I won’t lie to you - it’s been a long time since I’ve done something like this. And when I say “a long time,” I’m talking a good decade or so. Oh, sure, I’ve killed folks since I left the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, but that’s mostly been battlefield stuff. Going out, tracking down a mark, and then putting a shot through the ten-ring in cold blood is something completely different. Toss in the fact that you’ve got to find the guy first, and that a lot of the time whatever authority exists doesn’t like having random shootings happening on their turf (unless they’re the ones doing it), and things get a lot more complicated. Having your target be Force-sensitive is even more of a problem. I’d almost turned the job down, in point of fact; if I’d wanted to keep being a bounty hunter, I’d sure as hell not have gone and come here and strapped a lightsaber to my waist to do it. I was out of that game. But… you don’t just turn down an assignment in the Brotherhood. Isn’t done. So I found myself sitting and letting my brain analyze the situation.
I’ve had occasion in the past to try and figure out how to kill a Force-sensitive. Honestly, the easiest way is to sic another Force-sensitive on them and hope your guy wins. The next best ways are to bombard them with vehicle-grade heavy blaster cannon, artillery, orbital strikes, bomber runs, or some combination thereof, or somehow lure them into an area that’s been prepared with a lot of explosives. Of course, these are all… well, let’s be honest. You’d have to be on another freaking planet not to know about it. And since the contract I was staring at specified that nobody was to see the kill… yeah. I was going to have to get creative.
I hate having to get creative.
I dropped the datapad on my rack and leaned back, hands behind my head as I thought. Obviously, the first trick was going to be finding the guy. Once that was done, I’d have to get him somewhere private and kill him. Of course, as soon as the guy saw - and sensed - me, he’d probably start running. It’d be the sensible thing, after all, and there really wasn’t much of a chance I’d be able to surprise the guy - if he could take down Jedi Knights without formal training, he’d probably be able to pick out my… less-than-friendly intentions.
The answer was obvious. I needed to make him want to come to me. Exactly how that would be done, however… I idly swiveled back and forth a bit, a booted foot up on my desk, eyes staring up at the blank ceiling as a plan started to form in my head.
“You want what?” Marick Arconae, an Obelisk Primarch and Consul of Clan Arcona, stared at his most senior Journeyman - a man who had done almost nothing insofar as he could tell for the last couple of years - who had just requested a copy of Arcona’s communications and sensor protocols to be used as bait to take out a One Sith spy. Normally, Marick was a pretty easy-going guy, for a Hapan, but as with any Dark Side user, if he got furious, the target of his fury tended to feel the weight of his displeasure, often literally.
Need I mention that I was the Journeyman in question?
I should note something here. I’ve been around the block a few times. I’d worked with Marick a time or two. I know the guy, and he knows me. I’d figured that he’d take some convincing. I gestured at the datapad that I’d slid onto his desk. “I attached the dossier on the guy I’m supposed to be going after. I can’t just go after this guy and blast him as soon as I get an I.D. on him - I have to lure him to me, somewhere where I can control the situation. Once I do that, I can drop his head on the Dark Council’s floor, and everything will take care of itself.” I chuckled briefly. “I wonder what the Grand Master’s reaction would be if I sent him an invoice for this?”
Marick glared at me, still Not Happy (the capitals were obvious to me), and he didn’t even twitch at my joke - because that’s totally what it was. Even I’m not stupid enough to drop a bill on the Dark Council for a job like this. I know exactly the sort of “payment” I’d get. Marick finally blew out a breath and shoved the datapad to the side. “Even if I were willing to compromise our military security like this, Kant, both you and I, and probably this One Sith guy know that if we even suspected data like this was compromised, we’d change our protocols immediately.”
I winced. This was going to be a rough sell. “I know. And that’s why on the datapad you’ll also find a request for a copy of the crypto sequencing program, too.”
Marick launched into a tirade that doesn’t bear repeating here. I will say that I was fairly impressed with the man’s command of language. I didn’t catch him repeating himself once. And to be fair, his accusations of my being an idiot for thinking this plan would work were well-founded.
Here’s the thing; most military encryption sets are two-layer. Every military-grade comm system has a permanent, burned-in identification code that is used in any and every encryption scheme. It’s sort of a signature, confirming that the message did indeed come from the ship it was supposed to. The downside was that these signatures were pretty much only usable by the encryption sequencer. The second part of a crypto module was what’s referred to as the “key,” but in actuality is a small volatile memory module that has a randomly generated set of cryptographic instructions, generated by an organization’s cryptological sequencing program. Better than half the effort of breaking an enemy’s communications code was knowing a valid cryptographic instruction set, which is what crypto keys were. If you had a valid crypto key, you could decode everything used with the protocols loaded onto it. If you had the crypto sequencer, well… if the One Sith got their hands on it, that was it. Clan Arcona, and it’s massive conventional military, would be dead as soon as they bothered to come get us.
