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tyrannosaurus_debt

Lasers! Explosions! Adventure!

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tyrannosaurus_debt

Okay, so I've finished two chapters of a story I started when I was around twelve(!) (I'm nineteen now) and have been touching up whenever the mood strikes or when I want to see how my writing skills have improved over the years. So, constructive criticism/suggestions are welcomed, and I also want to make sure that the stuff I made up doesn't clash with things that have already been established within the generally-accepted canon continuity.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE (by affiliation and order of formal introduction, and this DP will only contain characters that I'm planning on mentioning more than once or twice... more characters will be added as they are introduced in the fic. Links lead to pictures I drew of how I see the characters in my head. Most are fast and sloppy sketches.):

Imperial:

Admiral Alex Gyara; commander, Star Destroyer Mutilator, Mutilator taskforce (human male from Coruscant)

Lieutenant Celes Carlotti; pilot, Vader's Hand Three (human female from Carida)

Flight Officer Taalor Kenko; co-pilot/gunner, Vader's Hand Three (human male from Garos IV)

Lieutenant Lennix Brayson; tailgunner, Vader's Hand Three (human male from Ord Mantell)

Colonel Almar Derkan; second-in-command and assistant to Admiral Gyara (human male from Naboo)

New Republic:

Commander Scottie "Improv" Kilskar; Gauntlet Leader, One Flight Leader (human male from Corellia)

Lieutenant Commander Cabed'b Kantaaros; Gauntlet Five, Two Flight Leader (human male from Al-Arlitneen)

Lieutenant Link Maccor; Gauntlet Two (human male from Contruum)

General Etahn A'baht, fleet commander, Mon Calamari cruiser Maria and a small Republic taskforce (Dornean male from Dornea)

Captain Onoma, first mate, Maria (Mon Calamari male from Mon Calamari)

Lieutenant Tooz Skatamm; Gauntlet Four (human male from Bespin)

No Official Affiliation:

Qryll Manfestinn; smuggler, captain, Sapphire Starrunner (human male from Jabiim)

Wuurenbrallch; smuggler, crewmember, Sapphire Starrunner (Wookiee male from Kashyyyk)

Quarto "Jeeve" Jeevin; smuggler, crewmember, Sapphire Starrunner (human male from Chandrila)

Klyne Nastanad; smuggler/spacer/pirate/Rebel sympathizer/businessman/trader/mercenary/whatever pays the bills, captain, Rabid Basilisk (human male from Carratos)

Rask Kejaa; spacer, first mate, Rabid Basilisk (human male from Pantolomin)

Muraaki Makarr; bounty hunter, owner, Blood Oath (Codru-Ji male from Munto Codru)

Naato Katoorni; bounty hunter, employee of Gardulla the Hutt (Rodian male from Rodia)

SK-T3 "Skit"; crewmember, Sapphire Starrunner (droid, male analogue)

Kiryk Delfos; smuggler, crewmember, Sapphire Starrunner (Ryn male from the Vergesso Asteroids)

CHAPTER ONE

Admiral Alex Gyara glowered out of the main observation port of the Imperial-II Star Destroyer Mutilator, stroking his clean-shaven face thoughtfully. Ever the consummate specimen of an Imperial authoritarian, he was a tall man of imposing stature, with close-cropped black hair and wide shoulders. His eyes smoldered in deep black sockets, and they looked as if he were always searching for something upon which to unleash his full wrath. As he walked, the sound of his boots made a loud, metallic sound against the cold steel deck, in the regular, driving cadence of a death march. The officers and technicians in the crew pit of his ship would suddenly become very interested in their instrument panel, or perhaps a blank piece of flimsiplast sitting on their worktable, as he walked by; so was the fear that he inspired in his men. Fortunately for him, most often fear bred loyalty among subordinates in the Galactic Empire.

