The Cruel Void

18 years after the Battle of Yavin...
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The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Mon Jan 05, 2015 5:38 pm

[ZIOST - Before]

Reynald Woodford had, a few years back, left the service of one terrifying master to join the ranks of another organization that seemed, to his twisted sense of justice, just as wicked.

This suited him. As did his new title.

"Lord Woodford." Someone whispered behind him. He'd gone with the family name - the Woodford name was historically associated with sorcerers, seers, and diabolical deeds, the facts of which Woodford used to intimidate the already terrified Sith around him.

"Yes?" He asked. He did not turn. The other Sith rarely did. He did allow himself a grin, dangling the silver-crusted skull on a long thread. It spun, swung, each curve and arc informing him, the spirits of the anguished dead so strong in this place.

"There is a bit of a problem, M'lord. A Sith Lord was brought here, horrifically crippled. His injuries are severe, and he currently has been frozen in carbonite to prevent his permanent destruction. The Sith on Brevost, where these injuries occurred, requested that 'no expense be spared,' in saving his life but..."

Reynald turned his single eye to the man. The eyepatch he wore was running a real-time tally of the supplies in this place. "No expense to be spared" was something that people who had no such insight would say.

If you spared no expense to accomplish one goal, then others would fall by the wayside. Reynald understood this. He kept his back to the man.

"...but this Sith does not hold sway here. What is the name of this soon-to-be dead man?"

"Lord Trost." the lackey said.

Information arose on the eyepatch interior. Reynald stroked his black goatee.

"Vacuum exposure. Contact with reactor coolant, resulting in irradiation and extensive frostbite. Eyeballs burst. Lungs burned. Several blaster wounds. Most of the flesh of the arms and legs was destroyed, same for the face."

Reynald kept a running total. Saving Trost would cost him the lives of others. The Sith Empire may have had many evils, but running over-budget was not one of them.

"It says here he cauterized his own exploded eyeballs with his lightsaber. Now that's dedication to survival. Keep him frozen in carbonite in deep storage. Perhaps, if medical technology improves, or the budget increases, they can heal him in the future." Reynald said, reaching for his pipe.

A question hung. The page approached Reynald for his all-important signature.

"Who did this to him? Republic commandos? An accident? Jedi?" Reynald asked. He preferred to cover all of his bases before spending money.

"The message didn't say."

"Probably not important, then. Likely an accident." Reynald hung the stylus over the datapad, and turned one of his many rings a few times, listening to the spirits.

"No." He said, tasting the air with his pierced tongue. "Wait. The information was there. Now, it is gone." He flipped through the report, the details were... off. Automatic. What he'd expect from the report - and Reynald Woodford read all the reports, read all the End User License Agreements - if it had been about the mangling of a trooper, or a pilot. Not from the horrific near-fatality of a Sith Lord.

Reynald called up the name of the page by turning his baleful eye towards the lad as information poured out of the eyepatch. Son of a politician. Competent. Attentive to details. The sort of person Reynald could demote to duty on an ice world, but couldn't dip in boiling oil.

"Ileu Pilm, come with me. They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. The sword may kill a man, or a thousand men, but every sword is bought. Every ingot that crafts a sword passes through a man such as I. You and I consign the masses to life and death. We must be good at our jobs."

***

Set it all out before you. Take it in. Understand the situation.

Garrett heard his inner teacher try and guide him. The workbench held a smoking greego weed cigarra, a soldering iron, and a datastick, all in the center, all awaiting his touch.

"No, wait. Forgetting something." He said aloud. The lights were down and dingy. The Philosophile had gone a bit off since most of the crew had left him, after Brevost. Pissing off the Sith Empire and irradiating a state weren't really what they'd signed up for.

Some had stayed with. Venia, his uncomfortably petty AI, didn't have anywhere else to go.

He poured himself three shots of Wodka. Took one, cracked open the datastick case with his thumbs. Took another, soldered a new solid-state drive to the connector, took the third and snapped everything together before the joint had a chance to burn down.

Slapped the whole thing into a datapad and took a hit. Muddy smoke swam up to his brain and back out his lungs. Encrypted data started to flow.

"Someone wants to buy this thing." He said, looking at the stone cube he'd stolen from the Momentus. "If only someone knew what it was."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:06 pm

[ZIOST - closer to now]

Doctor Biccan flushed the tank again. Kolto, bacta, millions of credits of cybernetics.

In her year running the intensive reconstruction unit, Lord Woodford had yet to spend this kind of money, put forth these resources.

Yet, he had instructed her, and all the techs - no painkillers.

This, she suspected, had nothing to do with the cost of Lord Trost's reconstitution.

For months, she had assumed this was some insane punishment. Daily, Trost would try and scream, try and claw the breathing tubes from his throat as he drowned, over and over again, in the tank. The bones in his arms were now metal, the muscle was gone, so his panic and pain registered only as waves on the machine, thrashing of his weakened core.

Now, acolytes - not technicians, distinctly priestly types - were rolling huge slabs of stone into the room, strange esoteric daggers held on pedestals that caused her to flinch. Weird runes adorned every surface, and just as she took a breath to question them, a datapad and stylus hit her hand.

She did not need to turn to know that it would be Woodford. That everything would be signed in triplicate, her name authorizing this, her name authorizing that, his brutal authority never exercised unless that iron will came to bear on an awful problem.

Like Lord Trost, kicking and twitching in the tank, with a mouth that wished it could open, lungs that longed to push air, a throat that could not scream no matter how many lines went up and down on the monitors.

"Lord Trost, I must protest once again." Doctor Biccan said. "Lord Trost's thrashing and pain seriously interferes with his recovery, and as a medical professional."

"You are authorized to immobilize him." Woodford said, clicking to a second document with his thumb. The nail was painted black, swirls of deep red and silver accenting it. She tried hard not to imagine Dark Master Woodford amongst his skulls and occult tokens, painting his nails. She had seen this document, dull and monstrous, before. It would put her name on the record, saying that she believed, that it was her medical opinion, that a human being needed to be paralyzed and immobilized while untold pain and horror was inflicted upon him day by day.

Woodford could just sign it, she knew. Could order it with a stroke of his stylus, just as he'd forbidden the painkillers. That was not his way.

"Lord Trost suffers longer and longer the more you delay your intervention. Each twitch, each fruitless protest, only prolongs his pain."

"But, Lord Woodford. I can't. This man needs painkillers. He is in intense pain, every day, every second. We haven't even begun to graft the new tissues, the new artificial muscle, that...."

"Will result in untold pain." Woodford said, withdrawing the datapad. He drew out his pipe, carved from charred bone.

"You can't smoke in here." Biccan said. She took a deep breath as Woodford regarded the situation. A small blonde man had eyes open wide with terror behind Woodford.

"I could." Woodford said. "But that would be against the rules." He pointed at the small blonde man, then put the pipe away. "You. Pilm. Consult with Doctor Biccan. Make sure that the artifacts are as close to Lord Trost as can be managed without... interfering with her treatments."

The door closed. Outside, a match flared, and the tall, lanky figure strode off, supported by the skull-topped cane.

Trost's eyeless face turned side to side, shattered teeth in a grimace in the mouth wired shut. Blood in the bacta.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:29 pm

You've lost a lot.

Garrett tried hard to look at the woman, who had many faces, one after the other.

"Frell. I'm dreaming, aren't I?" He tried to fly.

You've lost so much.

He jumped, concentrated. Jumped, came back to the metal floor of the Philosophile. He pinched himself. It only hurt a little.

Show me what you've lost.

"Frell that." He said, walking easily through the door. "This is a dream. I don't have to put up with this shavvit." He walked into the room he'd left.

"Frack."

I need to know what you've lost.

Garrett looked at her, tried to take notice. She was many women he'd known before. Some he had not.

Some he had not?

What you've lost. The pain that remains when the pills and the liquor are still strong.

"Frack this. I'm waking up." Garrett willed it. Closed his eyes. Opened them to the same scene, only dark.

"Lights." He said, and they came on, washing the scene in the light blue tinge. Something about vitamin D that he'd had installed on a whim.

He'd been looking at the box.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:30 pm

Dr. Biccan wondered why she wouldn't do what Lord Woodford commanded. Watched Trost thrash and reopen his old wounds.

Woodford was right, in a way. The paralysis would speed along his recovery. Over time, he would suffer less.

But to be locked in his tortured flesh as he tried to regain his senses? Trapped in the bacta, constantly drowning? It was unimaginable cruelty that Woodford had inflicted upon him.

She wished she could assign malice to Woodford's caff-colored visage. She wanted there to be hatred behind that dead smile. Instead, just the datapads, the signatures, the cold cruelty.

The datapad was still there, of course, still freshly displaying the one field that required her signature. To freeze Lord Trost into a living tomb, trap him in his tortured muscles as the months of pain continued.

Shadows flowed across her floor, like figures glimpsed from the corner of the eye. Rising robes, not apparitions, just silent, waiting. There were four of them, bent, covered in black fabric. When the light crept past their hoods, Biccan could make out twisted glimpses of faces - but all wrong, gnarled beaks, the species impossible to determine, hair where it should not be, the glint of an eye, misplaced.

They disregarded her, each occupied a space that seemed to exist only in relation to one another. They were a compass point, each figure standing before a tall runic tablet, as tall as a man, every inch covered in symbols that seemed to shift and move under examination.

Biccan panicked. She had no idea how long she'd been watching, no idea how any of this had happened. Time was coming to her in bundles, spurts, they seemed out of order. Woodford was there, shielding her with his stupid cape, laughing.

The things were chanting. They were cutting malformed limbs with the weird daggers. Now the runes moved, then they were red, later blood was on them and the chanters were gone, but now they were back.

All through, she could hear Trost screaming. Scream without air, scream with burned lungs. Woodford was gone, Woodford was back. Acolytes came to clean up, to drag away the twitching things. Woodford explaining to her the cruel trials of Sith Alchemy, seemingly from nowhere, then back in front of her in the empty room, all the artifacts gone, the things gone, nothing but the blue light of the machines, Trost floating in his tube.

One moment kept coming back. Woodford laughing, holding a bloodied dagger forward. Trost screaming - Trost was always screaming - all four of the crippled figures screamed, all of it as loud as Trost, all four fell forward, Woodford laughing and laughing over the screams, walking calm over the writhing bodies.

She was screaming. She was in pain. A scream of pain she did not know she'd felt, a scream she could not recall the beginning of, a scream that she could not see ending.

It was not like Trost. The withered, painful figures, lanced with red light and black fire from the tablets - they did not scream like Trost. They screamed in pain. She screamed in pain.

Trost screamed in rage.

When things could order themselves again, when the arcane objects were removed, the datapad was still there.

She signed it.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Fri Jan 09, 2015 1:46 pm

Garrett stared at the tarnished mirror and did not like what looked back out. The lights behind him were dim. The door, open, to flashing and flickering bulbs behind him.

The Philosophile did not use new efficient lights. It used expensive bulbs, ostentatious displays of wealth that shed a brilliant copper shine, illuminating with the perfect amount of vitamin D, polarization that changed through the day to lull the circadian rhythms, some sort of expensive coating that negated ionizing radiation.

Garrett had been so proud of the lighting. The Moff he’d stolen the ship from had been, as well. But each bulb was more than a thousand credits and none of them lasted as long as they should. But the effect - when all of them were active - was to make the hallways like a summer day. In concert with the heating and cooling, the humidifiers, the air onboard the ship was always like the best of any conceivable season. Cold days were cold without biting. Hot days were nonexistent. The bright days of spring were blue and fresh, the golden days of fall were cool and crackling.

...back when it all had worked, anyhow. Over the months since Brevost, as the cover of the carnival had fallen apart, Cult of Shadow slicers had torn apart his finances.

They’d waited until he’d forgotten about them, and from what he could tell, they were now under the sway of someone called “Mogron,” who’d singlehandedly funneled away millions of credits, taking away the money Garrett had set aside for his comfortable existence and expensive depravities.

For days, he had feared what they might spend it on. But, after a while, he stopped caring. He stopped caring about the clogged air intakes, the darkening hallways. He slept too much, drank too much, felt the weight coming on around the middle, the hair growing wilder and wilder, his beard now a huge grey bush that went down past his neck.

Every day slicing, stealing, fingers at the lightboard, calling people for favors and passwords and fooling system admins. Lights around the ship failing, the cheap fuel causing the engine to run hot, coolant leaks marring the walls. His engineer quit, his maintenance crew quit. Nothing but droids, and a pilot.

Until his pilot left, unpaid for weeks. Now the ship drifted on autopilot, in orbit around Nar Shadda. Garrett kept drinking cheap booze, spurned the usual handfuls of pills and drugs. Drink and slice, sell a few secrets, drink and slice, steal a few account numbers. The ship got slower, his fingers got shakier.

Now he was in front of the dingy mirror. Empty bottles were all over, lending another layer of stench. Dust clung to the vents and flapped about in ribbons. He staggered away from the mirror, his face pale and drooping, black circles under his eyes. His normally shaved head had sprouted a disgusting matted grey sheet on top, his beard gone white. His clothes were too tight.
That day in front of the mirror he hadn’t even bothered to put on pants. He kicked over some bottles, sent them ringing to the floor. The cleaning droid had malfunctioned and he hadn’t replaced it.

Bottle of whiskey in one trembling hand and commlink in the other, he stumbled off down the hallway. Kept dialing at frequencies. Each time, nothing. Static. Old hackers and slicers now dead, or moved on. Burner numbers burned, kill switches on. He threw the commlink against a wall and it shattered into a few clean pieces.

“Circuits in the mess.” He announced to no one in particular. “Venia.” He said, voice cracking. She didn’t respond. He remembered turning off her listening and speaking circuits in a fit of drunken retribution when she’d tried to talk him out of his hole.

The fountain in front of the viewing windows no longer flowed. Stagnant water filled it, here and there he could make out floating or sunken beer bottles. Cigarra butts were all at the bottom by now, like dead and boneless fish.

Once, the huge view windows were open, giving his circus of hangers-on a beautiful view of the galaxy through their hauntingly transparent plane. Now, it was closed, the blast shields down, shutting out the glittering neon of Nar Shaddaa.

“Got to do… something.” He said, throwing the bottle against the blast shield. It shattered and joined the glistening, multicolor shards that had piled up there like a snowfall of gems hiding in the eaves of a house.

“First thing. Put on some pants. Then have a drink.” The inner voice told him. He realized that he didn’t want to do either and he went back to his bedroom, flopped onto the filthy sheets.

***

Hours passed in dark awareness, a drunken mixture of sleeping and waking. His cybernetic arm ached for reasons he did not understand, his shoulder where it joined his body felt hot, the pseduo-dream was that of the skin peeling off and back and gangrene underneath.

With a struggling cry, he awoke, sitting up, panting, fingers digging at his shoulder in alarm, finding nothing out of place. In the quiet he could hear the servos and actuators and artificial muscle. The arm was poorly maintained.

He had not been doing his job. He thrashed the hand out, sent another half-filled bottle of rum against the wall. Getting up hurt. His head was made of sand, his bones were heavy and his flesh was hollow.

Stagger to the cockpit. Stumble to the console. Sit in the seat. The cube was there, waiting, waiting for a buyer.

He still did not know what it was.

Instead, he would sell the ship.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Mon Jan 12, 2015 9:48 am

"Why a ship? Why now," Caitlyn asked as she scurried behind her sister. She looked around at all the broken down starships surrounding them and scrunched up her nose. "And why here," she added with a bit of disdain coloring her voice.

"I have money and I want to spend it," Isis Sinclair, once a bounty hunter now turned Senator of Corellia said as she strolled along a central lane that took her past one broken down ship after another.

Caitlyn had a feeling that couldn't be the whole story. If Isis had just wanted a ship they could have gone anywhere and even bought one brand new, but she took them here specifically and as they walked she barely gave any of the ships they passed a second glance. Just what was it exactly she was looking for? Not two days ago she had a strange meeting in her office with a man Caitlyn had never seen before. Then a day later she insisted on buying a starship but wouldn't explain why. Caitlyn found the whole thing incredibly suspicious so she tagged along despite her sister's protests.

"Are you ever going to give me a straight answer," Caitlyn asked.

Isis looked genuinely confused though Caitlyn learned never to believe that. Ever since becoming a Senator Isis had become increasingly good at hiding her true emotions. "Honestly, Sis, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Then she stopped suddenly as something caught her eye. Looking off down a side path on her left she caught the silhouette of the ship she had been looking for. Pausing momentarily to match the ship to the image on her datapad she drew her blaster and turned to her sister. "Stay here," was all she said, then she headed off towards the ship at a brisk walk.

"Like hell," Caitlyn answered, drawing the hilt of her lightsaber.

She followed after Isis who was already halfway to the ship by the time she caught up. "Okay, now are you going to tell me what's going on," Caitlyn demanded, "You're obviously not here to shop for a ship."

Isis sighed then stopped. "Alright, two days ago I received an anonymous tip someone was shopping around a dangerous Sith artifact looking for a buyer. I didn't get a name or a description but someone did take a holo of his ship. Now that ship is being sold and if the owner is the same man who was trying to sell the artifact...," she left the rest hanging in the air but Caitlyn understood her meaning. "Anyway, stay behind me. I already made an offer for the ship and if I show up with someone else I may spook him."

Caitlyn nodded and finally elected to stay behind as her sister made her approach. There was no one outside the ship as far as she could tell so while hiding her blaster in the folds of her clothing she got closer and called out to him. "Hey! Where's the owner of this rust bucket? I'm here to make a deal!"

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:18 pm

[Norg Dek's Used Ships]

A fat Ortolan came bursting out of the luxury yacht (A SoroSuub Personal Luxury Yacht 3000). Both had seen better days.

The Ortolan was wiping his greasy trunk across a slightly more greasy apron, and the yacht was dripping with grime and corrosion. None of it seemed to match.

The Ortolan scrunched up his flabby blue face and peered at the pair with round black eyes.

"What?!" He honked. "You come lookin' for a ship? Norg Dek at your service, smoothies. I can sell you this ship for halfa the asking price. Once, it belonged to a famous Imperial, Moff Greyson - assassinated by the foul Cult of Shadow during the Battle of Mon Calamari. They stole the ship then they have it stolen from THEM, by a circus of traveling thieves! Now it has come to the famous used starship yard of none other than Norg Dek, who is willing to let you have it for less than any sane asking price!"

***
[Anonycups Cyber Cafe]

Garrett was in Anonycups, the cybercafe that made seedy cybercafes the galaxy over seem like senatorial bathhouses.

Rows of computers were glowing as dim lights swung on bare wires. Slicers sat around drinking caff and a few were smoking cigarras. Garrett was doing both while pausing to take swigs from a small flask.