Yes, before you point it out, I know that, in theory, we could go get a new crypto sequencer and use that. The problem with that was that they were horrendously expensive, and every intelligence agency put any private organization that wanted one under an electron microscope. If we did that, the Republic would either decide we were unreconstructed Imperialists with a scary amount of firepower, or they’d figure out we were Dark Jedi with a scary amount of firepower. Either way, we’d shortly get visits from Republic fleet units and ground brigades, plus quite probably the Jedi. As in all of them.
In our circles, this was known as a Bad Thing.
Marick was quite obviously going through the logic of what I was proposing. It was risky, sure. Hell, “risky” was a generous description. “Insane” was probably closer. If it worked, it’d work absolutely great. If I screwed it up, though, I’d probably be better off spacing myself before the Brotherhood or the One Sith caught up with me. Marick said as much, and I nodded before he sighed, stood, and we went to the secure computer center beneath the Arconan Citadel.
Three weeks passed. I’d left Selen obviously and loudly, “stealing” a Lambda-class shuttle to and having to blast past a couple of Dajorra Defense Force pickets before making the jump to hyperspace. I’d made a few diversionary jumps, and dropped by an old independent shipyard to ditch the shuttle and trade it for a new ship. I actually managed to talk the sales kid foisted on me into taking the shuttle and a couple thousand credits for an RC-2 Twilight scout ship. Granted, the scout was probably stolen, same as the shuttle, but hey, who was I to judge?
I also spent a bit more of my operating budget to buy some equipment - armor, some extra blaster charge packs, and a few miscellaneous bits of kit that I thought would come in handy. I also bought some more non-descript clothes so I wouldn’t stand out so much once I got where I was going.
And on Nar Shaddaa, “standing out” usually meant a quick way to court being attacked. My lightsaber rode up underneath my arm, where I could get at it if I needed it, but also where it wouldn’t be sitting and advertising that I was a trained Force-sensitive. I spent some time getting a feel for the current state of the Smuggler’s Moon. When you needed to fence something on Nar Shaddaa, you had to take into account the network of gangs, Hutt clans, criminal syndicates, independent “businessmen”, and government agencies that were there. Pretty much anyone and everyone who needed to keep track of the seedier side of the galaxy had people on Nar Shaddaa. It’s the criminal’s version of Coruscant.
The One Sith, despite wanting to keep their existence a secret as much as possible from the greater galaxy, would have contacts here. If I was lucky, Victor Tridel himself would be on-planet. (I wasn’t really expecting it, as I’m never that lucky, but hey, it could happen sometime. Okay, no, it wouldn’t, but I can dream, damn it!) The trick would be making contact and luring Tridel out…
I spent a couple of days in meditation - not my forte at all, and thus why it took so long - to try and sort the knots of darkness that signified the One Sith out of the more mundane knots of darkness that made up the various gangs, drug cartels, slavers, and other associated lowlives on Nar Shaddaa. It’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
I have to digress for a moment. Every Force-user perceives the Force differently. Some see things as vibrations. Some sense emotions and other sensations. Others see lines of light interconnecting things. I even heard of one Jedi, blinded in combat as a Padawan, who perceived the Force as music and other noises. I got colors. They didn’t always seem to mean the same thing - like I never always saw rage and aggression as shades of red, just as an example - but I was usually able to interpret them to some degree. The Force had a signature this way too. It made the colors… more intense. And somehow I could tell darksiders from light. Non-Force sensitives had the same sort of overtones to their… auras, I guess would be the term, but not anywhere near the same intensity. Don’t ask me how this works. I’m not a Krath priest. I kill people for a living. It’s like trying to explain, well, color to someone who’s been blind their whole life.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time doing surveillance. I suppressed my own Force signature as much as I could. It was simply an internal version of the power we were taught as “Suppression.” I wasn’t the best at it, but every little bit helped. Tossed in with the fact that I know how to blend in somewhat into any crowd - mostly by knowing how to dress and how to act - and I figured I had an even chance of figuring out who these guys used as their main contacts. I couldn’t approach the One Sith directly to bait my trap; that’d be too obvious and I’ve never been one to particularly favor the frontal assault in the first place. Never play fair if you can possibly help it; one of the first tricks I ever learned as a bounty hunter. So my plan was to start quietly trying to shop around some “sensitive military hardware” that I’d “acquired from the Antei Sector.”