?Sir, five contacts at point oh-two-seven-four. Our Interdictor Cruiser reported pulling them out of hyperspace while running a test of its gravity-well generators,? a sensor officer piped up nervously from the crew pit. The man flinched slightly as Alex pivoted around to face him. His blaster pistol swung in its holster as he whirled.

?Our lucky day, I suppose,? he said, his aristocratic Imperial accent viciously biting off the end of each syllable as if he intended to snuff the life out of it. ?Details, if you may.?

?Rebel ships,? the young officer said, trying his best to keep his voice from betraying fear. ?Two Nebulon-B Frigates, a Corellian Corvette, a Dornean Gunship, and a Mon Calamari Cruiser, the kind with the wings.? Alex nodded.

?We can handle them,? he said after half a second of thought. In terms of brute firepower, he was right. Along with the Mutilator, he had an Immobilizer-418 Interdictor Cruiser, two Carrack Cruisers, a Venator Star Destroyer, and a Lancer Frigate, a capital ship specially designed to combat starfighters.

?Here they come!? the sensor officer blurted as the New Republic ships came around the asteroid that had hidden them from view until now.

Alex turned to the communications officer. ?Patch me through to the other ships,? he ordered.

?Yessir, right away, sir,? the man said quickly.

Picking up the comlink, Admiral Gyara waited a moment, then said, ?Open fire and scramble all fighters? as though he were passively greeting someone he met in the hall. Someone of equal?or perhaps slightly lesser?rank, whom he regarded with a slight air of disdain.

A volley of green turbolaser bolts lanced out at the Rebel group, which was met by a volley of red ones from the Mon Cal and the frigates. The Venator Star Destroyer accelerated towards one of the frigates and sent a shower of turbolaser bolts into the smaller ship's weak hull. Caught with its shields not yet fully deployed, the frigate stood up to the continuous turbolaser barrage like a Podracer would stand up to high-speed impact with a large rock, spilling crew members and equipment into the black starry vacuum known as space.

One of the Imperial Carrack Cruisers pulled back into a group of unmoving asteroids, taking its five TIE Fighters with it.

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Ayingel

it sounds good so far.

i love the drawings best tho! :p

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tyrannosaurus_debt

Beloved: Thanks! Illustrations for all the characters (well, the original characters, at least) will be forthcoming. :)

As his X-Wing roared out of the Mon Cal?s fighter bay, Commander Scottie ?Improv? Kilskar, Gauntlet Leader, looked for an Imp target to attack. He was a blond-haired man of 27, sporting a well-trimmed mustache and goatee. He was fitted with a cybernetic temple and right arm, souvenirs of an Imperial bombardment on his home planet of Corellia roughly three years ago.

A voice keyed in on the comm. ?What do we blow up first, Lead?? That was Gauntlet Five, Improv?s friend and second-in-command, Lieutenant Commander Cabed?b Kantaaros.

Improv looked around. ?How ?bout that Carrack Cruiser that pulled back out into the asteroids??

?Shooting things that shoot back is so pass?, Commander. There?s some nice rocks floating around here that we could blow up,? Lieutenant Link Maccor, Gauntlet Two, replied cheekily.

?Oh, shush, Link. Your sarcasm becomes you not.? Improv said, smiling, despite himself. He boosted his X-Wing toward a spot about a fourth of a klick starboard and down of the Imperial Star Destroyer. Once he was past, he realigned himself and flew past a large asteroid toward the Carrack Cruiser. The rest of the squadron followed suit. He looked at his diagnostics board, and on his roster, Gauntlets Eleven and Twelve suddenly winked out of existence. A puzzled look came over his face. He looked at his sensor screen, and saw, directly behind the squadron, coming up at full speed, guns blazing, a Lancer Frigate. Sithspit! It must?ve been hiding behind that asteroid! he thought. ?Break formation!! Get away from that Lancer!!? he yelled into the comm. All the green-and-white striped X-Wings peeled out of formation and got away as quickly as they could from the Lancer Frigate.