Norg Dek's credits were serving him well. It had been several weeks since he'd set foot on Nar Shaddaa, and most of that time had been spent covering his tracks and throwing Cult and Government slicers off his trail.

Most persistent had been the local Hutt in Charge, the Hutt who had come to power partially because Garrett and his compatriots had exploded his predecessor almost a decade ago.

The new Hutt, Golgornno, had twins in his brood sack and a hunger for more power that was quite disturbing. His right hand woman, Rhea Svaak, had been sending someone to the cafe daily. A big quarren, rough for a slicer, who would sit at the cafe, checking everyone out and remote linking to someone named "QWOOK33."

As far as Garrett could tell, QWOOK33 worked for Golgornno. He'd set up an automated process to run when he wasn't there, to try and desync his activities with his appearances in Anonycups.

But, despite the squalor, the cafe was something to behold. Old school reconfigurable OEMs, addresses that weren't logged, firmware built for anonymity. All of it was due to the ideology and security of the proprietor, a five-tentacled five-eyed Iyra named Izella Vine (though, Garrett assumed, that was not her real name) who generally sat in a floating pool off to the side and worked three stations at once. What she was doing, Garrett had no idea.

That was anathema to him, to see a complex slicing operation in play and be unable to examine it. But the weird Lyrian language was not one he could recognize, nor was it particularly amenable to rapid translation. He didn't have the resources to check it out, and since Izella controlled what little he had, he didn't dare burn her.

Not yet, anyway. There was the matter of pride, after all.

The little doorbell rang. The quarren was back. All Garrett knew about her was her holonet nym, "10TaFuneral." That, and she carried a hellacious blaster, hardly concealed.

He'd opened a chat with someone who was claiming to know QWOOK33. Was waiting.

Pop.

5i45PwnH@nds: Get out.

Garrett pulled his datastick, crashing the computer. The reboot would leave it blank. He stood, a bit of sweat running down his brow. His commlink - a burner he'd picked up, stolen, from a street vendor - began to buzz.

He opened it.

5i45PwnH@nds: QWOOK33 knows ur here.

Fingers did the little dance as he shoved his datapad and gear into the black rubber bag.

PHERBfarm: 10TaFuneral?

5i45PwnH@nds: Was going 2 send u this.

Attached, a screenshot - and Garrett knew, some trackers and frack-knows what else. Still, he opened it. One frozen image.

10TaFuneral LOOK UP I C U

Garrett walked out as cool as he could, watching the five eyes of Izella Vine on him, water dripping off each of those tentacles, as he hit the door. The little bell rang. A pair of rough rodians with knives was watching the door.

He walked slow, hand on the blaster in the bag. Nobody followed him as he came back to the shipping container he'd set up base in. He locked all the doors, turned on the camera and took a deep breath.

Golgornno wanted the cube. Garrett wanted to sell it to him, but if the Hutt found out who he was dealing with?

He'd probably mail all the pieces of Garrett to someone who'd appreciate the humor.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Mon Jan 12, 2015 11:15 pm

Isis frowned, not exactly the person she was hoping to see but not at all unexpected. She'd only just received word this ship was on the market and she wasn't sure how long it had been there before that. "Well, it's--certainly a piece of work," she said, looking up at the ship, "but I was hoping you could provide me some information."

"I don't do information," the Ortolan replied, "You want a ship we can make a deal. Ships I got in spades, information I ain't got none of."

"Oh, I'm sure you have what I'm looking for," Isis said, "I just want to know a little bit about the man who sold you this ship. I'm looking for particulars here, who he is, what he looks like, where he might have gone, that sort of thing. Though, I'll just settle for a name if that's all you've got."

Caitlyn crept up behind her older sister, her lightsaber hilt still in her hand but obscured by her body. Both women were dressed in plain clothes as to not reveal any possible information as to who they were. She was out of her element here. Isis was the expert at tracking people down and hunting them. Caitlyn was more like a blaster. The Order pointed her at an obvious enemy and she took care of it. Investigation and interrogation wasn't exactly her style.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue Jan 13, 2015 9:59 am

Norg Dek was rubbing the tip of his trunk against the middle in a slightly agitated manner.

"You want information. I want to sell a ship." He pointed his blue ears at a used firespray that appeared to be held together with mostly rust. "For ten thousand credits, maybe I got all kinds of information, maybe I got a little. Either way, you get this beauty of a ship!"

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Tue Jan 13, 2015 12:02 pm

"How about twenty thousand and you keep the ship," Isis replied.

Caitlyn gave her a look and Isis shrugged. "What? Neither of us can fly the thing," she said simply and then under her breath she added, "Even if the thing could fly."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue Jan 13, 2015 4:00 pm

Norg shrugged. "Twenty it is!" He'd been hoping to get the radioactive debris out of his scrapyard, but he knew when not to press the issue.

"I gotta say. You two are much more friendly than the last one that came in here looking for this frickin weirdo." He was walking them through the ship. Long stretches of the cooridors had been stripped out, stairs with railings were over haphazard bridges and makeshift scaffolding. They stopped, and right before either could ask Norg who this unfriendly customer had been, he pointed down.

Encased in plastic was the frozen, horrified figure, hand forever stuck reaching for the surface. Air bubbles were stuck above his head, a vibroblade was levitating nearby. Everything was clear, the last moment of the would-be-assassin stuck in the transparent dome.

"This guy the guy that come in here and try to threaten Norg Dek!" Norg said, both hands on his jovial belly. "I let him fall through the floor! Used to be a fountain in here! I fill it with this gel, I am making the death traps, see! I is gonna get rich making this place into a fortress for Hutt Golgornno!" He laughed and laughed, a tinny, high pitched squeal of a laugh, bubbly and maniacal.

"Maybe you know who I kill, maybe you don't. I doesn't keep much nothing for the records, who is there to ask for the records? Nobody ask me for records, and if they do, usually the people I tell on are not happy I has kept the records." Norg handed them a datastick.

"But this fellow is very strange, I am thinking. This fellow might be valuable to keep records on. So I record a little video. Take a little pictures. Write down a few things. Credits come from company, selling bulk chemicals. But company is fake. Money is real. Company fake. Is old criminal trick. But the company that gives fake company real money, they are real."

The files popped up on the refurbished screens. Company names, a circus, a doctor named Phinneas Herb. Military bases and insurance claims on Brevost.

Three weeks ago this had come to Norg. Before that, Moff Greyson. The middleman, a mystery, as Greyson had been dead since the Battle of Mon Calamari.

"You said there was a picture? Videos?" Isis asked. Caitlyn was frowning at the pictures of the skull and crossbones filling the boxes where they should be.

"I guess this guy is a slicer. If he is slicer, and has not gone far, he goes here." Norg said, highlighting a map.

"Where's here?"

"Is Anonycups Holo Cafe."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Sun Jan 18, 2015 2:08 pm

"Thanks," was all Isis said as she passed the ortolan a credit chit for twenty thousand with one hand. With her other hand she holstered her blaster while Norg was distracted.

The Ortolan checked the chit then nodded, "Pleasure doing business, yes?"

"Sure," Isis said with a shrug then she spun on her heel and headed back the way they came.

Caitlyn followed along behind her, her lightsaber once again hidden underneath her jacket. "Did that go as expected," she asked.

"We're not dead," Isis answered, "For that I think we should count ourselves lucky."

Isis hadn't considered the Ortolan setting booby traps. She wasn't sure exactly if they were in any real danger but she was certain Norg had some trick up his sleeve. It was pretty clear they were going to have to tread carefully on this planet.

The trip to Anonycups was short and uneventful and as they approached the door Isis pulled her sister to the side. "Before we go in there I need you to do something. Take your lightsaber out and put it on your belt."

"What? But you--," she started to say but Isis interrupted her.

"I know but I need you to cause a disturbance. I'm going to enter first, you're going to wait a minute and then approach the owner. Show her this picture and tell her your looking for this man."

She held up the datapad in her hands showing Caitlyn the picture of a man with his head angled down. Of all the pictures Norg had taken this one was the clearest but had no decent shot of his face. Whomever it was they were chasing knew just how to duck a camera.

Caitlyn took the datapad then looked at her sister. "What are you going to do?"

Isis shrugged, "You're going to rattle the cage, I'm going to see what falls out."

Then she turned and headed inside. Caitlyn waited a short while before entering herself. She stood by the door, her lightsaber plainly visible on her belt. She looked around until she saw someone who was clearly in charge then approached her.

"Excuse me," she said as she approached, "but I'm wondering if you could help me."

The woman turned around, noting the lightsaber at Caitlyn's waist before looking her in the eye. "Yes," she said expectantly.

"I'm looking for this man," Caitlyn said, holding up the datapad, "Have you seen him?"

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Mon Jan 19, 2015 9:51 pm

[Almost Now]

Lord Trost sat eyeless, the wires shoved crudely into his muscles electrified each fiber, an agonizing twitching that ran up and down every inch of his body. The droid programmed in one old routine after the next. Walk. Balance. Move a weight from left to right. Grip. Then, other darker patterns. Kick. Kneel. Headbutt. Swing the lightsaber. Grip a throat. Squeeze.

The chair he was on was like a cyborg throne, replete with wreathes of wire and tubing. Flesh colored sacks squeezed life into him, pumped away the toxic refuse. Eyeless, face ruined, unable to speak. Doctor Biccan had wanted to go ahead and install and advanced speech synthesizer, for human tones.

Reynald had laughed at her. Showed her the design for the thing that would force air through the ruined scraps of a windpipe. It was hideous and cruel, primitive in the extreme.

One of the women who had recently been attentive to Lord Trost came gliding across the floor. They all wore black - "Of course," Dr. Biccan thought - and their hooded faces hid scarred maps of lives she did not care to imagine. She raised an arm, and Biccan saw the ruined flesh when the sleeve fell away - to Trost's face, jagged nails drawing across his face, blood sliding down his cheek.

"Of the assassins we dispatched." She said, digging the nails, which she'd serrated, into his skin. "All have returned, fruitless in their search. Except one." She stared at the eyeless sockets, dragging the jagged shards across his cheeks, closer to the trench of scars that had been his eyes.

"Nar Shaddaa." She whispered.

She left, blood drizzling down Trost's face, the cuffs that held him in that chair straining as he spasmed with the electrical impulses that were rebuilding his shattered frame. He had control of the pace. To advance it now would be a terror.

Briccan swallowed hard as the gauges went up, the voltage increased, the graphs once again indicating a scream that could never escape.

***
[Even Closer]

Garrett slammed the door of the cargo container he was currently calling home. Anonycups had gotten complicated. The owner was helping him, the hutts were closing in, and he didn't know who to trust.

He wished he could get off the planet, but knew that for all his vices, Norg Dek would never sell him back that ship, and anything else he sold might be irradiated or unworthy to hit the hyperlanes.

He froze. The decor in the place was absolutely minimalist - a cot, a chair, a table, some scrap papers, but all of it had been trashed, cut to shreds. Someone looking for something.

"Where is the cube?" A voice asked behind him, feminine but with a razor-tipped tongue. The words came out slightly wrong, and as he turned, sickened by the hooded figure, he saw why. Her tongue had been shredded, pierced back together with a length of barbed wire.

He had it on him, of course. Couldn't hide it in the shipping cube. Her cataract eyes moved towards it, her body was a wreck, sores and disease, though he knew she couldn't be more than thirty.

The metal-tinged tongue licked cracked lips as she darted forward, a dagger in one hand.

She jammed it into Garrett's right bicep, the one of flesh and blood, pinning him to the desk with a scream. Blood flowed down his arm as he tried to bring his other hand to pull the dagger out.

"No." The assassin said, holding another jagged knife to his neck. "Your pain is just beginning. Tell me of the cube." She twisted the blade in his arm, he felt the tendons snap, the thick muscle rolled up like a sleeping bag, his breath left him.

"I don't know!" He screamed, pitching forward. The black bag swung down and the woman snatched it from his shoulder.

"I can sense it. It..." She winced, holding the bag. "...it hurts." Her hands trembled, the milky white eyes focused on the bag. Garrett could see some momentary struggle within her - had she been instructed to find out more, to never touch it?

Her hand went in, pulled out the cube. The designs remained still, the surface never moved. Even as long as he would recall the sight, he would swear that the cube had done nothing, had not changed. There was no glow, no arcane burst of energy.

But yet the scarred hand faulted. Shook. Trembled. The white eyes went wide, her back buckled, the other hand - missing two fingers, he realized - went to the cube. Trying to push it away. Trying to throw it away. But even as the scream started, her jaw locked, snapping off the studded tongue. Blood ran down her face, every sore and scab on her body opened wide, her robe instantly soaked in blood and puss.

Piercings clinked to the ground, blood flowing freely as her body bent backwards, bones cracking, breaking the skin.

Useless hands dropped the cube, it rattled across the floor, clean of blood despite the spectacle of gore it had been in the middle of.

It touched Garrett's foot. Blood was spattered all over him in a fine mist. Heart pounding, terrified to move his foot, but he still snatched it back.

The wet heap twitched, gnarled fingers stretching towards the cube still, gurgling.

Garrett looked at the cube, the shrieking hot pain in his arm fading to a dull roar. Throbbing, he drew the blade out, with a quick draw, and regarded the cube once again. It called to the pain in his arm. To the free-flowing blood.

Against every screaming fear in his brain, Garrett reached down and grabbed it.

Nothing happened. His chest heaved, breathing deep. No dark whispers came to him, no horrific affliction wracked him. Eyes flitted back and forth, and nothing.

The pool of blood spread.

A roar of heat and air came from the door, which split in two as Garrett finally drew his blaster. The DL-44 was heavy, shaking in his hands. A figure came through, swiping his hand to the left. A weird force swept across his wrists, slinging the blaster to the floor.

The figure that stepped through was not like the wraith that had just been exsanguinated before him. He was younger, more vital, nervous. He held a vibroblade, now humming, was held in unscarred hands. The hood, the look, reminded him of the shadowy figures that had sometimes been seen when he left Anonycups or Norg Dek's.

He looked at the dead woman, in horror, then extended his hand again. A sickening pressure built on Garrett's windpipe, and the terror gripped him. After everything he'd done, all the nightmares he had bested, this was it. Some punk Sith wannabe in a leather jacket.

There was a scream, and Garrett was thrilled it was not his own. The Sith, his hand going blue, the veins reaching up to his fingers turned black, rotted in an instant. Garrett could swear the cube was humming, singing even, a tone and tune that made him want to vomit.

Shivering, shaking, the Sith cradled the hand, eyeing Garrett with eyes suddenly bloodshot, trembling all over, snot and tears covering his face.

"What... why... what the frack?" The Sith asked.

Garrett was never one to explain his plans or go on a monologue, unless he was angling for a distraction. He picked up the blaster and disintegrated half the kid's head in a single shot, then followed it up with a second to be sure.

Mechanically, bleeding, he pulled a datapad, a communicator, a second detonator charge. He wired it to the cargo container and left. A few kilometers up and over, back towards Anonycups, he detonated it. Hoped it was enough to get rid of the evidence.

The cube was becoming more troublesome. He'd have to get it to that Hutt, regardless of the price.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue Jan 20, 2015 12:01 am

[NOW]

Garrett washed his face and took a look in the mirror. It had taken more shaving than he'd hoped to get rid of the beard he'd grown during this imposed exile, but with his hair cut and his beard gone, without the shorn bald dome of the previous decade, he looked more like a sad-sack software engineer than the legend of a man who'd saved the galaxy on no fewer than nine times, fewer if you were on of the things he'd saved it from.

The water washed the blood away. The cube sat on the dingy nightstand. He was in a shavvit-hole hotel half a block from the Anonycups cafe, and he was currently in possession of an artifact that had crippled a Sith assassin and brutally destroyed another.

He was afraid to touch it, but the thing had only saved his life so far. He remembered something that Morgana Okaya had said, long ago - the difficulty the force had in touching him. He half-formed a theory and threw it away, the mystic ways of Jedi and Sith and everyone in between were subjective enough to be useless to something so simple as a hypothesis.

"Maybe it eats the force." That was all he could come up with. He tucked it inside the black plastic pouch, as though that might conceal it's incredible power. He did not want to know more - these sort of mysteries always wound up being more dangerous than they were worth.

The woman he'd hired for an hour was already gone, she'd left her makeup - though that had cost more than half a dozen of her 'favors' on the menu. The makeup was all he'd bought from her, and as he worked his face into the face of someone else, he wondered why he didn't just grab the first shuttle off Nar Shaddaa and head for the Jedi.

Thinking back to the invisible grip on his throat, he knew why. For the first time since Belsavis, he felt like he was alive. Like he was doing something other than sitting in the dark, making machines change the worlds for him.

The makeup did enough. A new face, albiet temporary. His datapad buzzed him. 5i45PwnH@nds had something to say.

New eyes on you.

He sighed and checked his credit chit. There was a gun he wanted to buy.

***

Anonycups

Izella Vine slowly turned her tentacled bulk towards Caitlyn. Water dripped from all of it. Two of her eye stalks were on her, the other three stayed on the monitors. None of the tentacles seemed to move towards either sister. Data in the alien Lyrian language streamed across all five monitors. One eye looked at the other, and a translator module spoke.

"Never seen that face. But all you four-arms look alike."

She was battling with one of Golgornno's slicers, four of her five brain lobes hard at work. The remaining one was a bit slow, lazy. The eyestalk and tentacle it controlled regarded Caitlyn as though she might move like slime.

"I suppose I could run a face recognition." But of course, nothing happened. Everything on Nar Shaddaa was greased by credits, and Izella had a reputation to protect, plus her rabid interest in Garrett's skills, programs, and tech.

Meanwhile, the quarren eyed the sisters, one then the other. He caught a glimpse of the hazy photograph - enough of a match for a quick report. He went outside, made a call back to base, to Rhea Svaak.

Nothing much. Just a warning: Something's up.

He did not know that Norg Dek was watching him with the silent hover-drones that he'd sent to follow Isis and Caitlyn. The drones had spread out around Anonycups at this point, checking windows and flitting around the streets. Each was the size of a large dragonfly, levitating and carrying a rather elaborate sensors suite.

Norg wasn't going to let this new chunk of money enter his domain without some more credits coming his way. Golgornno's slicers be damned.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Tue Jan 20, 2015 1:43 am

In hindsight Isis should have known what to expect. A slicer goes to an anonymous cafe of course it's filled with holo terminals. She resisted the urge to grumble under her breath as she meandered her way through the pub trying her best to look inconspicuous. She had to admit she was a bit out of her element here. She was no slicer and had only a rudimentary knowledge of computers but she knew taverns only this wasn't exactly a tavern. Should she head to the bar first and order a drink? Or sit down at an empty computer? Figures, the one time Mai would have been useful and she isn't even here.