Okay, yeah, that wouldn’t be that subtle, either, but hell. It was the best shot I had. Of course, it didn’t go anywhere near as well as I’d planned.
As best I can figure it out now, the One Sith sensed me coming almost as soon as I started looking for them. I had been conducting surveillance from what I’d thought was a safe distance when I felt a prickling sensation at the back of my neck. I spun, my hand going for my blaster pistol in a practiced quick-draw, but even as I did so a blade of crimson plasma came to life and filled where my neck had been literally a half-second before. I tried to bring my blaster up into line, but I felt my opponent focus a split-second before something slammed into my chest. I flew backwards, slamming against the window I’d been watching through. The transparisteel shuddered under the impact, but didn’t crack. I gasped and involuntarily dropped my blaster pistol to the ground. I dropped to one knee and took a half-second to gather myself before shoving my own hand out, responding with a Force push of my own. It wasn’t as focused as the one my opponent had given me - it had felt like I’d gotten punched by a Wookiee - but it gave me room and, more importantly, time to dig my lightsaber out of its perch. The orange blade came to life and lit up the room just enough to see what I was facing… and it wasn’t good for me.
The fact that it was a Falleen woman didn’t faze me too much. What was more important to me was the fact that she was wearing black robes, carrying a red lightsaber, and, most importantly, was covered head to toe - insofar as I could tell - with the black and red tattoos that marked her as a member of the One Sith.
Needless to say, this was not a good thing.
She didn’t speak. Hell, if she’d wanted, she could have just used her pheromones to convince me to give me what I wanted - but apparently all she wanted was to kill me as she simply started her attack. Her lightsaber blurred in in an attack and I barely brought up mine in to block before the red blade would have stabbed into my chest. My focus on Soresu paid off yet again - many Dark Jedi preferred to learn a more offensive lightsaber form, but I knew I wasn’t at my best in an engagement like this, and I’d need every advantage I could scrape up to disengage and get the hell out.
We traded a few more blows - well, I say traded. She would attack and I would block, and a couple of times I even tried to get in a shot of my own, but never managed to come particularly close. I realized that this lady was most definitely a better saberist than I was, and given that she’d been able to sneak up on me without me realizing it until it was almost literally too late, probably had more training as well. This was a losing situation, and I was not too proud to realize it.
Fortunately, I’d planned ahead for just such an emergency. I chanced letting go of my saber with my main hand and reached into a belt pouch and threw a glop grenade at the Falleen. Normally I’m not too good with explosives, but grenades are just about dummy-proof, and it doesn’t take knowing how to disable a baradium bomb to grasp the concept of “push arming switch and throw.” The Falleen Sith reacted much as I’d expected she would, and aimed a strike at the grenade with her off hand as if to bat the grenade away.
Which was exactly why I’d chosen an impact-sensing grenade instead of a timed one.
The expanding adhesive substance the grenade contained spilled out, quickly covering the Falleen. She finally spoke - I didn’t recognize the language, but you can tell when someone curses in any language. And I can’t think of many beings that wouldn’t curse when a big pile of foamy glue comes at you. The stuff wouldn’t hold against a lightsaber, but I didn’t need it to. I shut down my own lightsaber and did the best thing I could under the circumstances.
Look, I’m not proud of it. But the mission was busted. I’d gotten nowhere close, insofar as I knew, to Tridel. I’d been made, I was facing a superior opponent, and there was no immediately apparent way to salvage the mission. One lesson that anyone who makes their living by doing violence unto others is that, sometimes, you just can’t win, and knowing when to recognize those situations is half the trick of staying alive.
I got back to the spaceport in record time. I didn’t bother doing a full pre-flight or call the tower or prep a flight plan or anything. I just poured power to the engines and thanked the Force I’d gotten an open landing platform instead of a bay that could be closed off. Once I was in the air and heading for space, I punched up my comm unit and broadcast a signal back to the planet. I didn’t see the explosion itself, but I heard the resulting chaos in the control channels as the suicide charge Marick had insisted on being built into the crypto hardware detonated. It was an insurance policy and back-up plan for killing Tridel if I’d managed to get the One Sith interested in buying the unit but not anywhere where I could quietly off the guy. A partially successful mission was better than a completely unsuccessful one.
Unfortunately, I was completely out of success. Marick probably wouldn’t let the Dark Council kill me for it - I did at least keep the crypto computer’s secrets… well, secret. But I knew that I was going to still be in some deep Bantha poodoo once my report hit the desk of… whoever got the damn things.
Sighing, I slipped my scoutship into hyperspace. This would not be my best homecoming.