Which led them straight to the Carrack Cruiser.

The Lancer had broken chase, as the Republic?s Corellian Corvette Manticore had realized the X-Wings? plight and was now racing to their rescue, blasting the frigate with its turbolaser cannons as the doomed Imperial ship was trying desperately to get away, pelting the corvette with laser blasts from its comparatively weak quad laser cannons.

A large explosion behind them told the X-Wing pilots that its efforts had been in vain.

The Carrack?s five TIE Fighters, perhaps displaying more courage than common sense, flew into the attacking X-Wings.

?Eyeballs at Twelve o? clock, Lead,? Gauntlet Nine said over the comm.

?Got it, Nine. We can frag them. Break by pairs,? Improv replied. They outnumbered the TIEs on a two-to-one ratio. One of the rare times the odds are in our favor, Improv thought to himself.

The eyeballs triggered off short bursts of laserfire at the X-Wings, then peeled off in opposite directions. Improv broke his X-Wing to starboard, going after the lead eyeball. He sidled into position behind it and the TIE started to juke around, trying to shake the snubfighter on his tail. Improv waited, then fired. His laser volley tore through the pylons of the TIE craft. The main fuselage went one way as its port solar panel went the other, slamming into another TIE Fighter coming around from behind Improv on his port side. The second eyeball careened off into space with a hexagonal solar panel wedged in the front of its cockpit sphere.

?Hey, you took my kill!? Link said over the comm, indignantly.

Improv grinned. ?No, no. You?ve got it all wrong, Link. When your Squad Leader makes a kill, you congratulate him on his fine shooting.?

?But you didn?t shoot that one.?

?I?? a squeal of Imperial laserfire interrupted Improv?s response. ?All right, Link, less yappy, more watching our backs,? Improv said, twisting his fighter around to try and get a bead on his pursuer. Link?s comm unit double-clicked in agreement.

Improv finally got a visual on his adversary, only to find him and the one other remaining TIE on the scene heading back to the relative protection of their carrier. Well, why don?t we just pull the rug out from under them?, he thought. Improv keyed his comm, ?Everyone form up on me. We?re going after that Carrack.? Switching his frequency over to the command channel, he said, ?Manticore, this is Gauntlet Leader. We?re going after the Carrack Cruiser. Care to join??

A gravelly voice, possibly Mon Calamari, came back. ?With pleasure, Gauntlet Leader. You make the initial strike, and we?ll pick off what?s left of them.?

?Sounds like a plan, Manticore. Over and out.?

Like a team of heavily-armed synchronized swimmers, the X-Wings of Gauntlet Squadron moved gracefully towards their target. Almost immediately swaths of green turbolaser fire came pouring out at them.

?All right, team,? Improv said. ?Avoid their fire as best you can, but be careful not to run into each other. The load of paperwork on my desk is bad as it is.? As the fighters drew closer, each cockpit gradually began to sound the single, sustained tone of a torpedo lock. Once Improv was reasonably sure all ten cockpits were brimming with the telltale monotone, he shouted, ?Fire at will!? Improv let loose two torpedoes and pulled into a complete 180-degree loop, sailing upside-down over the back of the Manticore. The other nine fighters followed similar trajectories.

The twenty torpedoes closing in on the Carrack proved to be too much. Although the ship?s defensive laser cannons were able to peg a few before impact, most of the leading edge of the torpedo volley slammed into the Carrack?s shields, which went opaque and then collapsed. The rest of the torpedoes ravaged the ship, blowing out armor panels and crippling its weapons system. The Manticore floated in like a shark to an injured porpoise, its turbolasers reducing the Carrack to rubble as its quad-laser turrets made short work of the two remaining TIE Fighters, whose pilots had apparently resorted to trying to ram the corvette out of sheer desperation.