A short while later the door opened up and Caitlyn stepped inside doing exactly what Isis had told her to do. She looked around and found the owner then immediately made her approach. Isis kept one eye on her sister and the other on the tavern patrons. The owner, like many of the other people present, was currently absorbed in some sort of illicit act involving the holonet. As she spoke with Caitlyn about the man she was searching for Isis kept her eyes out for anyone seeming to take an interest.

"Senator," a voice said from behind her and Isis half turned to find a wiry, little Twi'lek looking at her. "I thought I recognized you. You're Isis Sinclair, the senator of Corellia, are you not?"

Isis cursed the holovids for what was probably the umpteenth time. Having her face plastered all over the news had been making her side job as a bounty hunter that much more difficult. "I'm afraid you're mistaken," she told him quickly then immediately tried to disengage from him.

The Twi'lek was persistent, however. "No, I never forget a face," he said, "One of my many skills. I have a picture perfect memory."

"Really," Isis said, "then do you recognize this man?"

She held up a small datapad displaying the same picture she had given Caitlyn. The Twi'lek looked at it and rubbed his chin in thought. "Yes, I do believe I have seen him," he said finally, "Been in and out of here at least once or twice. Why are you so interested? He a hubby of yours?"

"Hardly," Isis told him, "he's wanted for tax evasion, among other things. And," she added when she caught a bit of movement out of the corner of her eye, "I think I see him now."

A Quarren who had seemed a little bit too interested in Caitlyn's conversation with Izella suddenly got up from his chair and headed for the door. The Twi'lek turned to follow her gaze and as he searched the crowd for her mark Isis quickly capitalized on the opportunity to slip away. By the time the Twi'lek had turned to look back at her Isis was already halfway to the door. Outside on the street the Quarren had slipped away into a private little area to make a call. The conversation was already over by the time Isis found him but if he knew anything about the man in the photo she was determined to make him talk.

"Private conversation?" She spoke up from behind him, startling the man, "I hope I'm interrupting."

The Quarren reached for a weapon and Isis drew her blaster on him. "Nuh uh," she said, halting him in his tracks, "You and I are going to have a conversation about a man who has been spotted here recently. Someone I think you know. I like what I hear and I let you go. I don't like what I hear...," she stopped suddenly and gave him a devilish smile, "Well, I'll let you use your imagination."

**********

Meanwhile, inside the tavern Caitlyn was oblivious to what was happening in the streets. Izella basically gave her the brush off and Isis never told her what to do next. So she made something up. "This man is a fugitive from the law," she said, "and the Jedi Order is hunting him on behalf of the Republic. If you or anyone else in this establishment knows anything about him then you better tell me. Otherwise I can have you arrested for aiding and abetting," Caitlyn didn't even know if that was true or not but it sounded scary. She just hoped it was scary enough.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue Jan 20, 2015 2:50 pm

[NOW]

Izella made a noise that the translator interpreted as a sigh. To a native Lyrian, the nuance would have been there - a bemused sort of relief at the reception of bad news - like you'd give if a doctor told you he'd only have to amputate part of your hand.

"Jedi. Better than who's been looking, then." The screens flashed faces, but it was just a ruse. Something she could pretend to run when bounty hunters came knocking. Alien faces, human faces, they all scrolled through and at the end they never found a match.

She let it run. Something about the Jedi and the recent goings-on told her that, whoever PHERBfarm was, he had a shavvit-ton of heat on his heels, and it'd be better to let the Jedi catch him than Golgornno's thugs or some of the recent, disgusting assassins that had shown up.

The twi-lek who'd been watching Isis was turning from Isis to Caitlyn, back again. Beside his datapad he had a bag of nuts, which he'd been eating, but beside THAT he had a small pouch tied off, which he gently opened. Inside were two orbs, hoverdrones, each capable of little more than a few dozen meters of flight and a few quick pictures.

That was all he wanted. He called himself "Stack," though his even less dignified holonet handle was QWOOK33. Stack had a predilection for photography, a small frame, he mixed climbing skills with recklessness in a way that shorted the life but got him on the holozines and paid the rent.

He turned on his local network to activate the drones, and pursed his lips, a lekku twitched. His fingers hit the keyboards.

Izella reached a tentacle down into her desk, searching for something to make the nuisance go away. She produced a gleaming red casino token from the drawer. It was the sort that Garrett - and a great many other Anonycups patrons - paid with. A holograph of Golgornno the Hutt's face, done by an artist with an excellent eye for lies and staying alive, winked back at you when you turned the chip over, even though Hutts didn't, as a rule, wink.

"Pays with these." The voice synthesizer said. "Good as cred at Golgornno's place. Word on the street is that you can get credits from any source you want run through Golgornno's casino, if you're willing to let the Hutt take his cut."

Outside, Slash - the Quarren facing down an angry Isis, the same Slash that (of course) often worked with Stack, Slash generally being the muscle to Stack's smarts - was watching a blaster while listening to the implanted earpiece that hooked him up with Rhea's instructions.

"Look..." He said, hands still up. "I work for the big guy. Golgornno." He often used the name like a protective talisman, invoking it when he thought it might get him out of trouble, rather than into more of it. "...and we're supposed to back off this joker."

This was the truth. Rhea had called them off. The heat was too hot, the scarred figures had shown up all over town. They were supposed to retreat back to the casino and regroup.

***
And as the Sinclairs learned a thing or two about the complexity of the situation, another dangerous variable revealed itself.

Stack, working inside, found a droid control network when booting up his own. He didn't recognize it, it wasn't one of the stun-bomb bots that Izella had supposedly only deployed once, it wasn't one of the wifi floatspots that went around the neighborhood boosting the cafe signal when some traffic got in the way, and it wasn't anything he recognized. He copied the details over to Izella - aka 5i45PwnH@nds - who was keeping at least one eye on the monitor and two on the Jedi.

Still, he sent out his own drones, got the pictures he wanted silently. Sent them on to Rhea.

The other drones were outside, crawling and flying, like metallic dragonflies. One slithered into the cab of a garbage hauler, crawled over the restraining bolt of the droid pilot. There was a shock, something fused.

The huge hovering barge turned, began to pick up speed, holding a steel dumpster in front of it like a shield.

Tell your boys Stack and Slash they're gonna get some cover. Came the message to Rhea. Incoming distraction, GTFO was the message to Stack and Slash.

The garbage hauler came hurtling through the streets, angling toward Slash...

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Wed Jan 21, 2015 3:10 pm

"The Hutt," Isis asked in surprise, "What's his interest in..."

She stopped suddenly when she caught sight of a garbage hauler careening out of control heading straight for the Quarren. Isis may not have had much love for those who live outside the law but she wasn't exactly the type of person to sit idly by while someone was being targeted. Reacting more on instinct than out of any care for the Quarren Isis reached out and grabbed him and pulled him out of the way as the hauler went speeding past. She landed on top of him at the side of the alleyway as the garbage hauler sped off a short distance before crashing into a dumpster and coming to a halt.

"Stay here," Isis said as she climbed to her feet and hurried off after the hauler. She ran up to the large vehicle with her blaster covering the driver's side door. When she climbed up to look into the window she found the droid driver deactivated and no sign of anyone else was present.

"What the hell was that," Caitlyn called after her. She cut her conversation with Izella short when she heard the loud racket from outside.

"I'm not entirely sure," Isis said, fingering the droid's restraining bolt. There were some strange markings on it but she couldn't make out what they might have been. "Anyway," she said, hopping down from the vehicle and turning to her sister, "I think I've got a lead. He's over--," she started to point to where the Quarren was but stopped when she found no one there.

"Damn it," she cursed. Just what in the hell is going on here?

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Thu Jan 22, 2015 3:32 pm

"So you're telling me you only have about half the money you promised me." Rhea Svaak said.

Garrett -though he did not look the part - shrugged. "And I know that means I don't have the credits to get that bulk discount on the whole package."

Above them, the bright lights of Golgornno's Golden Palace blazed half a block into perpetual noon. Speeders and hovercars launched at the street level, all the glorious services provided by the entrails beneath the streets, where Rhea Svaak, Golgornno's right-hand-woman, was suddenly making a deal she'd hoped would net her three times the cash she was about to get.

"It's not my fault!" Garrett said. At the moment he was not Garrett, he had a name of convenience, "Mr. Foxx." "Your money-changers up top would only give me a 15% cut of what I brought to the table."

"The heat of your credit isn't my problem. They charge what they've gotta charge to get your money clean. Do we have a deal? Or do I test this on you?"

Rhea was a woman of harsh lines and severe wrinkles. She looked to be almost 60, but with a thin frame of taut wire and wrinkled leather. A scar ran across her neck and her short hair was shaggy.

She held a gun, white ceramic with blue electric lines.

"Scorpion Mark Five." Garrett said, taking it.

"Electrical impulse sets the skin of the shaped charge. Bullet's a sticky gel of plastic explosives. Whatever's exposed to air hardens in the second after impact, creating a shaped charge, angled towards the surface it's stuck to. Then the internal fuse... boom." Rhea was an arms dealer, for Golgornno, and loved that part of her job more than most of the others.

She spread her hands, miming a cone-shaped explosion as Garrett fired a single shot at the target twenty meters away. The blue pellet hit the wall beside it, glowing for one second.

It detonated, taking out a chunk of the wall with a dull roar. The dummy shook, but the targeting sensors registered it as a non-lethal hit.

"And if I want to take out something that's not a wall?" Garrett asked.

"There's a fire selector on the butt, near where you load the clip." Garrett ejected the clip, looked at the three fat blue marbles remaining inside. He slid it back home and toggled the tiny switch.

"Turns off the air-hardening activation. Just a sticky explosive gel at that point. Whatever it's stuck to acts as the shape-plate, projecting the force outward."

Garrett fired. The round hit the wall near the target, glowed for a second. There was another roar.

Shreds of the target dummy came down.

"Worth every penny. Since you've already given so much to my boss, I won't feed you to the garbage disposal for wasting my time." Rhea stalked off slowly, closing the elaborate case with a motion of her hand.

Garrett sighed, wishing he could have afforded the camo-skin stealthsuit, or the personal shielding unit, or any of the other numerous goodies he'd hoped to purchase to make his life longer - or at least, more exciting.

"I don't normally ask, but... what are you going to do with it, first?"

"There's a place about a block away that sells slices of 'artisan toast' for eighteen credits a slice. I'm going to burn it down." Garrett said.

"I understand. Privacy is important in our business, Mr. Foxx. But there's no need for flippancy."

"I'm not kidding." Garrett said, closing up the ammunition case. "Eighteen fracking credits."

***

"What the frell is going on?" Stack asked Slash. Stack had jumped up on a low roof, and was extending a hand down to Slash to pull him up. In the wreck, the two had split.

"Gorramn drones flying around." He said. A metallic fly zipped past, video cameras rolling. "Think it's Golgornno?"

"Rhea tends to be a little more hands-on." Slash said. "I'm sure those two are after us, anyway."

Stack ran and took a flying leap to an antenna hanging from the bottom of the upper level. He scrambled up as Slash waited, looking around. He sent a message to Rhea. It was simple.

"What the frell is going on?" He sent her pictures of Isis and Caitlyn, the garbage hauler, everything.

Slash may have been the muscle of the Slash/Stack duo, but he was no fool. "Keep an eye on the cafe. Let Stack lure out the slicer. Beat him up and take his shavvit."

As far as Slash was concerned, every subtle detail of a plan was nothing more than the opportunity for a complication.

"I was just doing some business." Rhea said in his ear. "Upload me everything you've got so far."

Slash sighed. The rings and wires hanging from his tentacles weren't for show, they served to record everything he saw, a trait that Rhea and Golgornno found incredibly handy. He wasn't sure he could turn them off, and part of him suspected that Rhea's request was moot, that she got some feed of what he was seeing anyway.

A year ago, he'd pressed the question. As an answer, she'd cut off one of his tentacles.

He was reminded of what she'd replaced it with when Stack lowered a metal cable down from the upper level. He grabbed it and hauled himself up efficiently. Stack could go plenty of places Slash could not, but this time, they both needed to be up five levels and a mile away.

When he got there, a cowled assassin was holding a dagger to Stack's throat.

"Hands on your head, scum." He said. Another robed figure was at his side, kneeling, a blaster pointed at him. Stack was bleeding from the nose, bruised a bit. He had his eyes tightly closed.

"We don't need this one. Shoot him and we'll interrogate the kid." The assassin said.

"Slash." Stack said.

"Yeah?"

"Don't get it all over me, okay?"

"Whatever."

During the exchange, Slash tapped his tongue twice on a precise point on the roof of his mouth.

Quarren had excellent control over their facial tentacles. To point, or pick something up, or hold light objects was just as easy as it was for a human to use their fingers.

The metallic cord that ran down the middle of his chin, the replacement part Rhea had installed, unfurled a bit at the tip as a powerful magnet disengaged. Two tiny silver thread dangled invisibly, waiting.

Slash gave the tentacle prosthesis a quick snap. Monomolecular filament wires snaked out in two directions, the fat weights on the ends the only visible indicator that anything had happened.

Each assassin felt something touch their wrists, the weight slapping down, a tap.

Slash yanked his head back as though he were laughing at a hilarious joke. His jaw was clenched.

Both hands fell to the ground, one with a knife, the other with a blaster.

Blood in jets.

The wire was cut, automatically, the tiny machine inside reloading itself from the cables it had been constructed of.

Slash didn't need it for what happened next. Two more of his tentacles untucked from beneath his chin, each holding a small, but powerful, single-shot blaster plucked from the "decorative" band of leather and metal around his neck. At that range, he could not - and did not - miss.

"Who were those guys?" He asked. Stack had gotten some blood on him afterall, but was dutifully looting the corpses for any hints.

Nothing, though. Rhea was all silence in their ears.

"I think they're Sith. Sith Empire Sith." Stack said.

"Well shavvit. We better get back in a hurry."

Ahead of them, an upscale bakery exploded into flames, all the evacuated patrons and employees screaming in the streets.

"Just what in the hell is going on here?" They asked each other as Rhea asked them.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Mon Feb 02, 2015 3:02 pm

It was quite some time later when Isis and Caitlyn found themselves standing outside of the ruined bakery. By now most of the crowd had dispersed and those that meandered by paid the ruin little heed as thought it had always been that way. Security officers were sifting through the debris now searching for clues or bodies, whichever happened to be the case. "Well, you really found yourself in it this time," a voice said from behind them and both Isis and her sister turned to see their brother, Adrian Sinclair, a spymaster for the New Republic. "I had to pull a lot of strings to get here on such short notice," he finished.

"Just put it on my tab," Isis joked dismissively.

"Afraid this one's not going to be easy to explain, Sis. I had to hold up three transports to get here as early as I did. The NRI doesn't much like it when their operatives use up so many resources for 'personal reasons.' There better be something here worth investigating."

Isis sighed heavily. "Adrian, I wouldn't have called you in if I wasn't in over my head and you know I mean it when I say that."

That was true, Isis typically found it impossible to ask others for help even when she needed it, but becoming a Senator had changed her over time. She was hardly the same woman now that she was two years ago fighting the Cult of Shadow. "There's a very powerful Sith artifact here and apparently it's worth killing for, or blowing up a building for, take your pick. Either way, somebody really wants to get their hands on it."

Adrian considered that a moment then held up his hands. "Not sure there's much I can do, Sis, Nar Shaddaa is in Hutt space. The Republic doesn't have jurisdiction out here. We shouldn't even be here as it is."

Right at that moment a young woman walked up to them carrying a datapad. "Crime scene's a bust," Agent Jennie Hawker said as she approached them, "If we had gotten here sooner we could have talked to the witnesses, but as it is...," she left the rest hanging in the air.

"Did you find the source of the explosion," Adrian asked and Jennie nodded.

"The bomb was professionally crafted. Most of the damage seems restricted to the bakery itself. I found some left over chemical residue at the blast site but if you want to know what it is i'll have to send it back to the lab for analysis."

Adrian shrugged, "Well, there you have it. We've done just about as much as we can."

"You're going to have to do better, Adrian," Isis said, her arms crossed dangerously over her chest.

Adrian just sighed. "I knew you were going to say that, Sis, which is why I called in a favor from a friend. She has an in with the Hutts but you're not going to like who it is. She's agreed to meet with you at Golgornno's palace and, Isis, promise me you won't shoot her."

Then he turned and walked away with Agent Hawker hot on his heels. As she watched him leave Isis had a sinking feeling in her gut. Whomever it was Adrian had asked to meet her was obviously someone she knew, someone she clearly didn't like, but who? An in with the Hutts? Was it Mai? Mai never mentioned anything about having connections to the Hutt Cartel. Either way, they weren't going to get much information standing around here. "Come on, Kitten," she said finally and then she raised her arm to wave down a cab...

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue Feb 03, 2015 10:35 pm

Slash and Stack watched the cab depart from a safe distance, a balcony to a condemned apartment that hadn't been put to any good use in a decade. In a few months, it was slated to be torn down, turned into another mixed-use development for Golgornno's expanding core enterprise.

"Rhea's not answering." Slash said. Stack didn't like that reply. He operated under the impression that Rhea always knew where they were and what they were doing - the idea that at a time like this, she might not care - that disturbed him.

"She'll get with us when she needs to." He said, readjusting his shoes. They were light things that could flex and grip, with impact-stiffening polymer frames. The flexibility to grab a door handle with your toes, the hard striking surface to kick down the door if the handle didn't work.

Slash reloaded his single-shot blasters, carefully tended to the weapons attached to his tentacles. He cocked his head, back and forth, the single-color Quarren eyes shifting not at all. He stalked to one corner, snatched something off the railing.

It looked like a large flying insect, but one glance told him it was metal and plastic.

"The hell's this, Stack?" He asked, extending the little drone.

Stack took out his datapad, the tiny scanner, frowned. "Go to the Casino." He said. "I'm gonna make sure this thing's not a... bug."

Slash frowned. Hated puns. Left.

***
Golgornno the Hutt looked a lot like the huge, pulsing pouch on his back. Inside were twins, making him a bit of a rarity in the Hutt world, where a single Huttling was the rule, and something that took forever to grow.

Still, the massive pile of flesh was doing his best to eat for three Hutts, surrounded by the grotesque bones of a charred menagerie and a crushed forest worth of fruit. Pickled vegetables were gone from their brine, empty jars and bottles all around, and the swirl of servants and cooks was a mix of choreography and culinary art, swirling in the light and smoke surrounding the towering slab that was his throne.

This was deep in Golgornno's Golden Gorge, the casino slash criminal lair that had recently expanded from a single towering arcology to an entire Nar Shaddan block, gilding the streets with lights and tourist traps, and the pockets of every lowbrow crooked politician with credits.

