you’re playing high-and-mighty, while you and Satsi destroyed half a city and killed how many people?” Uji seemed caught off guard for a moment at the mention of his sister. “Oh yes, she talks in her sleep.”
"You know, when she told me about you two, I wasn’t pleased, but I trusted Turel and I thought at the time I could trust you. It’s one of the many lessons Atyiru taught me that I’ve had to throw away.” Uji stopped and Morgan’s senses told her he was contemplating something. She looked around and realized that at any point the Proconsul could have staged an ambush. The death of the Herald on Ol’val would be the closest he could come to getting away with it; after all she had knowingly walked into a port of murderers and scum. Yet she wasn’t one to back down and knew that Uji’s leash would keep him from attempting it.
“And you know kark about Turel or me, so leave your holier-than-thou attitude in the dung hole where it belongs. Much like you, that’s about as much as it’s worth.” She turned on her heel. Uji’s sneer turned into a sad smile, then a light chuckle of amusement
“You don’t know, do you?” he added watching her expression turn to one of impatience waiting for what he had to say next.
Morgan rolled her eyes, indulging in her curiosity. “Know what?”
“Satsi’s dead.” Uji’s expression turned flat, almost angry. He was as emotionless as a wall of duracrete.
The words hit Morgan like a mag-train. Her eyes widened, her breathing quickened, her heart skipped in her chest, and her legs felt just a bit more shaky. A towering tsunami of disbelief washed her away and snuffed out any other thought. “W-What?”
“She’s been dead for months.” Uji let the words sink in, twisting the knife before he turned and walked away. “Enjoy your day, Herald.”
Morgan stumbled backwards as Vatuu clung against her jacket. She almost fell but for Zahlia grabbing her. The woman had never seen her captain this shaken before. “Let’s… get outta here, boss.” Morgan’s silent acknowledgment, barely audible even to Zahlia, gave her all the incentive she needed. The Quartermaster held the Herald by her shoulder as they trudged along, back towards the docks.