?All right, now where do we go?? Link asked. Improv looked around. Most of their escape routes were blocked by the back ends of the four remaining Imp capital ships, who had spread out in order to better engage the Republic cruisers. He watched the Manticore, its grisly task completed, try to slip in underneath the Imperial Star Destroyer, only to get blasted into large glowing fragments by the giant ship?s belly-side heavy turbolasers. Improv winced. ?Well, looks like we can?t get out that way,? Link mused.

The Venator Star Destroyer rolled into a 90-degree turn, in order to allow more of its guns to bear down on the Republic taskforce.

Improv keyed his comm. ?Shunt power to your shields and engines, kids, cuz we?re gonna skim over that Venstar!?

Link?s panicked voice quickly responded. ?Low flying over a Venstar? Improv, have you gone dust-happy?!??

?That?s Commander Improv to you, Lieutenant,? he replied gleefully. ?And I?m not dust-happy, I?m just crazy.?

?What a relief,? Link said sarcastically.

?Form up on your Flight Leaders, people, and keep a sharp eye out for any TIEs,? Improv said, ignoring Link?s comment.

The X-Wings moved into position behind each other so that there were two four-pronged X-Wing diamond formations arranged side-by-side. Three Flight only had two abreast, due to the recent losses of Eleven and Twelve. The starfighters moved choreographically toward the Venator Star Destroyer. Green laser bolts lanced out at them. As they skimmed across the superstructure of the 284 meter-wide ship, Improv thought that maybe this battle wouldn?t be so bad. But a split-second later, as he reached the far edge of the Star Destroyer and the two squadrons of TIE Interceptors shot straight up right in front of him in deadly formation, he came to the realization that he was horribly, horribly wrong, and that he and the New Republic were about to lose a lot of good people in the minutes to come.

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tyrannosaurus_debt

General Etahn A?baht watched the unfolding battle from his command console on the bridge of the Mon Cal Cruiser Maria, thoughtfully stroking his upper lip flap as he assessed his own group?s firepower against his adversary?s.

A Mon Cal Cruiser, although the largest ship in the Republic fleet, was only about two-thirds the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer, which also affected its firepower. And while the smaller ships did what they could, it was a rather futile gesture against an ImpStar.

His first action upon encountering the Imperial fleet had been to order the destruction of the Interdictor cruiser, the most obvious solution to their predicament. However, the Interdictor had almost immediately pulled behind the Imperial Star Destroyer for cover, which meant that his gunners were currently slugging it out with the more powerful Imperial ship.

A?Baht turned abruptly to his first mate. ?Captain Onoma, what do you make of this??

?Permission to speak frankly, sir?? the Mon Calamari standing at A?Baht?s side inquired.

?Of course,? the Dornean replied. ?A good fleet commander always listens to the advice of his trusted officers.?

?Well, sir, I cannot help but notice that your relative inexperience with starfighter tactics leaves you a bit shortsighted in this engagement,? Onoma began. ?Currently all of our starfighters aren?t under any orders to attack any particular target. Without a clear course of action, our pilots are simply fighting to stay alive under this heavy Imperial fighter screen. Furthermore, our slower Y-Wings and B-Wings are suited more to striking large targets than trying to outfly small ones. As a result, their squadrons are suffering rather heavy losses. I would recommend that these units be diverted to attacking the Interdictor and that your gunners concentrate on firing into the Imperial fighter screen. They?re moving too fast to actually catch for the most part, but the extra fire will distract them from picking on our fighters.?

A?baht was impressed. ?Your candor is appreciated and refreshing, Captain. You?ll make a fine fleet officer.? He turned to the communications officer. ?Ensign! Order Gold, Blue, and Grey Squadrons to begin their strike runs on the Interdictor.? He barely waited for a ?yes, sir? before turning to the gunnery crew chief. ?I want your men to lay into those Imp fighters, and make them wish they had never enrolled in the Academy. Now, let's show these Imperial kriffmuckers what a cornered New Republic taskforce can do!?