Beneath the block stretched a veritable warren of traps, testing grounds, and illicit supply tunnels. Golgornno did not subscribe to the more modern Hutt idea of "going legit." His most honest venture was the casino, and at the moment, very little happened on this half of Nar Shaddaa that did not get a pass from him - or someone who worked for him.

Someone like Rhea Svaak.

She came in through a previously unseen aisle, lit as she walked it. The dance of servers and cooks and chefs adjusted imperceptibly, eyes cast downward, away from both figures. Still, food moved up the platform, one large, long-necked bird dimly becoming aware of the danger as the huge metal dome was pulled from the platter of greens and fruit it had been nesting in.

"Well?" Golgornno asked, snatching the bird by the neck. It squawked, struggled briefly, and then the Hutt had the top half in his cavernous maw, bones crunching, feet twitching. "What blew up, and why?" He crushed the last few bones and slurped the twitching feet down.

Wall-mounted misters came on, spraying down the Hutt with a musky water, moisturizing his corpulent girth.

"One of the tourist lures." Rhea said. "It was insured. No one was killed, or injured."

"Do I look like I give a shavvit?!" Golgornno blurted, snatching a steaming jug of strange bubbling blue wine from a cowering servant. He held it up and drained it in a single pull. "Who's after us? Was this somebody moving on my gorramn turf?"

"I believe it was over the eighteen credit per slice toast." Rhea said.

Golgornno scowled. "Then why the frell are you here?"

Rhea nodded, held up a hovering holodrone. "Some of these holos come from your operatives. Others, from an enterprising little Ortolan named Norg Dek. The one refitting the new yacht."

Golgornno smiled. It was a smile that seemed far more malicious than his anger. Rhea usually only saw it when someone was about to die, or have a death sentence suggested.

She let loose a slight breath of relief. Golgornno was eying the footage, not her.

"The whole gorramn Sinclair family." He laughed, shoveling handfuls of pickled fruit in as he did, the sour mash dribbling down his expansive gut. "Tell Norg Dek to get MY yacht finished. Keep an eye on the Sinclair family. Do not be quiet about it."

Rhea looked apprehensive.

"A friendly eye. But one they know to be watching" He said, the gleam in his big eyes obvious. "They have contacts here, which we will sort out. Everything will be nice and orderly, information for credits, criminals with senators, thugs with spymasters."

"Sir!" Rhea protested. "I think the..."

"The building? A distraction. The Sinclair family? That is important. But I have sources other than you, Rhea Svaak. The Sith Empire is here. They want this trinket that you have arranged to buy for me. Whoever has it now? They will kill them. If I have it? Then they will pay. They will pay, and pay, and pay."

"I'll get my best men on it immediately. Around the clock protection on the seller."

"Once you find him." Golgornno said with a growl. "Again. We can't let the Sith take that, not before I have it. Me, Golgornno the hutt? They will know to pay me. That fool who has it now? Once we have him, we take him, to sweeten their deal."

Rhea made a quick and courteous bow before heading away.

"Don't worry!" Golgornno called over the din of the cooking that was beginning anew. "My weight grinds slow and fine. The players now all know the rules. The wheels turn as we have all agreed. There is no disaster on this planet that can throw this plan into chaos."

***

Downstairs, Garrett Granth was raking in a huge pile of chips from a hand of pure sabacc. He ordered another drink, and for the first time in months he felt great. The cube was disguised as a cheap computer, sitting safely in one of Golgornno's safe deposit boxes. The place with the eighteen credit toast was, well, toast, and another table was welcoming the oncoming man with an arm full of chips.

"Drinks!" He proclaimed. This was his usual way to make temporary friends.

"Mr...?" The dealer asked. He was a tall four-armed kiughfid with hands already in action.

"Dynex." Garrett said. It was his name for the evening. The escort's makeup and the recent shaves had left him unrecognizable. A new suit, an affected habit of standing up straight, and a fake limp had completed the illusion. The sunglasses and cheap hat left him looking like half the humans at the sabacc table.

"I'm feeling lucky." He said, throwing chips on the table. "Hit me."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Tue Feb 10, 2015 8:43 pm

A lone figure dressed from head to toe in personal body armor kept a close eye on Golgornna the Hutt from a reasonable distance. A woman from seemingly out of nowhere approached him and though the apparent bounty hunter couldn't hear what they were saying sensitive electronics in the visor of his helmet translated their speech by analyzing the movement of their lips, primarily Golgornno's as the woman was currently facing the other way. Turning from the scene the bounty hunter headed towards the entrance. On the way he passed a rather loud man ordering a new round of drinks. He turned to look at the man, the electronics in his visor automatically running a facial recognition scan against public records available on the holonet. When nothing came up he stopped.

"0 Matches," the words flashed brightly across his screen.

His curiosity piqued he edged closer to the stranger. Coming close enough just in time to hear him refer to himself as Mr. Dynex. This time a quick search turned up thousands of possibilities but none matched the man in question in terms of features. Obviously, the name was a cover which considering the location they were in was not that strange, but knowing that Golgornno was on the verge of making a deal meant that any inconsistency needed to be looked at. Stepping behind the man he caused a brief distraction by tripping a server. The loud commotion caused everyone seated to stand and move away and at that time the bounty hunter briefly brushed against Mr. Dynex and fished his hand into the man's pocket, pulling out a small datapad.

"Excuse me," a heavily filtered masculine voice said from behind the helmet then he turned and continued on his way as though nothing had happened.

Once he was out of immediate eyesight he flipped on the datapad and tried to access it only to be denied. Encrypted, of course, he thought before tucking it away inside his duster. He would have to spend time with it later to try and decrypt it.

Some time later Isis and her sister climbed out of a hover cab in front of Golgornno's palace. Caitlyn stared up at the massive building in awe but Isis was not impressed. Once you've seen on Hutt palace you've pretty much seen them all. She gave her sister a gentle nudge, urging her towards the door. Caitlyn suddenly realized she was staring and quickly started forward. They were about halfway to the door when someone grabbed them both by the shirt sleeves and pulled them aside. Isis' reaction was almost instantaneous, she reached for her blaster and had it halfway drawn before her attacker twisted her arm and pinned her against a wall.

"No need for that, Princess," a gruff male voice said, "I'm only here to help you out."

He must've been Adrian's contact whom she wasn't supposed to like meeting but she couldn't recognize the voice. "Who are you?"

"First you might want to put that away," he said, letting go of her. Isis did as he directed then turned to look at him. Whoever he was he was clad in body armor from head to toe with a long, flowing duster swirling about his feet.

"Alright, I did as you asked now who are you?"

There was a moment of hesitation then the man removed his helmet. Almost immediately Isis felt a surge of rage and she started fumbling with her blaster again. "Oh no! No, no, no, no," she kept muttering, "I'm not working with you!"

"Doesn't really seem like you have very many options," Kara Thrace, smuggler extraordinaire, replied, "Besides, you're lucky I was here. Seems Golgornno's developed an unhealthy obsession with you... Well, you and your family. You know, since they're all here."

"How did he...," Isis started but Kara interrupted her.

"Golgornno has eyes everywhere, Princess," she answered.

Isis' hands balled into fists. "You don't get to call me that," she said, bristling at Kara's use of her old nickname from Beruss Military Academy, "Not after everything you've done."

"Hey, look. I don't hold a grudge against you for chasing me around all these years and it's not like anything I did was really all that bad...,"

"Are you joking right now," Isis asked, leveling her with a cold stare.

Kara just shrugged, "We could stand here splitting hairs all day if you want but word has it you're looking for a Sith artifact and I think I have a lead."

She fished out the datapad from her duster. "Picked this up off some bloke inside the casino. He was using an assumed name, plus this thing has some heavy encryption on it. Why don't you go ahead and get that back to your brother while Precious and I scope out the casino?"

Isis felt her body shaking with rage. She didn't like working with this woman let alone leaving her sister behind in such a dangerous place. "Caitlyn, is staying with me."

"Isn't your sister a Jedi," Kara asked, "I could really use her help here and besides, I hear she can take care of herself."

Caitlyn stayed silent the whole time she was watching and she couldn't help but agree with this strange woman. She kept her mouth shut, though, because Isis was on the verge of exploding and she knew it. "Fine," Isis said finally, throwing her arms up in the air, "Give me the blasted thing!"

Kara handed over the datapad then gently grabbed young Caitlyn by the shoulders and directed her towards the door to Golgornno's palace.

"I swear, Kara, if she gets hurt...," Isis called after her.

"She'll be fine," Kara called back with a dismissive wave of her hand, "but on the off chance that I'm wrong I promise that I will get very choked up!"

Then they were gone, lost amongst the crowd heading into the casino while Isis stood there on the street swearing and stamping her feet. I hate that woman, she thought angrily to herself...

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:36 pm

Garrett sat back down right as a cute twilek server approached. "Mr. Dynex?" She asked, putting a shot onto the sabacc table. Garrett looked to her with slightly unfocused eyes.

"Yes?" He asked, indicating another card as he looked to her.

The pit boss a few feet away was eying the man who'd just tripped the server bringing the drinks. Whispered something into his cufflink. The crowd in the casino subtly adjusted. Not everyone in garish dress and striped tracksuits was there for gambling. Some were working for Golgornno.

The Hutt was bound to want a cut of any independent action.

"You've been invited to a high stakes table. VIP section." She said, sliding the holographically embossed card over to him. Garrett slipped two of his cards into the lock slot, fixing the values, and threw some more chips into the center.

The other players folded. Garrett raked the credits in. The dealer nodded, a droid rolled over to take the chips to the substantial pile Garrett had already accumulated.

"Let's go." He said, following her.

***
The line to the VIP section was engineered to a specific length. You had to wait - the concept of 'not waiting' was moot if there were no people who DID have to wait. Originally, Golgornno had hired actors to pretend to be in line, but the more savvy VIPs had either learned of the fact, or discerned it, rendering the effect moot.

The tiered system had also been a disaster, after a snubbed VIP, assuming himself to be far more VI than he was, saw a CEO cut in front of him. The aggrieved man had hired a mercenary team of slicers to project a huge pornographic spoof of Golgornno into the front screens.

So now there was a line. It was always short and no one ever cut, lest they be thrown out. If they were important enough, they were thrown out the front door. If they weren't important, they might well be thrown out the fifteen floor window.

The psychological effect was well calibrated. Just as Garrett had gotten angry about waiting in line, a droid had rolled up with drinks. Just as he'd finished his drink, the velvet rope had been parted.

"No datapads or commlinks allowed." The gammorean who said it had impeccable (for a tusked and snouted being) basic pronunciation. Garrett patted down his pockets.

"Shavvit." He said. "Can I make a call?"

The gammorean indicated a nook. Huge cups in the ceiling indicated acoustic dampening systems - in reality, a way for Golgornna to overhear everything - and underneath each one stood a beleaguered businessman of indeterminate occupation, chattering on a commlink, attempting to accomplish just one more thing before going into the VIP tournament.

Garrett thumbed through the meager list of contacts he'd made on Nar Shaddaa. He sent a quick text message to Izella Vine, owner of the Anonycups cafe.

Though, he only knew her as "5i45PwnH@nds." Five eyes, five pwning hands.

PHERBfarm: Someone stole my datapad. It's valuable. Sending over the key to the vault so you can track it. Golgornno's got me now. Probably very bad. Will pay big credits if alive.

The datapad was dangerous for two reasons. One, it had the code to the safety deposit box holding the cube. Two, it was the only thing in the galaxy (other than Garrett) that knew the cube was hiding in that box. Three, it was the last remaining link between his current zero-history existence and the name Phinneas Herb, a pseudonym that a handful of very clever people in the galaxy had begun to associate with Garrett G. Granth.

He punched a code into the commlink, which erased itself and died forever. He handed the husk to the bouncer, who opened the door.

The light and sound was blinding, overwhelming. Flashing signs, beautiful women, serious men, angry women, aliens of all species, credit chits and casino chips and stacks of valuables.

"Mr. Dynex, welcome to the big leagues." The new - much classier dressed - bouncer said, presenting a silver tray with a holocard and a drink. "You're a bit underdressed. Here's a card giving you access to your VIP suite. We've taken the liberty of taking your measurements. Upstairs you'll find a new suit that fits with our classically-themed dress code."

"A suit?" Garrett asked, raising an eyebrow above the rim of the sunglasses. No one would expect THAT.

He handed the bouncer a 100 credit chip and went upstairs to change. The big game was about to begin, and the fear that he was forgetting something vanished quickly after a bump of spice from one of the smiling attendants.

***

For Stack and Slash, things were hardly as glitzy. Slash was watching the Sinclair sisters via a rather large pair of electrobinoculars from atop a building that housed an "artisan datapad" boutique. Big time off-world money came into the place every day, and Rhea had arranged for the security system to let people like Stack and Slash come through no matter the time.

Stack was fiddling with a machine that looked like a slab of antennas attached to a commlink. "Keep it on them!" He kept hissing at Slash, as numbers scrolled across the tiny screen.

"I am." Slash said. "Who's that they're meeting?"

"Must be somebody with some weight. Rhea just pulled off the brute squad. They were about to haul him into the basement tunnels for a little bare-knuckled pipe-smashing, Q and A."

"Looks like he... uh... she, might not be the easiest target for a good grab-n-smash." Slash said. "What'd they want her for?"

"Pickpocketing off some rando. Golg doesn't like it when the crime in the Golden Gorge isn't his own." Stack said.

"Duster. Body armor. Is she tryin' to look like a bounty hunter?"

"Some people do. Scares the target into doin' somethin' stupid." Stack said. "Alright, hold steady."

He pushed a button. There was a beep.

"What was that?" Slash asked.

"We got their commlink frequencies tagged. If they make any calls, we'll know."

"Can we listen in?"

"No, but this way we can help keep an eye on them. Getting a bug in there is the next step."

***
Izella let her tentacles do the talking as she queued up the communications with PHERBfarm. She ran a data miner through it, squirreling out a few patterns. Whoever it was, was a fan of the infamous con man Phinneas Herb.

But then again, half the slicers on the holonet were.

She let it keep digging. Called up Norg Dek. Slithered a bit in her briny bath. The cafe was empty save for a pair of dim looking human women managing pornographic feeds.

Five eyes. Five tentacles. One set on Norg. Another on PHERB, one on Anonycups, one on the pair of humans. The fifth eye remained at some sort of dull alert, and it caught the discrepancy, alerting the two nearest brains. PHERB popped off the radar.

The girls were in their chairs.

Now the girls were at her desk.

"Where is he?" One asked. The other brains focused. The one nearest held a datapad forward. The one furthest held a wicked long dagger. She was on top of the counter now.

The picture was of a man she had not quite seen. To her, all humans looked alike, but this one?

"Phinneas Herb." The woman hissed. "Put your fracking tentacles up where I can see them, or I start slicing them off, one by one."

No insult is more horrific, no threat more focusing, than removing the tentacle of a Lyrian. Four tentacled Lyrians inevitably remove one of their eyes to compensate, and become forever unable to hold status on their homeworld. Even off-world, a four tentacled specimen is driven to function poorly, the five brains struggling to maintain four eyes and arms.

The tentacles went up. To the chlorine gas dispersal system above her desk.

Gas came out, the concentrated results of a small chemical system that had been purifying her water for years. The space under her chair opened up, a blast of pressure and water sucked her down, flushed her into the tubes of water running through the block. Her aquatic form adapting quickly, swimming away as the flesh peeled from the skins of the attackers, who, even in the green haze, continued to pry at the solid porthole.

Electricity arced through the computers, fried every hard drive as surely as a microwave oven would have. The two assassins stumbled, fell towards the floor. One of them knelt, skin peeling from her face, hands on her knees as the other drowned in her own blood.

She knew she had to survive. Not to breathe. The Sith had taught her that much. The Sisterhood had taught her the rest. The pain, this pain, as her skin burned? It was nothing compared to failure.

Her mind and body slowed as the gas continued to pump in. Blood in her eyes blinded her, the gas did the rest. Septum ate away, lips peeled back, skeletal face exposed.

Pain. The Sisterhood survived on it. Grew on it. Mastered it. Even the lowly men who were fodder could withstand the pain of fire and acid. They were here for a reason. The destiny the Sisterhood had forever chased.

The Pain Cube. The Tesseract of Sorrow. The Waja-Rhomb. The Cruel Void. It had many names, and a horrific function.

It would be theirs once again.

The door opened.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Fri Mar 06, 2015 12:10 am

Maybe it was the stack of credits getting taller after each hand. Maybe it was just the rush of winning, or the arm candy at each elbow. Maybe it was the complimentary drinks that kept arriving unbidden. Maybe it was the exquisite blend of uppers and spice that the high priced escorts kept handing him.

Maybe it was the nice suit.

Whatever the case, Garrett was glad to be back in Hutt territory, and for the first time since Belsavis, he was happy.

Sure, some philosophers might argue that his happiness was cheap, inauthentic. But they weren't enjoying themselves as much as Garrett G. Granth was at that sabaac table on Nar Shaddaa.

The credits piled, the night waned, though the lights in the casino never told the time. The place was a trap in many ways, most of them invisible.

Finally, Garrett stood. It might have been hours, it might have been days, but the crash that was coming was born of days awake, surges of adrenaline and drugs replacing far too much of his bloodstream.

He threw chips to the escorts, to the dealers. To the bartenders and cocktail waitresses and staff. Then he took his brand new credit chit upstairs and crashed onto the bed.

Time passed, though he did not know it.

When he awoke, a red light was flashing, a siren was shrieking, and the commlink in the room was screaming at him.

"GET UP! GARRETT GRANTH, GET UP!"

"Shavvit." He said to himself, quietly, staring at the light on the ceiling. It turned bright red then bright white and did it again.

"They're coming for you!"

Garrett sat up. The suit was in disarray, the screeching alarms magnified by his pounding headache. They seemed to be synched to the pulse he could feel in his neck. He picked up the receiver. Looked for his shoes.

"You're awake! Quickly, I've opened a window."

"Hey, who the frack is this?" He asked, rummaging through the drawers of the bedside table.

"This is Izella Vine, of anonycups. They know who you are and they're coming for you."

Garrett grabbed the handful of painkillers and washed them down with a stale beer.

"Frell." He went to the window, which was open to 54 stories of air. Two - or three - it was hard to tell, with all the blinding holographic advertizing adorning the side of the tower - stories below was a terraced balcony, where a military woman in a half-disheveled dress uniform was looking up from her cup of steaming caf and her bored, hungover escort.

Garrett waved down to them, and then went back into the room. Right as he grabbed the mattress off the bed, the door exploded, Golgornno's riot-geared thugs came bursting in, and Garrett went right back out the window, shoulders holding the mattress in place as he fell.