* * *

A flight of black-striped ARC-170 assault fighters trailed at the end of the Imperial fighter group spilling from the Mutilator?s belly like a cloud of flies. Although largely decommissioned by the Empire after the Clone Wars due to their high maintenance costs and large target profile, the ARC-170 was still a formidable fighter in the hands of the right crew, and so several had been requesitioned for more elite fighter units over the years. Vader?s Hand Flight was one of these units.

Lieutenant Celes Carlotti, piloting Vader?s Hand Three, watched the three remaining Rebel capital ships.

?Looks like someone just told their fleet commander what assault fighters are for,? her copilot and gunner, Flight Officer Taalor Kenko said sardonically from the cockpit above and behind her, watching his sensor screen. Celes glanced at her own and saw the little red dots on the map representing Rebel Y-Wings and B-Wings begin to swarm around the larger green icon representing the Interdictor.

Celes looked around as she adeptly dodged the red turbolaser bolts that had begun to cut into the Imperial fighter groups. ?We?ll just have to distract them a little, then, won?t we? There,? she said. ?Taalor, target that Nebulon-B Frigate. Lennix, keep their fighters off our back.?

?Affirmative,? Taalor replied, as her tailgunner, Lennix Brayson, double-clicked his comm in confirmation.

?OK, Taalor, we?ll focus on the connector in the middle.?

The assault fighter dived at the Frigate, guns and missiles blazing, explosions indicating where their weapons had hit. Two other fighters from the group joined in the assault, dodging retaliatory turbolaser blasts from the frigate. The shields on their immediate area of attack went opaque, then collapsed. Escaping atmosphere took crew, equipment, and cargo with it, and molten metal froze into perfect silver globules in the freezing cold of space. Celes Carlotti smiled.

* * *

?This is Nine. I?m hit! I?m not going to make i-?

?Four has two on him. Think ya can help me out??

?This is Seven, coming to your rescue, Four.?

?Ten has two on him! I can?t sh-AAAAHHHH!?

?Four here; thanks for the assist, Seven.?

?Six here. Where are all these squints comin? from??

Commander Scottie Kilskar couldn?t stand the assault of voices hitting his ears. Just focus on the squints. He took a deep breath, and cleared his mind. He focused on a TIE Interceptor that had just shot out from under him. He increased his speed to full throttle and went after it as it spun and dove madly to get away from him. He matched the maneuvers, although not quite as quickly. He squeezed the trigger, sending out a flurry of red laser bolts. One grazed the starboard solar panel, but the others went wide.

All of a sudden, a green-and-white striped X-Wing flashed in above and to the left of Scottie?s X-Wing. The new arrival sent a volley of laser bolts at the squint, punching holes all over the small fighter and sending it careening off, leaking atmosphere, fuel, coolant, and any other chemicals it carried on-board.

?Just payin? ya back for stealin? my kill earlier,? Link?s smug voice came over the comm.

?Fine, whatever, we?re even,? Improv replied, somewhat distractedly.

The shockwaves of an apparently large explosion jostled Improv?s fighter noticeably. He looked over to see the Interdictor Cruiser, a gigantic gap where its rear starboard section should have been, succumb to the gravitational pull of a large nearby asteroid. ?Hah! We aced the Drag-ship!?

?Are you sure it was us? Maybe the captain?s ego exploded or something,? Link quipped.

A voice came through all the fighter channels. ?This is Maria control. Recall all fighters. We?re retreating.?

Improv kicked his ship up towards the Mon Cal?s hangar bay, rolling a bit to correct his angle of approach. ?Drop into formation, Gauntlets. Close S-Foils. We?re going home. Or at least the big starship with the tiny little bunkrooms.?

?That?s it?? Link asked increduously. ?But we can finish them off!?

?Well, you?re welcome to try if you want to, Lieutenant,? Improv replied, amused.