There was half a second of suspended light and screams, continuing for an uncomfortable millisecond too long, in which Garrett imagined he'd overshot the balcony and was going to spend the last few seconds of his life falling to the distant ground.

A shrill crash refocused his attention as he went through the table. Stuffing exploded out of both sides of the mattress, and he rolled clear of the wreck.

"My caf!" The officer shouted. Garrett was trying to get a fix on the thugs a few floors up, who were already calling in his new, rubble-covered position.

He didn't recognize it. He was running through their room and already at the door when she'd gotten to her blaster and thrown a few holes in the wall by his head.

"Where the frell am I going?!" He asked the commlink, before remembering that it was out on the balcony. He skidded to a stop, turned around, and then was faced with the woman. He threw himself into the first door that opened while tufts of plaster and plastic went burning all around him.

"Kiki, stay here! I'll gut this freller!" She yelled.

"You have got to be fracking with me." Garrett was in an empty hotel room. He grabbed a commlink from the bedside table and dialed his own room, left it sitting on the bed.

"Izella!" He shouted, going through the closet in a frenzy. He grabbed the coat bar with his cyborg hand and gave a long, slow pull. It wrenched free in a moment. He heard the commlink go dead.

The officer was in the doorway just in that moment. Garrett lashed out with the bar, catching her across the wrists and hands. He gave his torso a quick spin, knocking her back out of the doorway, and sprinted past.

"Sorry!" He shouted, then louder. "I"m heading for the stairwell!" Hoping that Izella would somehow hear him.

She did not. She may have been good, but she was not the omniscient building-controlling demigod Garrett assumed her to be.

Gunfire in the hallway as he took the stairs one set at a time, half a story with each jump. Whatever alarm Izella had set off wasn't going here, and whatever security alerts his altercation with the officer who'd won the Most Determined to Stay on Vacation award had set off were entirely silent.

Until she got into a shootout. He hoped it was with Golgornno's thugs, but at this point, he didn't have any ideas. He came flying onto the 50th floor, sprinting barefoot down the hall towards a confused and corpulent umbaran shuffling side to side with sunglasses.

Garrett spun to the side rather than collide with him, and darted into his room.

"Hey! What?! Is there a fire? You can't go in there!" The umbaran began, but Garrett was already out the door. He snatched the sunglasses as he went, still sprinting down the halls.

"My eyes!" The umbaran grabbed at his face, shielding his eyes. "Hey! He stole my datapad! Security!" He shouted.

It was the worst hangover of his life.

Meanwhile, Garrett was a hotel banquet hall, running towards a holo station. There was a little glass window that was taken out easily enough by a fire extinguisher, and then he was inside.

He rebooted the datapad and plugged it into the station. By the time everything was running, he had control, and a line to Izella Vine.

"Look, Golgornno knows you're Garrett Granth. He's going to try and collect that bounty."

Garrett found the tracking device on the datapad that had been stolen from him on the sabaac floor. Connected. Keyed in his password. On a whim, he turned on the camera.

A face, masked, armored, was staring down at it. Garrett activated the screen.

"HELLO." He messaged. He'd locked the touchscreen, so the armored figure had no way of interacting. Garrett took a picture. Saved it.

Alarms started going off in the hotel. A calm voice on the loudspeaker - the kind that if it had told you not to panic, you'd have rioted.

"Attention, honored guests. Recently, a security alert was issued due to a wanted individual who had a shoot-out with our personnel. Golgornno the Hutt reminds you that this person is likely dangerous, and worth far more alive than dead. Should you interfere with our security personnel, they are authorized to use lethal force as they see fit."

"Oh, so that's what's in the waiver." Garrett heard an entirely unconcerned gambler say as he ambled past, noting the broken glass with the same amount of concern one would afford a sign noting the way to the buffet.

"How much is that bounty?" Izella asked.

Garrett shrugged. She couldn't see it, and didn't understand human gestures, anyway.

"Twenty five million alive, last I checked. Seventy five, if you want to try your hand with the Cult of Shadow."

"I'm on the wrong team." Izella said.

Then, worryingly.

"Oh no."

"What?!" Garrett asked, pulling up an access hatch. He grabbed a mouse droid that backed away and shoved the datapad inside the droid. Holding the droid to his face to get this last message, he saw guards coming into the ballroom.

"The Bounty Hunter's Guild boards just lit up. They know you're there. Someone leaked it."

"Well, shavvit's about to get interesting." Garrett set the datapad to ping his commlink frequency and let the droid go running off to dump it in the trash chute. He paused, waiting for the giant billboard outside to light up. He made a new adjustment to his distraction - which was already drawing every bounty hunter on a planet full of them.

He could practically imagine all the jet packs and rocket boots and low-slung speeder bikes roaring his way. Golgornno's men were about to be very busy, indeed.

Then, the still image of the helmeted bounty hunter was projected in 50 meter holographs up and down the side of Golgornno's Golden Gulch. A quick text message scrolling across the bottom.

"I AM GARRETT GRANTH AND I AM NO LONGER HIDING."

"That'll teach you to steal my datapad." Garrett said, running past the guards as they stared in awe at the hijacked advertising projectors. Below, in the towering atrium, he saw a maniac on a speeder bike plow through the gates, automated blasters taking him down.

"This is getting good." He said, ducking into a janitorial closet.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Sat Mar 07, 2015 2:15 am

"Is this thing supposed to be doing that," one of the soldiers asked as he leaned over the stolen datapad. Adrian had come with a small cadre of Republic personnel but in the interest of going unnoticed they refrained from wearing anything that marked them as New Republic. So the two troopers that came along for the ride wore a set of generic body armor that wouldn't seem out of place on a planet full of bounty hunters.

Adrian looked over at the datapad and frowned. "Looks like the original owner was able to track it," he said after reading the message on the screen. All it said was, "Hello." Then he looked over at Jennie. "How's it coming?"

The datapad itself was locked out so it was impossible to interact with it directly, so Jennie had tried to break into it indirectly by hot-wiring another device into it. "Slow," she said simply, "this encryption is good... Too good."

"Adrian, this is taking all day," Isis complained. She really wanted to get back to the casino to make sure her sister was all right but she couldn't leave without first finding out whether Kara's lead was worth it. "And when are you going to talk to me about that woman?"

"Half past never, Sis," Adrian replied, "The Republic's involvement with Kara Thrace is classified."

"Well unclassify it. I'm a Republic senator, I have a right to know!"

"No, you don't. Trust me on this, Isis, I know you. I let you in on the secret and you'll want to get involved and this game we're playing is very dangerous."

"What could be more dangerous than fighting the Cult of Shadow?"

Adrian sighed, "Isis, you're a soldier. Your playground is on the battlefield fighting wars where your enemies are known to you. My playground is here and my enemies are also my friends. Things are less clear when you're a spy and the smallest mistake could spark an intergalactic war. That's why I can't tell you. Because of your station and because of who you are."

Isis fell silent she had half a mind to offer a retort but she couldn't argue with Adrian's logic. Sometimes it was hard to remember the weight he carried on those slim shoulders of his. "Alright, fine. But do you think you could at least hurry this along?"

"It's got a 64 kilobyte encryption on it, Isis, it's not like it's--,"

Just then a tone sounded from Jennie's station and about the same time Isis received an alert on her datapad. "I've got a name," Jennie announced, "Phinneas Herb."

Adrian wrinkled his brow. "Phinneas Herb? It sounds familiar but I can't place it. See if you can find out who he is."

"Don't bother," Isis said suddenly, "pretty sure I already know."

She held up her datapad displaying news and information from the local Bounty Board. Garrett G. Granth was loose inside of Golgornno's palace and there was a hefty sum of money waiting for anyone brazen enough to turn him in. "Figures, where there's trouble there's GeeThree. Wouldn't surprise me if he's the seller."

"Well, if that's the case then you better get to him before Golgornno does."

"Already on it," Isis said, lifting her comm and dialing in her sister.

Meanwhile Caitlyn had just spent her last credit chit on a slot machine trying real hard not to be bored. Kara had gone off on her own some time ago. She'd ditched the bounty hunter armor for a more light-weight, spacer getup. The kind of comfy threads that smuggler's preferred. Stylish and practical, just the way she liked it. It also had the added benefit of helping her to blend into the crowd. The bounty hunter disguise had its uses, not the least of which was allowing her to surveil the same joint twice as two separate people, but in a combat situation she preferred freedom of movement. This shouldn't turn into a combat situation, though, as Kara had assured her. They were merely silent observers.

Just then a blaring alarm went off startling Caitlyn and nearly causing her to jump out of her chair. She turned back to the machine and stared at it in shock as the thing lit up and started spewing chips at her.

"Ooh, jackpot," Kara said as she came up behind Caitlyn.

"Where have you been," Caitlyn demanded, she was busy trying to control the pile of chips that was being dumped on her.

"Getting a drink," Kara answered, "and I think I know where the buy is happening."

"Really," Caitlyn asked, "Where?"

"Over my left shoulder, nine O'clock. A line of customers went in about an hour ago and that guy at the door hasn't budged. Word has it that's Golgornno's VIP room. Which means neither of us are getting in."

"Then how are we supposed to--," Caitlyn started but Kara interrupted her.

"Not 'we', exactly. Your sister might, however. Golgornno would jump at the opportunity to host a New Republic senator. All we have to--," she trailed off as several of Golgornno's thugs ran past them heading for the stairs. A few seconds later two more thugs armed with guns followed. Kara barely had any time to ponder what could be happening before an announcement was made over the Palace's PA system.

"Attention, honored guests. Recently, a security alert was issued due to a wanted individual who had a shoot-out with our personnel. Golgornno the Hutt reminds you that this person is likely dangerous, and worth far more alive than dead. Should you interfere with our security personnel, they are authorized to use lethal force as they see fit."

About that same time Caitlyn got a call from her sister on her personal communicator. She quickly grabbed it out of her pocket and turned it on. "Bad news, Kitten," Isis said, "Garrett Granth is at the casino and Golgornno knows who he is. My hunch is that he's the seller and even if he isn't you better get to him first anyway because that twenty-five million bounty on his head is going to have people warring in the streets. I'll be there as soon as I can, just get to GeeThree and make sure he doesn't try anything stupid."

The communication cut then and Caitlyn dropped the armload of chips she'd been holding onto the floor before reaching for her lightsaber. "Now hold on a minute, Princess," Kara said suddenly, "Golgornno's men are going to be using slugthrowers. You go in there waving your flashy light stick around and you'll just make yourself a target."

"Then what do you suggest we do?"

"First of all, pick up that pile of chips. Then secondly follow me. Those thugs we saw earlier were heading upstairs which means Garrett is trying to come down. All we have to do is meet him halfway."

The plan sounded simple enough but that still didn't explain why she needed the chips. Nevertheless Caitlyn obediently loaded up her pockets with the things wondering all the while what exactly she intended to do with them...

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Wed Mar 11, 2015 10:10 pm

Why does that date look familiar?

Garrett was squeezing his lanky form into a janitor's speed suit while using his cybernetic hand to access a panel hidden behind a rack of mops.

In the halls, there was gunfire. What he'd glimpsed (from on his belly and peering out a cracked door) was a squad of men in mandalorian body armor attacking a trio of wookiee hunters who'd smashed through the skylight.

He began to entertain the idea that maybe - just maybe - his infiltration of Nar Shaddaa had not been as secretive as he had hoped it would be. There was no way all these bounty hunters were here with such speed. They had to have been tracking him.

He'd been careful.

5i45PwnH@nds: "It's the suit."

Garrett swore. Golgornno's tailor - or at least, someone trained in non-Hutt physiology - had given him the suit. OF COURSE it had trackers inside. He threw it to the ground and tore off a sleeve, unravelling the back as he did so, eyes flitting back and forth.

There.

A tracking chip, flexible circuitry sewn into the silken interior. He'd never have known. Golgornno's men knew. They'd be distracted by the influx of guild bounty hunters for a few minutes more at least.

He tore out the chip. Tied it to a cleaning drone.

Why does that date look familiar?

Opened a hatch, sent the drone on a path. Clean - and take the chip with it.

So now he had quite a few bits of misdirection - the drone with the chip from the suit, the poor Republic grunt with his picture half a mile high on Golgornno's casino, and the crawling trackers from the Holonet station he'd hijacked earlier.

Now he could leave Nar Shaddaa. Nobody would be able to figure out what had happened for a decade. (This was true of most of his successful crimes) and they'd be scorching the planet for days to find him while he headed back to the Core.

But the date looked familiar. He scanned it. Translated it from Hutt to Basic.

Garrett Granth stopped what he was doing. The brilliant escape plan he'd hatched withered on the intellectual limb.

Today he turned 60.

Sixty years old.

He'd made a promise to the only person he kept (some) promises with. Himself.

When he turned 60, he'd told himself what he would do, for decades and decades, something to look forward to in his old age, of aching joints and complaining bones.

He'd rob a bank. That was the deal.

There was no bank. Not here. But there was a casino with a trillion credits hiding inside, and bounty hunters swarming all over.

"Happy Birthday, Garrett Granth" he whispered to himself, the only soul who celebrated the event.

The Sith Empire was landing. Bounty hunters were attacking New Republic spies. Hutts were breaking ancient oaths. Global criminals were mobilized.

But a birthday is a birthday.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:39 pm

A dozen or so kilometers away, Garrett was trying hard to come up with a plan he should have been plotting for a decade.

At the moment, he'd gotten so far as to be wandering the halls as a drunk janitor, and had "enhanced" his costume with real drunkenness.

***

Meanwhile, a badly named swoop gang was closing in on the datapad screaming "I AM GARRETT GRANTH, COME GET ME" despite being locked in a New Republic Intelligence safehouse.

There were a dozen of them, and their leader, who was bad at math in a fundamental sense, figured that by the time it was over, there would be fewer members of his gang, and a bigger share of the bounty for him, and in his head that number had already gotten quite close to twenty five million credits.

He wasn't the kind of guy to take a bounty like this in alive.

He wasn't the kind of guy to take *any* bounty in alive.

He WAS the kind of guy who had a heavily armed swoop bike gang equipped with a million credits worth of weapons on a million credits worth of swoop bikes, the drivers of which all had million credit drug and cyber-enhancement habits that fueled their (already impressive) levels of aggression, idiocy, and violence.

If he'd been a smart man (and not one prone to violently assaulting anyone who slighted him) or a patient man (again, with the assaulting) he could take that kind of guns, money and drugs and settle into life as a middle-of-the-road uber-wealthy crimelord.

But. Kaz "Scream-Lord" didn't have a last name, a good bounty hunter handle, or a clue. This was why his gang had missile launchers, magnetic grenades, plasma rifles, and thermal detonators.

And not something so simple as "a plan."

Scream-Lord liked his "plans" simple. And he didn't like survivors.

"It says 'escape artist!" Said his second-in-command. Gor was second in command because he could read without moving his lips. "So I say we just blast the place to bits, kill anyone inside, and then burn anyone we didn't kill the first time, and then burn the people we DID kill the first time!"

"Nobody escapes death." Scream-Lord said. At times, his idiocy was so simple, so pure, that it cut to the deepest existential truths. It was a shame that nobody around him was the sort who could appreciate his insightful instants.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Thu Mar 12, 2015 10:22 pm

"Isis, running in half cocked isn't exactly the best plan here," Adrian said as his sister loaded up with a blaster rifle and a shotgun. "Golgornno's got a good chunk of the planet bought and paid for. You walk into that casino carrying that kind of hardware and you may as well just paint yourself a target."

"Our sister's in there, Adrian, with that woman you saddled her with. I wouldn't trust Kara with my finances let alone my sister."

"Caitlyn will be fine, Isis, she can handle herself, but we need to think this through more carefully. There's no telling how many goons are between us and Garrett, hell Golgornno may already have him. If we have to bust him out of Golgornno's palace we're going to need a strike force."

Meanwhile, as they were having their discussion an alarm sounded from somewhere behind them. Jennie looked up from her monitor and glanced at the camera feeds she had set up outside the building. A gaggle of swoop bikes pulled up outside carrying men with heavy equipment. "Adrian, we have a situation," she said as she got up from her chair and grabbed anything she could, "One of the run and don't ask questions kind."

She started to reach for Garrett's datapad when Adrian stopped her. "Leave it," he said, noting the text displayed on the screen, "that son of a Hutt was using it to track us."

Isis glanced at the security feed and swore as one of the bikers grabbed a rocket launcher. "How the hell do we get out of here?"

Adrian followed her gaze then grabbed her and Jennie and shoved them toward the back of the room. "Basement, now!"

The two women and Adrian had made it down the stairs in the nick of time but the two Republic troopers weren't quite as lucky. The blast practically incinerated one and buried the other in a pile of rubble. More explosions followed and what was left of the building came crumbling down, blocking the stairs. After the dust had settled Adrian tried pushing some of the rubble out of the way without any luck.

"Great, we're stuck down here," Isis complained.

"Well, not exactly," Adrian mused, "We picked this place because there's a tunnel system below it. It's not exactly well mapped but we should be able to find a way out. Just, uh... Be careful of these pipes, I'm pretty sure they're for the heating system..."

**********

Kara leaned around the corner before signalling to Caitlyn that the coast was clear. Down the hallway just a bit was a pile of corpses, a mix between Golgornno's men and some mercenaries. One of them was holding a datapad with a map of Golgornno's casino. A bright blip was blinking from a nearby utility closet. "They must have been using this to track him," she said, then she thought about it for a moment. "Golgornno's VIP room had a dress code. Invited guests were provided suits, he probably had trackers planted in each of them, that's brilliant!"

"And a little paranoid," Caitlyn noted.

Kara just shrugged. On the screen the blip showing Garrett's location started moving.

Caitlyn pointed excitedly, "Look! He's coming this way."

Kara watched the blip for a moment then frowned. "I don't think so," she said, "This is Garrett Granth we're talking about. He's slipperier than a Hutt in heat. He should have found that tracker by now."

"Then what do you suggest?"

She hit a few keys on the datapad and spliced her way into an open communications channel. Then she started sending out short signals of feedback at various intervals.

"What are you doing," Caitlyn asked.

"Computer code," Kara explained, "Ones and zeros. I'm trying to send him a message."

"Will that actually work?"

Kara bit her lip, "Um, maybe. He has to be listening first and then he has to recognize the signal as a message. He might just find the feedback annoying and turn it off, but hell if it works...," she left the rest hanging in the air.

"So what are you telling him?"

"I'm giving him coordinates, a guest room on the east side of the building. Golgornno's men are following this blip so we shouldn't run in to any of them and according to this map the room should be unoccupied."

She finished her message and set the datapad to repeat it after a short pause. Then she tucked the device into her jacket pocket and stood up. "Come on," she said, grabbing Caitlyn by the wrist and pulling her along towards the designated meeting place...

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Thu Mar 19, 2015 10:10 pm

There was a continuum of schemes one could place their actions upon. Short game, long game, the medium game - all manner of games, yet they consistently adhered to a series of steps a clever con man could recognize.

Garrett was, by some estimations, the finest con man in the galaxy. Most of those estimations would be off by (at least) an order of magnitude, for what connoisseur of scam would allow some critic to call them substandard?

A widely accepted fact in the scamiverse was that there were, usually, six steps to one. Garrett was a man who wrote and re-wrote many books in the galaxy, yet even he had to admit the power of this list, first comprised 45 thousand years ago by a Hutt who could not read, who had to have her words transcribed by a sea slug.

STEP ONE: The Foundation. Get to know your victim!

Garrett knew quite a bit about Golgorrno the Hutt. He'd put him where he was (accidentally) and read everything there was to read about him while he was stumbling drunk down a hallway in the superfine casino Gologorrno owned, operated, and profited from.

Though, from time to time he noticed that he had to stop looking at his datapad for one of two reasons: Someone was expecting him to clean up a mess (the janitor uniform) or sometimes, a feedback loop. Too strong to be a bug, too regular to be a feature. He pretended to mop a mess for a few minutes and then had to throw the datapad down when a trio of guards came bolting by. Blasters blustered in his direction, all the barrels beyond eager to begin their jobs.

STEP TWO: The approach. Most con-men worked hard on this step, but in the situation he found himself in, with a levitating bucket of water and a soapy mop, Garrett figured that he had the gist.

"Get down on the ground!" The lead mercenary shouted. Garrett did what he said and put his hands behind his head.

"Have you seen any VIPs in this zone?" The merc asked.

"Yes sir!" Garrett said, the jumpsuit apparently working it's onesie magic.

STEP THREE: The buildup.

He recalled the clever trick the bounty hunters had been trying to use to get him to come to a prearranged point.

"He was headed for the guest rooms! East side!" Garrett said. He really hoped these weren't the sort of death squads you sent into a situation to get rid of evidence. Golgornno was the type - but were these the type he hired?

The mercs departed silently after a swarm of hand signals and slick motions.

He really hoped that this would lead to STEP FOUR: The payoff, when the brave Janitor Jones (his current outfit indicated him as such) had lead the brave members of the security squad to fight a group of fierce bounty hunters in the East Side Guest Rooms.

In a more thorough scheme, he'd have gone with them, risking his life in order to further cement the bond he would exploit in the future.

Maybe he could come back to it. The whole situation, he reminded himself, was in flow - a good scheme did not need all six steps, all the time. Sure, the best schemes - the classics - held true to form, but this?

A stumbling drunk tourist, a twi-lek who, Garrett noted grimly, was literally clutching a bottle in one hand, staggered out towards him, clutching first at his lapel, and then leaning horribly, lurching at the levitating bucket of mop water.

"Hey, no, not in the bucket!" Garrett shouted, swatting at the man with his mop handle. The twi-lek fell over, cried out, and rolled over onto his back.

...revealing a hold out blaster pointed right at him.

"Don't move." The twi-lek said, sobriety pulled over his face like a mask. Garrett held his hands up.

Garrett Granth had a lot of skills. From open heart surgery (that one time) to the use of complex and alien technologies to save the galaxy (two times) confidence schemes (never, he swore up and down) to disguise, lock picking, and losing records of how often he engaged in these activities, Garrett was a skilled and competent adventuring sort in a galaxy wild with danger and lousy with people who could - and would gladly - kill him in a fight.

He'd been trying to remedy that, and much of his practice had involved the use of improvised weaponry. He kicked the bucket of water onto the twi-lek and slammed the mop handle down onto his temple, sprinting away towards a staircase as he did.

Suddenly, a quarren was coming at him from an angle, a stun baton sparking behind his elbow as he snaked it around.

Garrett jumped out into a sitting position, landing right on the middle banister rail, sliding down the huge block of stairs in one swift go.

Right as he hit the end, he was ready to run again, feet sliding on the stairs - right as Slash hit him with a flying form tackle.

The two crashed through a safety railing and out into quite a bit of open air.

"Shavvit we're a long way up." Garrett thought, looking at the ground from a lethal distance.

"No, wait, that's a sunroof." He corrected himself as they slammed, painfully, into the pane. Garrett had just risen to his hands and knees when Slash grabbed him by the hand, put his thumb on Garrett's palm, and gave his wrist a twist.

"Move again and I keep this hand." Slash said, kicking him in the ribs.

Garrett gave out a loud pained cry and tried to turn around. Slash twisted his wrist and pulled back, stumbling as the cybernetic prosthesis snapped off. Garrett gave him a quick kick to the side of the knee to finish up his fall.

"It's all yours." He said, running away right as a pair of speeder bikes came crashing through the huge three-story windows, blasters firing through the falling shower of shards.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:27 am

It had been a long time waiting. Kara sat patiently at a nearby table while Caitlyn paced back and forth in the middle of the room. "You know, you really should relax," Kara said, "Pacing isn't going to bring him here any faster... If at all," she added under her breath.

"What," Caitlyn asked.

"I said pacing isn't going to bring him here faster," Kara said, getting up from her chair and walking over towards the window. Outside she could see the western half of the palace overlooking a grand sunroof leading to the casino. Garret Granth could be anywhere in one of those rooms and it would be impossible for them to know. Just then a tone sounded in her jacket pocket and she pulled out the datapad and looked at it. A squad of Golgornno's soldiers were heading their way.

"Shavvit, I knew it," she said.

Caitlyn stopped her pacing and walked over to her. "Knew what?"

"The plan didn't work, Garrett's not coming but someone else is."

She tucked the datapad back in her jacket pocket. "Listen, when they bust in here don't attack them, you understand? Act like your scared."

"But I'm not scared."

"I know, act like it," Kara urged her.

Caitlyn didn't quite understand but she nodded anyway. Apparently Kara had a plan. As she turned back to the window a strange scene was taking place below them. A man was being chased by three speeders, blaster bolts striking the ground all around him and just when Kara had started to think she had found her mark the doors burst inward and several armed men rushed in. Both girls immediately freaked, though Caitlyn's attempt may have been a bit over done.

"What's going on? What are you doing," Kara asked in a panic voice.

The men stopped and looked at them then one turned to the others. "He's not here, just a couple of scared women."

He turned to leave when one of the other soldiers stopped him. "Sir, isn't that Isis Sinclair," he said pointing at Caitlyn. The man turned back around and looked at her carefully.

"Too young to be Isis," he said, "A sister perhaps? Either way we should take her to Golgornno."

"Well, crap," Kara muttered before drawing a blaster and shooting the man directly in the head. The other soldiers stared dumbfounded at the body giving Caitlyn enough time to draw her lightsaber. The ensuing battle was short, the two women able to dispatch the remaining thugs with ease. As the last body fell Kara grabbed Caitlyn by the wrist and pulled her along out into the hall.

"Come on," she cried as they ran.

As soon as they left the room, however, they found themselves surrounded. More men came rushing around the corner towards them as another squad came up from behind. Kara looked at Caitlyn and her lightsaber, assessing the situation. Caitlyn might have been able to take out both groups on her own but she would be hard pressed to protect Kara from both sides. Either one or both of them would get shot, so instead of risking her life or both of their lives she let her blaster hang loosely from her finger and held up her hands.

Caitlyn just stared at her. "What are you doing?"

"Sorry, Princess, but I'm switching sides," Kara whispered then she stepped forward and raised her voice. "Alright, you got us," she called out to them, "You want the girl, take her! I'm not even getting paid for this gig!"

"Who are you," the leader called out to her.

"I'm an expediter," Kara answered, "I expedite things from here to there, an independent contractor if you will. I was being ordered to expedite her, but well--," she stopped and glanced at the other squad behind them, "Things got too hairy. So whaddya say," she added as she turned back to face the leader, "You let me go and you get to keep her. Simple trade."

"Kara, you frakking traitor," Caitlyn shouted, she still held her lightsaber in a guard position ready to defend herself.

"Language, love," Kara said to her, "Look, it's been fun and all but you're not worth dying over."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:04 pm

Time slowed to a crawl.

Well, Garrett knew that was only a perceptual matter, even with the immense relative velocities involved. Things trawling about in the back of his mind included the graviometric variable of Nar Shadda, the likely velocity of the speeder, his average foot speed - timed over many trials - and the constant, inevitable acceleration towards the floor, that, if left unimpeded, would result in a fatal fall.

Relativity aside, he saw the widening eyes of the speeder pilot, the sizzling bolts of energy firing from his blaster, the shattering transparent walkway, the flying glints of shattered glass exploding in the air all around him.

Then, everything happened in a flash that, Garrett knew, could likely indicate the end of his life. He only had one hand (earlier, he had two, the other just was no longer attached to his arm) and that one needed to grapple this hardened stunt-speeder pilot off his ride. He dug his (bleeding) fingers forward, and was yanked around, spun, held onto the bottom of the aerial torpedo with a grip born entirely of adrenaline.

Another impact jerked the speeder down. Garrett jerked himself up to the top of the bike, his brilliant brain devising a perfect solution for the entire episode. He reached for the brake.

...with a wrist that had no hand. He swore, then cussed again as the driver went spinning from his seat in a fatal spiral, splattering several meters below before Garrett had a chance to see what had happened, as he was violently jerked up to the top seat.

A seat he now shared with Stack, the twi-lek who'd started his suicidal maneuver moments before. The one who'd stumbled out in front of him. The part of Garrett's brain that kept a morality tally recalled him from Anonycups, knew on some level that these lekku were part of that conspiracy leading to his current situation - riding through a casino on a hijacked speeder bike while a gang of bounty hunters slowly began to realize what was happening.

Blaster fire filled the air as they sped through the casino floor, bolts tearing apart slot machines, cards and chips and half-emptied (who could be optimistic in this situation?) drinks jumping and breaking under the unintended assault.

"THERE!" Garrett shouted, pointing at a frantic protocol droid in a valiant attempt to close a shutter of blaster-proof glass. It was half-enclosed in a casino pit, one that, in a normal casino, would have shut down at the first instance of gunfire.

Golgornno ran a casino in which gunfire was like a jackpot. It didn't happen that often, but you kinda had to expect it.

Stack hit the brakes that Garrett could not, and the rig slowed at a gut-lurching rate. It would have sent Garrett headlong over the handlebars, but Stack was ready, had him by the (real) wrist, and gave him a good spinning whip right as the front of the bike wedged into the window.

Garrett landed atop the droid, and did not have to do much to play dead. He knew that the security programming of a change-making robot wouldn't be too robust, even in a den of villainy like Golgornno's Golden Gulch. So he waited that painful half second - all his seconds were painful at the moment - and then realized that Stack was not being attacked.

"He's playing dead." Stack said. The droid recognized him as someone in the nominal employ of Golgornno the Hutt, and therefore came swinging at Garrett with a stun baton.

The baton connected. Garrett spasmed, and went limp. Blaster fire rained down on the now-secure pit, the walls proof of anything that wasn't a grenade.

Stack was sure these bounty hunters had grenades. He opened the security hatch with his code cylinder and grabbed the inert interstellar fugitive, Garrett G. Granth.

His shock when Garrett grabbed him was only superseded by the shock he got when Garrett tripped him, right into the attack of the pit robot as it hit him with the stun baton.

Stack fell to the floor. Garrett kicked the droid into the wall, breaking the offensive arm. He'd been hit with more stun batons, stun bolts, incapacitating gases, and Jedi Sleep Tricks than most cities. The droid had only convinced him to play dead. There was a grenade at the door.

"For my next trick." He said to himself and the unconscious Stack, and slid through the escape hatch.

Above, fire.

Below, what he was hoping to find - the 3D printers of Golgornno the Hutt.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:15 pm

[A Few Minutes Later]

Garrett now had a code cylinder. In the hands of anyone, this particular code cylinder would have been a disastrous artifact, capable of ruining lives, companies, and possibly, worlds.

The 3D printer was hard at work on a job. A job with equally horrible outcomes, but none that anyone could have anticipated.

Stack, a clever man in the employ of Rhea Svaak, herself employed by Golgornno the Hutt, owner of the (currently being ruined) casino, Golgornno's Golden Gulch, was just coming to.

He'd had the code cylinder. Normally, in a Code Red situation (he wished there was a higher state of alert he could invoke) the codes on that bit of tech would be worthless - but Garrett Granth, a man for whom technology was nothing but opportunity, the code cylinder had spilled it's guts.

The code cylinder contained the keys to every single speeder, transport, spaceship, swoop bike, and hoverboard that had been impounded by Golgornno the Hutt for payment for gambling debts.

The 3D printer finished it's dreadful task. Garrett grabbed it and ran, leaving the dazed twilek to discover the second trick it had been set to create - an EMP generator that, when plugged into the (handily provided) batteries beside the deck, would shut the entire thing down.

Stack jumped to his feet, grabbed his datapad, plugged it in. He instantly recognized that he was up against one of the best slicers in the galaxy. He saw the outcomes. He pursed his lips. He thought laterally.

...and blasted the 3D printer to pieces.

Garrett was in an elevator he hoped that would deactivate when he realized Stack had foiled him.

Once again, he let loose a pile of curses. He had the Cube in his hands. He was headed for Golgornno, and Rhea, and whoever else they'd summoned to that diabolical lair the Hutt held court in.

He'd been counting on that EMP blast.

New plan.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:43 pm

Above, lives ending, fire consuming, skill and luck played out in violent vignettes.

Below, a clean grid of boxes, perfect lockers, every joint and lip metal and locked. No air. No noise.

Inside one of these boxes - box 10-13 - was the cargo deposited twenty three hours ago by one M. Dynex.

A cube. Disguised as a computer by dint of six panels.

The cube sensed.

The vault, the riches of worlds, meant nothing.

Once, many voices had filled it. Views of a world, flashing glimpses of a world seen from above, shattered when the mental eye tried to focus.

Nothing but the inside.

Endless eons. Nothing. It craved nothing. The design was singular, many things into one thing. one thing into no thing.

Nothing nothing nothing. Everything.

Now, thing happened. Less was outside. As it was designed.

We all become one. They showed the cube why it had been made, and they offered what they had.

We all become one. Cruel hate. Suffering.

PAIN.

The pain, it wanted. There was pain, all around. And just as a glutton does not lick the sidewalks for the pathetic nourishment of lichen, the cube could not reach out, could not digest.

It knew.

It had begun. The numbers outside, the pained, were subtracted. Became part of the One.

Another - another so distant, full of pain that had touched them, but pain it could not touch.

And finally, the Purpose. Pain as meaning. Not the diffuse pain of a dying world. Not the anguish and nihilism of a criminal moon. Not the scraps and gristle that the Untouchable provided.

One who wished to Join.

His name - and the Cube knew of names - was Trost.

And he was here on Nar Shaddaa.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Fri Apr 10, 2015 12:18 pm

"I don't believe that's true," Caitlyn said, grabbing Kara by the wrist and pulling her back into the room. Blasterfire followed them, burning into the wall and the door as it closed behind them.

"What are you--," Kara tried to say but she wasn't able to finish her inquiry before Caitlyn threw her lightsaber through the window before jumping out into the open air beyond with Kara trailing behind her.

Surprised and certain she was going to die Kara screamed the whole way down but Caitlyn was calm and as the ground fast approached she hugged Kara closer then held out one hand and with a push of kinetic energy she slowed their decent enough for them to land unharmed. They hit the ground and rolled apart but otherwise they were not injured.

"What the hell was that," Kara demanded while Caitlyn used the Force to call her lightsaber back to her. "I had the situation well in hand!"

"You were turning yourself in and selling me out."

"Well, yeah," Kara said sheepishly, "so why didn't you buy it?"

"My brother wouldn't have asked for your help if he didn't trust you and I trust my brother," Caitlyn said simply.

She disengaged her lightsaber and clipped it back to her belt before looking around. The skylight to the casino below had a massive hole in it and there was fighting all throughout the casino and the floors above. "So what do we do now," she asked.

Kara just shrugged, "Plan's still the same, Princess. Find Garrett."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Tue May 19, 2015 9:46 pm

BEEP
GRIND
BEEP
GRIND

The elevator lurched down a few more feet, then there was a beep, Garrett hitting the stop button he'd rigged.

GRIND
BEEP

He knew that this couldn't hold up for much longer. Eventually, the elevator would reach a floor where Golgornno's thugs would yank him off and then get everyone killed.

GRIND
BEEP

At his feet was the cube - a perfect, 3D printed replica of the infernal machine that Lord Trost's cultists were tearing the casino apart looking for.

Well, almost perfect. The cube was impossible to open from the outside, a complex series of antagonist angles and backward channels meant that you had to open it from the inside, you had to move around pins without touching them, guide pieces into place without opening the cube - and nothing inside there offered a power source of moving part.

GRIND
BEEP

Garrett got it - you had to use the Force to open the cube. Had to manipulate it without touching it, see and reach inside. He'd been able to see inside with the scanners on the 3D printer, recreate the trick latch.

But he knew what happened when someone reached out for the cube - the real cube, that is - with the Force. The Cube ate them alive, rotted them, destroyed them.

GRIND
BEEP

This Cube couldn't do that. And while the inside of the real artifact was a mysterious unscannable sphere, the interior of THIS cube was a baradium microwarhead, enough firepower to tear a hole through the level and drop Golgornno's Golden Glutch onto the industrial stacks a few thousand meters below.

It had really been a good plan, he thought. Swap the cubes, let Trost try and open the thing, blow him to hell, Golgornno gets his money, the Jedi get the Cube, and Garrett would take a cut.

GRIND
GRIND
BEEP

Garrett reviewed his options. He looked at the key code cylinder in his hands and picked up the datapad he'd gotten from a surprised old couple. He thought hard, reaching outside the box. Then, it came to him. He unlocked every car, speeder, swoop bike, and transport. Every ship and confiscated cycle, every pod and drone that had been deeded over to Golgornno's casino and not yet sold.

Four thousand thirty one total. He'd need 4031 AIs, or drones, or...

Pilots. He grabbed the datapad, logged into a secure system that was the backend of the hit online RPG N'evar. He recalled the big fight over the apostrophe. "It doesn't replace anything." The head writer had argued. "An apostrophe can't just sit there in a name like that for no reason!"

N'evar was one of the Galactic Guide Publishing Company's biggest moneymakers, and in the past few years, a source of some amusement for Garrett, as gamers took on weekly challenges to reach his ever more fortified Tree of the Nano-Mystic, being rewarded with nothing but citywide carnage if they could reach the fragile inner sanctums and drop them on the poor souls below.