?I could take ?em.?

?Shut up, Link.?

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Andy

Haha, niiiice, I like it. :D

Well done on the pictures too, that's something I've never quite got round to doing with my characters.

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tyrannosaurus_debt

Thanks, beeurd. Glad you dig it.

CHAPTER TWO

Qryll Manfestinn sat at a table in the corner of an Abregado-Rae cantina drinking what the bartender called a ?vitamin muja shake?, but appeared to be little more than some bantha milk mixed with some blue dye and a potent, unidentifiable artificial fruit flavoring. Last time I trust a bartender, Qryll thought mournfully as he peered into his glass. He was of average height, about 1.8m, and had reddish brown hair that sat on top of his head shaggily and constantly had to be brushed out of his thoughtful green eyes. A few days? worth of stubble adorned his face, and he sat cloaked in a brown robe over his rather drab utilitarian attire, meant to render him rather indistinguishable from the thousands of other galactic travelers that passed through Gado Spaceport. A magnetically-sealed scabbard obviously holding some sort of staff leaned against the wall to the right of his chair.

He watched the people come and go, humans and aliens going to the bar or wherever else was worth heading to on this dusty planet, when a particular pair walked in that piqued his interest. One was a four-armed Codru-Ji with long black hair and piercing eyes. He was rather tall by human standards and wore a four-armed charcoal armored flight suit, the plates painted in black with red trim. A battle-worn and stained kama hung from his belt, protecting his rear and upper legs. Four sawed-off DC-15B rifle carbines sat in holsters on either side of his belt, each jury-rigged with a gracefully crafted yet savage-looking bayonet.

The other, a skinny bluish-green Rodian, was wearing much simpler attire: a black flight suit garnished with two red stripes running down the sleeves. From his loose-hanging belt hung a DL-44 Blaster Pistol with a silver luster to it. The two went over and sat in a booth, not talking to each other.

Just as Qryll took his eyes off the pair and focused once again on the doorway, Wuurenbrallch and Quarto Jeevin, his friends and crewmates, ducked into the cantina?s entrance. Qryll waved briefly, catching their attention; they headed toward his table.

Wuurenbrallch was a Wookiee in his 300?s who had been one of Qryll?s father?s closest friends, and an important mentor to Qryll while growing up. He was covered in silver fur with black streaks, in a pattern that was believed in Wookiee culture to indicate an individual of great courage and benevolence. The only clothing he wore were a dark green utility vest, a holster slung about his shoulders to hold his blaster rifle, and a belt that held ammo batteries and his bowcaster. On either side of his chin were braids of fur decorated with ceremonial beads. The irises of Wuurenbrallch?s eyes were orange, a rather rare eye color for Wookiees, and his front teeth were sharp and predatory. He had a slight overbite that caused his fangs to extrude past his bottom lip whenever he closed his mouth.

Quarto, whose nickname was ?Jeeve?, was Qryll?s best friend and about three months older. He was somewhat heavyset, with a shaved head and a black goatee on his chin. He wore a red short-sleeve shirt and a pair of black loose-fitting pants, held up by a black banthahide belt with a DT-57 heavy blaster pistol hanging from its holster.

?So, Jeeve, we pick up any damage from that TIE Interceptor run-in we had?? Qryll asked as they sat down.

?Nothin?, other than those blown-out power couplings. Wuur was able to replace ?em with the extra ones we had lyin? around in the cargo bay,? Jeeve replied.

?We don?t need to buy new ones, then?? Qryll asked, taking another sip of his drink.

?Nope,? Jeeve replied. Wuurenbrallch growled an affirmative.

Qryll nodded. ?Where?s Kiryk??

?Where do you think?? Jeeve snorted. ?Sleepin?.?

Qryll smiled. Their absent crewmate?s odd sleeping habits were well-known amongst the group.

?Say, Jeeve, you know anything about those two over there?? Qryll asked, nodding his head in the direction of the Rodian and the Codru-Ji, who now had their drinks and were in conversation about something.

Jeeve turned around, and peered at the pair for a second. ?Oh, I know who the Codru-Ji is. Bounty hunter. Goes by the name of Muraaki Makarr. Pretty good at his job, from what I?ve heard in the smuggler circles. Hasn?t been in the business nearly as long as, say, Bossk or Dengar, but in a one-on-one fight, he could probably give one of those guys a pretty good run for his money. He probably coulda taken on Jango Fett if he were around in his day.?

Qryll nodded. ?Know anything about the Rodian??

?No idea, man.?

Qryll was just about to take another drink when a surprised growl from Wuurenbrallch made him jump. ?What is it, Wuur?? he asked. The Wookiee cocked his head towards the door.

There, standing in the doorway, was a white-bearded man in his late fifties. His face was weathered, and his clear blue eyes had a wisdom about them that seemed to say that he knew every trick in the book. In appearance, he looked unassuming enough, wearing a reddish-brown trenchcoat and a tattered-looking fedora. The only thing that would tip anyone off to the fact that this man was somehow important were his two large Tunroth bodyguards, each one with a powerful-looking blaster rifle slung over his back.

Qryll got up and went over to the man, grinning all the way. ?Klyne Nastanad, you old pirate.?

?Qryll! How are ya, my boy?? Klyne said as he drew the younger man into a warm embrace. ?What are ya doin? here??

?Ah, we stopped in to get some repairs on our ship. What are you doing here?? Qryll said as they parted.

The older man looked around cautiously, then leaned in close and answered quietly, ?Picking up a bit of precious cargo for a friend.? He pulled away, winking as he did so, and Qryll caught a mischeivous twinkle in his eye that apparently hadn?t dulled one bit in all his time in this galaxy.

Before Qryll could get Klyne to specify what he meant, Jeeve and Wuurenbrallch walked up to the pair. ?Hey, Klyne,? Jeeve said cheerfully.

?Hullo, Jeeve! Hullo, Wuur!? Klyne replied with equal mirth, catching first Jeeve and then Wuur in firm handshakes.

As Klyne casually surveyed the cantina, he spotted the Codru-Ji bounty hunter in the booth. Klyne?s eyes narrowed, and when he spoke again, his voice was thick with something mysterious. ?I know that guy.?

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tyrannosaurus_debt

Hey, everyone! It's been a while. College, ya know?

The Corellian whiskey had just burned its way down Muraaki Makarr?s throat when he heard a gruff voice from above his head demand, ?Bounty-hunting scum. We don?t need you here. Get out of my cantina!?

Muraaki put on his meanest glare, thought up a quick retort, and looked up, only to see a white-bearded man in a brown trenchcoat and hat smiling down at him.

A sly grin started to spread across Muraaki?s face. ?Klyne Nastanad, you old nerfherder.?

The older man, without missing a beat, said, ?Muraaki Makarr, you disrespectful little punk.? Klyne?s smile grew into a toothy grin. ?How are ya, Muraaki??

He shrugged. ?Can?t complain. Another capture or kill, another few thousand credits.?

A younger brown-haired man behind Klyne asked, ?Wait... you guys are friends??

?Ah, yes,? Klyne said, gesturing toward the young man. ?Muraaki Makarr, this is Qryll Manfestinn. Qryll Manfestinn, Muraaki Makarr. I known Muraaki since he was a young adult Codru-Ji looking for work at a Nal Hutta spaceport.?

Muraaki took Qryll?s hand and shook it firmly. ?Charmed, I?m sure,? he said, grinning friendily, albeit showing a pair of sharp fangs that spoke volumes about what would happen to anyone who thought to cross him.

?So who?s the Rodian?? Klyne asked.

?My name is Naato Katoorni. I?m working with Muraaki on this job,? the Rodian replied coolly.