GRIND
BEEP

From here, new content could be easily distributed. Time for a patch. He sent a diagram to Satvan Go on Corellia, along with a link to the program that turned blueprints and maps of real world events into Game Trees in N'evar.

Today's money-earning event would be "absurd stunts on virtual speeders." He slapped a program into Golgornno's network that would translate the gameplay of psychopathic online gamers into control sequences for the real vehicles.

Then, he assigned a huge xp value to "crashed vehicle into Casino-Tree" and linked all the codes on the cylinder to the game.

"Alright, Satvan. You wanted my help, you're gonna have to help me first, kid." He said before crushing the cylinder underfoot.

GRIND
GRIND
GRIND
GRIND

He looked up at the emergency hatch as it was torn open, two figures he recognized up above. One of them had his arm, holding it like a club. It was Slash.

"Hey, that's my arm!" Garrett said, right as it crashed into his face, sending him sprawling out unconscious.

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Mon Jun 22, 2015 9:58 pm

[EARLIER]

Doctor Biccan had been expecting Woodford to be standing imperiously in front of a viewport, or sitting in a huge chair blanked by darkness. Perhaps, from what she had heard, he'd be seated in a smoking jacket in front of a fire, sipping brandy, doting over his pipe. Books would be in the background, she expected.

She'd seen his office - vaulted windows behind the small desk, recessed alcoves of marble and stone all filled with books and screens, weird artifacts in bookshelves. Grotesque things, eyeballs and pickled brains, ancient medical curiosities, malformed things in jars.

But Reynald Woodford had invited her to his personal quarters. She didn't even know anyone who'd seen his personal quarters. Most of the people she knew didn't even have personal quarters.

There was a guard right beside the door, seated behind a curved metal desk that, she imagined, could withstand a direct hit from a grenade. He looked bored, he was eating a sandwich. While on the phone. He looked at her, the door card reader, and mimed swiping a card.

The door slid open into an ornate little foyer - a pair of houseplants framing an elegant coat rack, plenty of unused floor mats, all tossed onto the metal floor to make it seem a bit more hospitable.

She'd been expecting a bookshelf (of course), but what kept her attention now - the thing dominating the whole room, really - was a dog large enough to play fetch with her torso. At least, she thought it was a dog. It was a dense, coiled plug of muscle hiding behind half an inch of fur. It had huge teeth, some of which had been replaced with titanium. The nose was large, the eyes were small, and she had no ear flaps. She stared at Dr. Wu Biccan.

"Hello..." Wu attempted.

The dog seemed to curl her head, as if she too were beckoning Dr. Biccan into the room, a sort of canine version of the bored man outside. Then, she stood and walked in, looking back every few feet to make sure Wu was following her.

The dog led her into an expansive chunk of real estate for a space station. There were no windows. Every wall was covered in items - tiny metallic relics, bones and fossils, pages of books pressed between glass, a projection of the text on the wall behind them.

Near an overhanging shelf of meticulously preserved skulls, Reynald Woodford was sweeping dust into a pan. He bent down, grabbed the pan, and carried to a wall. An incinerator hatch opened. Reynald dashed the contents of the pan inside.

"Ah. Doctor Biccan. I see you've met Gill. Gill, would you please show Doctor Biccan to her seat?" He asked, leaving the room. The dog - now "Gill" looked at Wu with tiny beady eyes and padded patiently over to a chair, then sat down beside it. She followed her and sat.

"Gill's a very smart girl. Smarter than most people, in her own way. Clever. Inquisitive. Obedient." The dog's nub of a tail twitched and a smile came across the blunt muzzle.

"Does she understand basic?" Wu asked. Gill looked at her.

"I'm not entirely sure." Woodford said, returning to the room with a tray. Upon it sat a decanter and two small wine glasses. "She certainly understands a few words. More than simple commands. Out of a sense of paranoia, I don't discuss secrets in front of her."

"Is that why you don't have cleaning droids?" Wu asked. Woodford handed her a glass and took his own to a chair nearby. It was nicer. Of course. A bigger back. Gill padded off. The door to the entryway closed and Wu wondered if Gill had done it herself.

"Quite. That and they might destroy any of the priceless artifacts in my possession." Woodford took a sip of his wine and frowned. She took a sip of hers and found it delightful - red, deep, fruity.

"I thought there were remotes for that sort of thing." Wu started.

"You're aware of the new cybersecurity initiative we've undertaken here on Ziost." Woodford said, turning that one mahogany eye toward her. The eyepatch was neat, clean. It had no strap. A gem of some sort was in the middle. Woodford held up a hand and examined his ring.

"Yes, we had to make a lot of changes to the medical wing. It's rather severe."

Woodford cut her off.

"Part of that will mean fewer remotes and cleaning droids in most areas. Human eyes and ears, guards, checkpoints, an overall lessening of reliance on automated processes. Man hours will go up."

"If you'll forgive me, Lord Woodford, that doesn't sound like your style. You're known for low costs and running a thin budget."

"The man who nearly killed Lord Trost was Garrett Granth."

"...and you think he's going to finish the job?" Wu asked. Woodford laughed.

"No, that's not how he works. He'd no more come here to kill Trost than I'd travel to Nar Shadda to kill him. I was willing to leave him alone. Let some other Sith go after him. But the Sisterhood of Pain, the women who have been tormenting Trost, they sought me out. Granth has something they want."

"...so you're safeguarding the base in case he comes for this... thing?"

"What do you know about Garrett Granth?" Woodford asked.

"I read his papers on reconstructing cardiac tissues and spinal injuries. I know he did a lot of slicing during the rebellion against the Empire, something big at the end of the Xen'Chi war, classified stuff, and was there at Mon Calamari when the Charon were defeated."

Woodford said nothing for a moment, but drank his wine, even though his look seemed like the drink offended him.

"He's an insatiable sponge for knowledge, credits, and data. Disperses all of it as soon as he touches it. A chaotic figure, neigh impossible to predict or detect, even with all the power and information at my beck and call. He didn't 'do a little slicing' during the rebellion, he helped steal the Death Star plans. He hid planets from Imperial star charts. He threw Vader himself off the tracks of the Rebels before Hoth, was part of the mission that destroyed the second death star. He helped track down and destroy GAIT herself, crashed the biggest ship in the galaxy - the Cleansing - into the Xen Chi homeworld. He stole secrets and tech from Oremin, an Imperial intelligence organization so secret that I hadn't heard of it until I put together this briefing. He evaded all the agents and assassins the galaxy threw at him, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for the defeat of the Charon - and therefore, of Sivter himself. Recently, in what I can only describe as a 'lull,' he nearly blew up Brevost, before stealing some artifact that these madwomen believe to be an impossibly dangerous and powerful artifact of the dark side."

Doctor Wu Biccan put her empty wineglass on the table.

"And they want it."

"They're going to get it. It's as good as done. I'm sending Lord Trost, with a few commandos as backup. Granth is attempting to sell the artifact through a Hutt. I've put up the money. They're going to get the cube and come back. When they come back, I want you to understand who is going to be coming after it. Granth will likely pose as a doctor, or maintenance man, or technician, as he plans it's retrieval."

"What does he look like?"

Woodford smiled in a way she did not like, it reminded her that there was a skull beneath his skin, and that it might try and get loose.

"We're not sure. Images are hard to come by, datamining bots go through archives and security feeds, scourging that data. Besides, he's a known master of disguise, with a paranoid streak a mile wide. Then there's the matter of his holonet fans, constantly uploading fake information, pictures, sightings, all in a wild attempt to either contact him or impress him, or aid him, we're not sure, really, it's it's own thing, now, for every potential real image there are a million false positives.

"We wait, Doctor Biccan. You and I and a handful of my security detail. Should he steal the cube and embarrass me, we are in deep shavvit. But, if the fault is on the Sisterhood of Pain, then, well... Lord Trost and I will make sure they earn their namesakes before they die."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Wed Jun 24, 2015 12:36 am

Caitlyn and Kara were running down a shattered corridor when Kara suddenly grabbed Caitlyn by the wrist and pulled her around a corner as several armed men ran by. They waited a brief moment for the sounds of their footsteps to fade before stepping back out into the open. Kara pulled the datapad from her pocket again and loaded the blue prints for the casino. Just looking at the map they still had hundreds of floors to cover and no idea where Garrett was. The plan to send a coded message to him clearly didn't work, or perhaps it did but he didn't trust the message. Either way they needed a new plan and Kara was running short on ideas.

"Your boyfriend sure knows how to make a mess of things," she said.

"He's not my... Never mind," Caitlyn replied, then she thought of something. "Wait, we're going about this all wrong. I've met Garret before, I should be able to find him."

"Find him? How?"

"Like this," Caitlyn said, then she grabbed Kara by the wrist and pulled her into an empty room. After checking to make sure the coast was clear she got down on her knees and closed her eyes.

"I don't think we have time for this."

"Shhh," Caitlyn hushed her. To be perfectly honest she hadn't had much experience with meditation. Since her master had been so deeply embroiled with the war with the Cult of Shadow much of her training had focused on lightsaber combat. Control of the Force was something she was still struggling with.

Kara hung out by the door peering through a crack in the entryway on the off chance someone might run down that hall and notice them. They had been sitting there for awhile when Kara's patience finally ran out. "We need to move now," she said, "The longer we wait here..."

Just then Caitlyn's eyes snapped open. "I found him! I know where he is! Come on!"

She grabbed her lightsaber and headed out the door and down the hallway. She was moving so fast it was difficult for Kara to keep up. The elevators had been out so the pair had to fly down one flight of stairs after another. Kara was practically winded by the time Caitlyn had stopped running up stairs and the young girl didn't even look phased by all the exercise. The smuggler envied her for that, jealous that she didn't have the younger woman's endurance... Or maybe that was the Force.

At the end of a very long hallway they found a couple of men loading an unconscious body onto their shoulders. Caitlyn immediately ignited her lightsaber, its cerulean blade illuminating the hallway. "Drop the... What is he? A doctor?"

"That's Garrett," Kara asked skeptically.

Caitlyn looked uncertain. "I don't know... I mean, he looks different but he feels like the same guy."

One of the two men tried to reach for a blaster but Caitlyn pulled the weapon from his grasp with a tug on the Force. "Not so fast, tall, dark and um... Scaly?" She said as the blaster clattered to the ground at her feet, "We just want the doctor. You let him go and you can leave."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Sun Jun 28, 2015 9:06 pm

[NOW]

The crack of a prosthetic hand across his face woke Garrett from the wild dream he'd been having, about streets made of eyeballs staring up at him, forming a map.

...mountains of eyeballs.

He jolted awake, tried to jump out of the chair he was ignominiously tied to, but his ankles were bound to the arms. His one hand was behind his back, which gave his other shoulder just enough leverage to send him to the floor.

"...that's my arm." He stammered, feeling the phantom limb pain. Above him, Rhea with her eyepatch, his arm in her hand. He recognized her from a day ago, when he'd bought the Scorpion Mark V Pistol from her.

"Which cube does Lord Trost want?" She asked, regarding the arm as though it had insulted her.

"The one on top!" Garrett spurted.

"What do you mean, 'the one on top?" Rhea asked, looking to the cubes.

"I was carrying them one on top of the other!" Garrett said, shifting himself over onto his side. "I couldn't exactly carry both of them, what with your goons having torn off my arm."

"We're not goons!" Stack said, stepping to where Garrett could see him.

"Speak for yourself." Slash said.

"You tore off my arm!" Garrett was wriggling in the ropes. "Which cube was on top when you knocked me out?!"

"They look the same!" Slash shouted. "Where's the dot, or the mark, or..."

"I didn't make a mark! They have to look the same! One's a frelling bomb! You can't tell me you didn't remember which one was on TOP?!"

"I was busy!" Slash shouted.

"With what? Beating me in the face with my own arm?" Garrett stopped as the room rocked from an explosion. Blaster fire grew louder, then quiet.

"...yeah." Slash said, the tentacled face now down even with his own. Garrett could see the chains and threads and weapons hidden within the quarian's folds and tendrils.

Rhea stood, holding her face rigid, working her jaw subtly. Garrett recognized the motions - an implanted communicator. Subvocal, in the ear canal.

"We're moving." She announced. Slash pulled Garrett up to the sitting position. There was a flurry of blaster fire outside, then another explosion. The wire holding the single bare bulb swayed side to side.

"Great." Garrett was slyly working at the plastic bands around his wrists, until Stack punched him.

"You two take the good doctor out of here and figure this 'two cube' bantha-shavvit." Rhea said. She pulled a fully automatic Avenger minigun from a well-mounted wrack on the wall and aimed it at the door, spinning the barrels. Stack had an oversized, overmodified Golan Arms FC-1 Fletchette launcher steadied on an ammo crate, and Slash was practically bristling with weaponry, a blaster in each hand, a blade extended from each elbow, long cybernetic talons from his thumbs, tentacles twitching for a free shot with the hold-outs hidden in his slimy decolletage.

The door was heavy, bars and bolts and thick metal. A lightsaber point burst through it, began moving.

Garrett swore under his breath.

"You will not survive." A female voice said outside.

"Frack that!" Rhea shouted, spinning up the barrels of the Avenger.

Stack stuck out a hand, put it on her forearm. "You don't have the shield right. Fall back with the doc, we're right behind you."

Rhea hissed under her breath, hefted the gun like it was easy. Garrett saw why - a power assist servo attached to her belt, a harness that distributed the immense weight. Her free hand shot out and grabbed him by the ear, yanking him down the hallway. The red lightsaber blade was sliding through the metal as Slash armed a mine, the efficient but simple "front towards enemy" facing the door.

Stack covered him, the huge barrel of the FC-1 bobbing with his breath. Garrett was watching as Slash came running.

As it always did, everything happened at once. The door flew from the remaining frame, smashed into the wall. The mine went off, everything was smoke and ringing ears, Slash was still running, the cubes in a makeshift sling, and then the thud-thud-thud of the FC-1 as it poured explosive rounds of superheated metal. Slash reached the corner, Stack started running towards him, the two executing an impeccable salvo of suppressing fire alternating with their rapid retreat.

They piled into an elevator, the doors closing just as Garrett caught a glimpse of what they'd failed to kill, in the tendrils of smoke and showers from the sprinkler system.

Lord Trost, horrible and terrifying, a twisted figure, even for a Sith Lord.

His feet were gone, replaced with metal boots, armor covered legs that were a shattered pastiche of flesh and wires, bags of blood and plasmas pulsing through synthetic skin strung taut between metallic spandrels. Pumping things covered his torso, lungs like bellows, tubes pumping green bile and red blood and straw-colored water all a wild complex of things exuded from the suit at every joint and muscle.

He had no eyes. Just a scar above the metal plate of a nose, his teeth were gone and replaced with metal at odd angles.

At his sides, women with barbed wire bridles in their mouths, blood flowing from the one who had spoken. Their faces were masses of scars, their hands did not have enough fingers.

They stared down the hall even as ceilings and walls burned and fell, the tunnel becoming debris. Trost stared with no eyes, the two women with four cataract globes. Yet all three turned simultaneously to the cubes Slash was carrying. They pointed, three fingers, three hands, all at once.

"There." Blood-mouth said. The other nodded assent, her rictus grin drawing a bead of red down her lips where the barbed wire pierced them. Her teeth were also metal, ground to horrible points that had cut her lips.

The door closed. The lift rose.

Slash screamed, twisted in the small room, bumped the huge Avenger minigun, a smoldering bit of cloth burning out of control. He jumped back, the cube fell to the ground, smoldering where it had touched his flesh, which was burned.

"What the frell is going on!?" He shouted, taking another prime opportunity to punch Garrett in the jaw. A tooth landed on the floor.

"Let him explain!" Rhea shouted as the door opened. They were deep underneath the casino now, the tunnels and catwalks here were actually part of the ceiling for the lower level of Nar Shadda. Pipes clogged the way, and the fit was tighter than the Avenger minigun Rhea carried was comfortable with.

"I'm going to go back up a level and come down the other side." Rhea said. "Go down a level, you'll be on a catwalk above the lower level. Golgornno's got a taxi coming down to pick you three up, take it and get this arsehole off our gorramn planet."

Stack and Slash dragged him down the hallway, his remaining arm cuffed with a zip-tie to his belt. The cubes were trailing behind in a rucksack, Slash still felt the crawling pain in his fingers from picking one up.

A floor above, Rhea finished tuning her personal shield. The minigun would fire bolts with a specific frequency - one that the shield was set to intercept. This way, if the Sith bounced back her bolts, she'd be safe.

The elevator was busy, though.

That wasn't good.

***

"I have a bad feeling about this." Caitlyn said.

Kara didn't respond. She was busy catching her breath.

"There's something wrong down there."

They passed a pair of dead elevator doors - "I wish those had been working." Kara thought, blaster drawn.

The hallway was long, and at the end, Stack was helping Slash get the semi-conscious Garrett onto his shoulders.

"...well I don't know how to get down from here." Slash said. "I mean, the lifts are all frelled up, let's just wait for Rhea."

A cerulean blue blade focused their attention in a heartbeat.

"Drop the... what is he? A doctor?" Caitlyn shouted.

"Frack this." Slash said, dropping Garrett unceremoniously to the ground. He had his hands up.

"Yeah, he's all yours, this is frelled up." Stack said, throwing his FC-1 to the ground.

"I'm alive." Garrett said before Slash kicked him in the stomach.

Kara was moving in when Caitlyn stopped her, hand out.

"Wait, something's not right. I... I didn't see Garrett. That's not what I saw."

"This is him." Slash said, nudging Garrett's prone form with his toe.

"That's not what I saw!"

Stack and Slash were backing up. Garrett staggered to his feet, bloodied. His hand was free now, the band snapped. He grabbed the sack containing the cube and it's counterfeit.

"Get back!" Caitlyn shouted at him. She realized then what she'd seen - not Garrett, but this. This thing in the sack, the thing that been trying to suck Garrett dry for a month, surrounding itself with wisps of his essence.

"Don't touch it!" Slash said, turning to run.

"Don't you frelling move!" Kara shouted into the chaos.

"Don't touch it!" Stack added.

At each end of the hall the elevator doors made a distinctive *ding* and opened. Closer to Caitlyn and Kara, Rhea came striding out with an uncanny confidence, spinning up the barrels of the Avenger as her shields powered on.

At the other end, two red lightsabers. One low, held by a Sister of Pain. The other, high, uncaring, ungraceful. A form twisted and wrong.

Lord Trost.

"GET DOWN!" Rhea shouted, and the spinning barrels began spitting hot yellow plasma, the five barrels spinning five times a second, staying in place long enough to lay down five shots before turning, the perfect automatic assist laying down twenty five shots a second.

All of them headed for Trost and the Sister. Their lightsabers flared and flashed, whirling and angling in graceful arcs. Bolts came screaming back towards those caught in the middle, even as more - twenty five every second - came hurling from Rhea's direction.

"GET DOWN!" Rhea shouted again.

The sister went down, the hilt of her lightsaber breaking an instant after her hand shattered in blood, the ripping roar of the Avenger continuing as it shredded her body.

Trost continued, lightsaber a blur, the bolts that got past would ricochet off his armor or the metal that had replaced his flesh. Relentless. Oncoming.

"Get down!" Garrett shouted at Caitlyn, pounding his hand on the floor. In the moment she thought about it, she deflected a fusillade of blows, then easily sliced through the floor. Below them was a catwalk.

Rhea stopped for a moment to cycle a new battery into the Avenger. It was a moment that would take a skilled operator ten seconds, but she did it in less than five.

That was all Trost needed. He reached out with a hand made of plastic and metal, pointed at her...

..and found his hand drawn to the cube. Pointing at it. He felt the energy that was going to have gone into assaulting her, flowing from him, streaming towards the cube.

Being drained. Something else coming back up his arm.

Even after all the pain he had been made to suffer, his scream was robotic, modulated.

The hole was made, Garrett slithered through, followed by Kara, Stack, and Slash. Caitlyn jumped down last, just as the endless ricocheting maelstrom in the hallway began again. The wind was howling, they were kilometers from the next level. Speeders drifted by, lazy and uncaring about the world of pain a level above.

A taxi pulled up, doors lifting.

"You two stay here." Caitlyn said. Explosions rocked the floor above as Garrett, Caitlyn, and Kara got into the cab. The door closed as fire shot through the hole Caitlyn had cut. They pulled away, Stack and Slash grabbing the catwalk as it broke free, dangling them above the gap.

The hole grew, parts of the level above began to fall as the cab pulled away.

"No frelling way." Kara said as Trost fell through the gap, a rain of deadly bolts chasing him as he fell, the lightsaber flickering and flashing into the onslaught.

Everything above them exploded, but the cab was dropping rapidly, then leveling out.

"Nice flying!" Kara said to the driver. Then she stopped.

The man had no eyes.

"Garrett!" He called out, extending a hand as the cab flew on. "What the frell have you gotten yourself into this time?"

"One blind man to beat another, Cameo?" Garrett said with a cough.

"I was being nice, Garrett. You've frelled up."

He looked back at the two as the cab landed on the level below. In the distance, debris was raining down, ships were hovering above, shields active, blasters firing.

The door opened.

"I'm Master Cameo Naton of the Jedi Council." He said, extending a hand to Caitlyn, then Kara. "And Garrett once saved my life. I'm returning the favor."

"Now. What the hell is this thing?"

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by Pryde » Sun Jun 28, 2015 10:55 pm

"Something that shouldn't be messed with," Kara said, "Did you see what it did to that--thing?"

The others were conversing quietly but Caitlyn kept staring at the mass of explosions above. Was it right that she told Stack and Slash to stay put? Were they even still alive? She shook her head, what was the point of dwelling on that now? This whole situation was far worse than Isis had imagined and now there was a Jedi Master involved. She'd never actually met Cameo Naton in person but she'd heard stories.

"It was sucking him dry," she said quietly, interrupting their conversation. "The--cube... Whatever it is, it was sucking him dry."

She turned to look at the others who all had puzzled looks on their faces. "Well, that's new," Kara said, "I'd heard of Sith artifacts empowering the user, but why would they create something to feed off them?"

"We need to keep moving," Caitlyn said, "I don't know what that thing was but it was very powerful."

Kara checked the charge on her DL-44 blaster pistol then shoved it back home in its holster. "Remind me to have a chat with your brother when this is all over. I think my fee just went up..."

**********

Isis swore as she ducked back behind the wall moments before a salvo of blasterfire burned into it. The gang bangers who had followed them into the tunnels were relentless and there was a lot of them. It seemed like for every gang member Isis took down two more sprung up in his place. "Frakking hell, did these guys hold a recruitment drive for morons? They keep rushing the tunnel like they're invincible!"

"Well, fish in a barrel," Adrian said with a shrug, popping out to fire a few rounds before ducking back. "I'm almost out of charges," he said, "You?"

Isis checked the charge on her blaster then fished around in her pockets to see if she had a few more. "I've got half a charge left and a spare, but that won't hold them for long."

"What about the shotgun?"

Isis shook her head, "Ran out of ammo for it awhile ago. We're practically running on fumes here. Just how many of these guys are there?"

Just then Jennie Hawker appeared from around a corner behind them. She fired a few rounds from her blaster pistol to keep the gang bangers from charging the tunnel then slid behind the wall next to Adrian. "The east tunnel's a bust but I think there's a way out over there," she pointed down a side tunnel on their right, "The air current shifted about halfway down and I could smell pastries."

"Good, we'll start there," Adrian said.

The three of them were about to make their move when a rather large, muscular gang banger, possibly the leader, poked his head out into the tunnel. "I don't know who you are, but by my count you've got to be running out of ammo."

For a moment Isis considered that maybe he was counting the bodies.

"It's over, Garrett Granth, you and your cronies are dead! Just come out now and we'll make it quick!"

"He thinks Garrett is with us," Jennie whispered.

"So we tell him he's not," Isis replied.

Adrian shook his head. "He'll kill us anyway. He and his men are all dosed up on performance enhancing drugs. Only thing going through his head right now is the rage."

Jennie's brow furrowed. "We make a break for that tunnel now he and his men will just follow us and kill us. There has to be something...," she said, her words trailing off as her mind raced. "How many charges have you got," she asked Isis.

"I've got a spare, but--,"

"Perfect," Jennie said, grabbing Isis' spare battery then forcing open the casing with a knife she pulled from her boot. Then with another spare battery and some wiring she connected the positives and the negatives to complete a circuit.

"Wait, if you do that it will overheat," Isis said.

"Exactly," Jennie replied, then she threw the battery bomb down the tunnel towards Scream-Lord and his men before grabbing Isis and Adrian by the wrists and pulling them down the side tunnel she had mentioned before. A moment or two later there was an explosion and the three companions dove out of the way as the resulting fireball blew past.

When it was safe Jennie was on her feet again and moving. Isis spared a moment to look over at Adrian. "I like her," she said then she too was on her feet and hurrying after Jennie with Adrian trailing behind...

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Fri Jul 24, 2015 10:09 pm

[Norg Dek's Used Ships]

"As you can see, everything is almost ready!" Norg said. Golgornno's droids were hauling huge crates into the main viewing room, over the lethal trap fountain and the newly refurbished walls of datascreens.

The Philosophile had certainly undergone a refit. Everything had gone from an air of crumbling opulence to a sort of half-wired deadly purpose. It was clearly not "almost ready."

But Golgornno still slithered across the floor with a frown and not a killing smile.

"It will do." He said, nodding to the Ortolan. Norg pointed a remote to a spot of welding as Golgornno brandished a bottle of brandy.

"Bring up the main screens, get me eyes on the exterior of the Golden Gulch."

One of the big screens flickered to life. The place was smoldering, cameras from the underside showed massive damage to the structural supports. Armed gangs were running in and out, carrying stacks of credits and chips and loot. His security guards were nowhere to be seen.

In fact, any of them who were any good at their job were coming here. The yacht was about to become his mobile command center.

And from it, he would hunt down Garrett Granth, and drown him in plastic.

It would make such a nice trophy.

"Boss. We took Lord Trost down. All the Sith with him. We've got reports that there's still some Sith Commandos out here." Rhea was coming in clear on a personal line.

"Took him down? I want the corpse."

"Didn't get it. Fell off the level, though." Rhea said. She was sweating, seared, covered in soot.

"He's a Sith Lord. He's dead when I have his body in plasteel a foot from his gold-coated head. Evade the commandos. We're coming to pick you up."

***
Rhea dropped down onto the catwalk. Smoke was wafting more gently now, the various enforcers and paid heavies that the crime lords had sent to raid Golgornno's palace were all finished fighting it out, the mad frantic scramble for the bounty on Garrett Granth seemed to have subsided after a series of large explosions that had drawn the survivors into a lower level.

Another speeder, men with heavy weapons and armor all hanging off the side, pulled up. The door opened.

"Golgornno wants to hear the whole thing."

Stack and Slash got in first, the Rhea, and the speeder pulled away from the sliver of daylight into the deep shadows of Nar Shaddaa.

***

"I don't like this." Cameo said. He was older than Garrett remembered, but that was how time worked. There were new scars, more grey hairs, though - and that troubled him.

Garrett doubted he himself was a pristine vision of health - bloodied jaw, one eye swollen shut, carrying one arm in the other.

"You come all the way from the edge of the galaxy to tell me I'm in over my head?" Garrett asked. His face was throbbing where he'd lost the tooth, and he couldn't help but touch the clotted spot with his tongue.

"Believe it or not, Garrett, the schedule of a Jedi Master does not revolve around you and your amoral absurdities." He ushered the three into a neat, but musty, apartment with an impressively heavy and well-secured door.

"There's a medical kit in the fresher, Doctor." He looked at Caitlyn and Kara. "There should be fresh water and something mildly edible in the kitchen." He produced a plastic bottle from a cabinet and opened it, started drinking thirstily. It was old, stale.

"Jedi Order safehouse." He said as Garrett staggered away. "I don't suppose either of you knows where he got that... thing?" Cameo was looking directly at the cube, which Garrett had left haphazardly on the dresser. Kara realized his attention had been on it since the moment they'd closed the door.

"We'll ask." Kara said. "How do you know Garrett? Doesn't seem like the kind of guy hangs out with a Jedi Master?"

Cameo smiled. It showed wrinkles at his lips and the white spiderweb of scars.

"He saved my life once. I mentioned that, but I don't think I got the point across. I'd been paralyzed by Darth Vader in a raid that got a lot of people killed, including Garrett's daughter and his best friend. At the time, Garrett was just some medschool dropout, a wanna-be slicer writing good reviews for bad spaceport bars in exchange for big drink tickets. He gave up so much to help us, even though we'd just met him. I didn't care at the time. I was so caught up in my own grief, I didn't see his."

Cameo still faced the cube. Kara felt disturbed by his focus, even as she listened. His face was pained. They were all looking at the thing.

"...I did terrible things to heal my body. Garrett helped rescue me, but when I returned, I was put on trial for what I'd done. In all that time, he never judged me, never looked down on what I'd done. No, instead, he offered again and again to break me out of jail. But I waited. We got attacked, I was wounded, thought nothing could save me, I was convinced that my pride and my vanity had done me in. I had given up. Garrett hadn't. He used his own blood, almost killed himself in the process, then worked himself half to death, turned me inside out and fixed me up."

"Most cultures across the galaxy, most religions and superstitions, have a figure that is an adversary to their god or gods, some sort of demon or devil, the embodiment of the Dark Side. The Sith to their Jedi. Invariably, the dark figure first comes across as smiling, charming, intelligent, daring to break foolish rules set by the gods. Then this dark figure bestows mortals with the gifts and knowledge of the gods, tells them forbidden things, allows them to grow, to become enlightened, to cast aside their old ways and become something greater than they were."

"Then, the devil is revealed, and his gifts are nothing but fire, death and war from there on out."

"Stop looking at it." Kara said. Cameo and Caitlyn both turned to face her, slowly, as though with great effort.

"Stop looking at it."

Cameo shook his head as though he had a cold. "You're right, this thing, it's drawing something out of me. I didn't plan on giving you the maudlin treatment of the bad old days."

"The Jedi Council should know about this, right?" Caitlyn said.

"I don't think that this needs to be in a room full of Jedi Masters." Cameo said. "I fear we're only making it... stronger, somehow."

"Who would know about it?"

"Garrett. The Sith who was looking to buy it. The Jedi Archives may hold some clues. If either of you have any favors to call in, now might be a good time."

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Re: The Cruel Void

Post by xfiend1013 » Thu Apr 21, 2016 7:03 am

[OSSUS]

The boat dipped up and down on the waves as the temple grew closer. Cameo Naton paced back and forth down the length, pushing them with a long pole. He had hardly spoken since his encounter with the Cube, his pained discussion of the "Bad Old Days."

Kara and Caitlyn had gone off to find some contacts, to squeeze out some information that, perhaps, had been missed.

"Taking forever, Cam. We should have taken a real boat." Garrett said. Cameo had taken all his electronic gadgets and computers when they'd landed.

"I spoke with Disaara Lon. She's the Chief Librarian, the Jedi Master in charge of the Deep Archive. It houses forbidden information. Dangerous artifacts. All the sort of things that they're terrified you'll try and steal."

"And I promised you I wouldn't." Garrett said.

"A promise not as valuable to them as it is to me." Cameo said. "Disaara only agreed to meet you if you weren't allowed to bring anything more high tech than a stick. "

Garrett rubbed the flat part of his shoulder where his prosthetic limb was usually attached and smiled, revealing gaps where teeth had been. "Why even bring me along, then? Why not just go and check for yourself?"

"Lon's a bit of a Garrett Granth fan." Cameo said.

"I do have my fangirls." The declaration seemed to settle him for all of two minutes, during which he scratched at the boat, which was made of a rough hewn wood.

"What, they wouldn't even let them sand it? Would smooth wood be too much of a threat to life in the galaxy?" He asked. There was no answer.

"That bad, huh?" Garrett asked.

"I can't go with you. I can't be near that thing." Cameo said.

It was Garrett's turn to be silent. Cameo hadn't even let them bring it to the surface - they'd put it in a satellite container, it was currently orbiting around Ossus once every minute or so.

"Great." Garrett sighed. "Do you think it's affecting Caitlyn and Kara that much?"

"Kara? Maybe. Caitlyn? Yes. She didn't concentrate on it like I did. But it's... it seems to corrupt everyone that comes in contact with it, Garrett. It frightens me. We should just fire it into a black hole and forget about it. I know it bothered Caitlyn. I could sense it. My sight, my vision, left me extremely vulnerable..."

"Then we'd never know what the Sith want with it." Garrett said as the boat came ashore with a grind of wood on gravel.

"You're the one who's usually in favor of throwing things into black holes." Cameo said as a phalanx of Jedi hauled the boat onto the dock. They were silent, exchanging whispered words with Cameo, and led the pair toward a staid stone block of buildings by the water.

"I had a chance to stop doing all this shavvit. Go be a researcher out in Xedadel space. Not have to put up with crime lords and Sith cults and crazy frellers with their faces all janked up." Garrett said to one of them, who was practicing legendary Jedi Calm.

A figure in flowing robes came out of the temple. Disaara Lon, an honest smile. She nodded, curt, and the Jedi split away, the huge doors opened and closed.

Garrett opened his mouth to speak, but Disaara interrupted him. "Sorry about all the protocol and ceremony. But, we are Jedi."

"Sure, whatever." Garrett said. "I needed the digital sabbatical."

Disaara smiled that smile that Cameo and all the other Jedi Masters had - the contagious one that hurt when they stopped smiling at you. "We've been treating some of the wounded from Brevost here. I don't think many of them understand why you did what you did."

Garrett tried beautification through the smile, but it felt like a grin on his lips. It was always this way around Jedi Masters - they were doing all those things you should have done your whole life, with every breath.

"Well, I can't afford a PR firm at the moment." Garrett said.

"Saving the galaxy twice? That should count for something." Disaara said. There were spots where there should have been sentries, she opened doors that he could not see. They were going down, down.

"I think they put up a statue. Somewhere." Garrett said as the lights became more spaced, the hallways more shielded, the walls thicker. Security doors were more serious business down here, the air more stale with each airlock and vent gone by.

A sobering thought - they were going to lock him in some room down here at the bottom of Ossus and leave him to die, or leave him here forever. The Jedi, he could see it. Cameo, though, he trusted. And more doors closed behind them, and finally, the lights came up.

"The Deep Archive." Disaara announced with something akin to pride. Items floated in resin, frozen forever, tomes open to certain pages, holocrons half opened, weapons still burning after ten thousand years.

Cameo went pale.

"It's hard to be prepared." He said, staggering a bit. Disaara looked equally offset. Garrett walked to a nearby terminal.

"Your nature protects you, Garrett. Without touching the force, you cannot feel the dread, the weight of this room. Even with all the nullification resin, the dampening watchers, it is a place of darkness." Disaara said.

"At the heart of the Jedi Academy." Cameo said, as though it were the continuation of some ancient argument, one that he had lost.

"How do I find a reference?" Garrett asked, finger poking uselessly at the terminal.

"It's a force interface." Disaara said, stepping to it. She put a hand on Garrett's whole shoulder. "You and Cameo will concentrate on the item, and I will search the Deep Archive."

Beads of sweat broke out on Cameo's brow.

"Touching his aura is... troubling." He said.

"That's not what's troubling you, Master Naton." Disaara said.

"No, it's the cube. Even thinking of it... hurts me. Recalls the worst things that have ever been done by me." He looked at Garrett.

"The worst things ever done for me. Because of me."

"Ah, cut the bantha-shavvit, Naton, I'll throw this thing into the nearest sun if it's gonna cause us this kind of grief, okay? Let's just find out what it is. For all we know it's just a bad-vibes generator for Emo Sith Lords." Garrett said, closing his eyes.

"Armored with charm, bringing fire, claiming it is illumination." Disaara said. There was nothing in her voice. She touched Cameo in the same way that she had touched him, and her eyes went white.

Garrett saw it. The cube. Details he could never make out - runic script, characters in no language he had seen, glowing brightly against the dull background. Saw it open in purple flame, a sickening vertigo unfolding as the inside of the cube became the boundaries of the universe, the inner space and outer space reversed in an instant, a world below, bright with light and life, vegetation seen from orbit, speeders unzipping the sky, clouds and fish and....

Death. Hate. The shriek of an eagle as it tore the life from chicks. The lies of a billion bedrooms. Time unfolded on deceit, the compounded death of the ages burning every inch of the planet, leaving it dead, bubbling rock.

Garrett wanted to scream, tried to scream, felt his throat clenched tightly, he willed his eyes to open and found himself hanging in the air above the floor, with Disaara's outclenched fist pointing at him, arm raised high. Her eyes had gone jet black, dark veins showed in her neck.

"You should not have come here! Betrayer! Traitor! Outlander!" She raised her lightsaber and lunged for him.

"No!" Cameo shouted, sweating and shaking, his own saber out, running at her. "Disaara! Stop!" He darted into the sweep of her saber, blade out, bouncing back with a zip of energy.

Garrett landed on his back, gasping for air as the two Jedi parried and bounced. Then, the sabers went out.

"What... what have I done? What was that?" Disaara's voice was strained and shaking.

"Now you see what we're up against." Cameo said.

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