?Who are ya workin? for? And why the sudden change of heart? I thought you worked alone, Muraaki.? Klyne asked with genuine interest.

?Gardulla the Hutt. Naato here is one of his bounty hunters. Gardulla sent him along with me. Can?t imagine why, though.?

?Perhaps it?s because on your last job, you decided to ?forget? that Gardulla wanted the target alive, let alone in pieces larger than your fist,? the Rodian retorted, narrowing his shiny black eyes.

Muraaki shrugged nonchalantly. ?It was an honest mistake, and I took a dock in pay for it. I don?t see why I have to be baby-sat.?

?Gardulla the Hutt? Is that old slimeball still alive?? Klyne laughed.

Muraaki smiled. ?Oh, yes, very. He?s pretty much chained to a hoverpod, now, though.?

?Who?s your target?? Klyne asked.

?Imperial Admiral Alex Gyara. Apparently, his Mutilator strike force took out a spice-smuggling station near Geonosis that Gardulla was running. Apparently, it?s the most convenient?i.e., lucrative?location for a checkpoint along the Corellian Run, with the planet being neutral and all, so now the old slug wants ?im dead.?

?An Imperial Admiral, eh? That could land you two--and Gardulla?s court--in big trouble if you get caught,? Klyne mused, stroking his chin.

Muraaki offered a sly grin up at Klyne. ?I never get caught.?

?Where did you say that station was?? Qryll asked.

?Right near Geonosis. Why?? Muraaki replied, frowning.

?Well, my ship just happened to be there a while ago, right when Gyara attacked. We were picking up a shipment of small arms and supplies for Republic troops on Kalee. A flight of TIE Interceptors came after us, we had a short firefight, but then we blew out a few power couplings in our shield generator, so we had to jump to hyperspace for here once Gyara?s Interdictor cruiser had shut off its gravity-well projectors to let them recharge.?

?I thought the New Republic was cutting back on its dependence on smuggling,? Muraaki said as he leaned back in his booth.

?That?s the official stance. However, as much as they try to sell themselves as a legitimate governmental organization, the truth is the Empire still holds a substantial amount of the galaxy. Republic convoys haven?t been very successful in getting through Imperial screens to the troops they?ve got embedded on Imperial planets. So they?re using smugglers, because we?re much less noticeable.?

?All right,? Muraaki nodded. ?But why would they be using a Hutt spice station??

?I?ll field that one,? Klyne interjected. ?I helped out as a moderator for this deal a while back. The Rebel Alliance bought part of the station from Gardulla to use as a shipping center.?

Muraaki looked quizically at Klyne. ?But why would Gardulla let them keep it, after what Leia whatserface did to Jabba the Hutt??

Klyne smiled. ?Organa. And I doubt he ever heard about it. Gardulla?s becoming old and senile, and last I heard, he?s fallen out of favor with the Hutt heirarchy, so none of them really associate with him anymore. I?m not so sure he would care even if he did know. He and Jabba were rivals in the worst way possible.?

Muraaki raised his eyebrows. ?So I?m at the beck-and-call of a senile old coot. Or at least his power-hungry lackeys. Wonderful.? He looked over at Naato. ?You?ve been awfully quiet. Don?t you have any objections about what we?ve been saying about your boss??

The Rodian, who now sat slumped dejectedly in his side of the booth, grumbled discontentedly. ?No, it?s pretty much all true. But he?s your boss, too.?

Muraaki smiled wryly. ?Only sometimes.?

Just then, a group of Imperial stormtroopers shuffled into the cantina. Two took up a position by the doorway and kept a wary watch on the patrons. The other nine accompanied the squad captain as he went to talk to the bartender, presumably seeking out information on some local ruffian.

Klyne snorted in disgust. ?Imperial troops.?

?Yeah, I hate these guys.? Then, without warning, Muraaki pulled out one of his blasters and shot the captain in the head.

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