“Twenty minutes ’till landing!” spoke a crude, distorted voice through the speaker. The transport shuttle rumbled, making the sleeping passengers stir, confused, before closing their eyes again and going back to sleep. The thundering noise of the engines would make any conversation impossible – not that anyone was interested in chatter anyway. The passenger chamber stank of stale food and animal excrements. The bronze walls were full of rust and stains, and corrosion had eaten the floor in several places. It was a broad room, once most likely a cargo hold, transformed into a passenger chamber by adding a few loose, wooden benches along the walls.
It wasn’t really a first class flight, or any class for that matter – but the passengers were guaranteed a low-profile. The pilot, and old and pale Human male, obviously had an arrangement with the port authorities, since he promised that no planetary patrols would interrogate the passengers. This was ideal for the group of nine travellers currently aboard. Among them were two Trandoshan slavers in company of two captured Twi’lek females, wearing slave collars on their beautiful long blue necks. Beside them sat an Ithorian in plain brown garments, carrying a cage full of Gizka – small, yellow amphibian creatures, crawling over one another inside the confined box. Across them was a family of Human refugees – the man, the wife and their young son, all dressed in plain clothes.
Sitting alone on the smallest bench beside the door to the ship’s maze of corridors was a man in a green camouflage trench coat, a black hood emerging from underneath it covering most of his face. Beside him was his bulky black bag, something inside clanking as the ship trembled violently. He was scratching his neck with one hand and in the other held a small datapad he promptly studied. The turbulence became so hard that the crates in the hold began moving backwards and forwards, shrieking as they budged along the floor. The landing procedure had begun and the wrecked thrusters began rocking the ship, making everyone lose their balance. After several minutes the ship landed with a heavy quake, making one of the Twi’lek fall prone. One of the slavers grabbed her by the lekku and pulled her back to her feet. The second slaver equipped a force-pike and as soon as the bay door opened started forcing the Twi’lek girls out, threatening them with weak electric jolts generated by the top of the spear. The Ithorian rushed out next, barely carrying the cage full of animals in both his hands. Then the Humans came out; the man carrying an old, worn-out bag on his left shoulder and the woman holding her sick son, who started coughing as soon as the door opened. The mother gently kissed the boy on his head as they touched the soil.
The hooded man came out last. Carrying his bag in one hand he exited the ship, with his free hand removing the hood, revealing a handsome, unshaven blonde man with hazel eyes, in his mid-thirties. His ear-length hair was messy and kept falling in his eyes, before he moved it behind his ears with a swift stroke. He looked around and saw an apparently abandoned docking bay, the duracrete beneath them cracked in places. The pilot was checking the ship for damage, cursing aloud and kicking its corroded exterior. A Rodian, dressed in blue patrol guard uniform, emerged from the other side of the ship and approached the old man. The pilot handed the guard a handful of credits, undoubtedly a fee for the use of the abandoned facility. The mysterious man took the trench coat and the hooded sweater underneath in off, revealing a muscular figure wearing a silky black shirt, its sleeves folded above his elbows, tucked into tight, brown pants held by a black utility belt matching his leather boots. He folded the trench coat and the sweater and tossed them into a nearby thrash compactor, reeking of days-old garbage. The passengers exited the hangar through the doorway across where the ship had landed. He looked around, scanning every corner of the huge chamber before proceeding through the same door. Following a labyrinth of narrow tunnels he reached the massive hallway, full of commotion and noise. Sentients of all ages and races were rushing towards numerous doors, scattered all around the colossal room. A computerized voice was listing landings and lift-offs, as well as available and occupied hangars. Massive viewscreens were displaying various commertials, news reports and the spaceport data the voice had just read. Protocol droids were gagging about, providing information to those who needed it.
“Hello, Sir. I am D-6O1, and I will be your guide. Do you require any information: directions, instructions or protocols?” an old blue protocol droid approached and asked the man. He pushed him aside with his free hand and continued towards the massive door labelled “Exit.”
“How impolite!” the droid echoed in the back, before moving towards a group of tourists and repeating the same welcoming sentence.
Nubia, at last. The dry air outside was soothing after hours of breathing the rotten stench inside the ship. The sun was just setting in the west, colouring the sky red and gold. The horizon was composed of massive mountains, thick clouds engulfing their peaks. Around him air cars were docking on a massive parking lot in front of the huge, spherical building. People were rushing in and out of the spaceport, pushing or evading others who appeared to be in the same kind of rush. He walked across the parking area towards a group of cylindrical turbolifts. He entered one of them and pressed a blinking green button inside it; the lift immediately began descending at tremendous speed, and a few seconds later reached its destination. It was a round shaped duracrete construction, with four massive railways leading out of it into pitch black tunnels. Two grey hovertrains with blue stripes painted on the bottom were parked on the rails, their repulsorlift engines roaring impatiently. He rushed into one of them, pushing several other pedestrians out of his way. Finding an empty seat he lowered his bag beside it and comfortably lay back in the chair. As soon as the hovertrain departed he drew a small cylindrical comlink from his utility belt. He pushed a button on top of it and with a soft, soothing voice whispered “Wells here. I’ve arrived.” He opened a window next to his seat, and after checking that nobody was watching, threw the device out.
Secrecy was very important to his new employer. This was his first mission for the GenoHaradan, a clandestine assassins’ guild. Everything about them was a secret – their leaders, their members, even their motives. Shrouding themselves in mystery kept their organisation alive for a long time. Whenever the GenoHaradan would come into the public eye, most people would discredit any information as rumours started by sceptics and conspiracy theorists. The members within the guild communicated through mediator agents, never in person. Their agents would never take credit for a kill as regular bounty hunters did – but the payment was all the more generous.
Wells’ experience as a member of an elite Republic Covert-Ops team came in handy after the Treaty of Coruscant, when all republic forces were called off the battlefield, and most of them were left unemployed. The war left most of the soldiers scarred. Thousands had died for a piece of paper with blood-red word “Peace” written on it. He lost his faith in the Senate; the same Senate he was once ready to give his own life for. Moving from planet to planet, working first as a bodyguard, then as a member of a Hutt’s private entourage and later as a freelancer bounty hunter got tiresome even to a vital and brisk man such as Wells. One night, sitting in a cantina on the fringes of the Outer Rim, he was approached by a slim and beautiful young woman, dressed in black leather. After buying him a few drinks and chit-chatting about his days in the military she discretely handed him a datapad and left without a word. The datapad wrote “Meet Karlo Vent in ‘Odok’s Cantina.’ Come alone!”
The hovertrain’s repulsor lifts seized roaring. The train stopped, and the passengers rushed towards the exit. Wells waited until the crowd was thinner and headed out himself. He was in a hovertrain station almost identical to the one at the spaceport. Upon exiting the station he checked his slim datapad for the map he had previously downloaded. He headed east, following the route he had planed on the map. Nuba city was an industrial, mining settlement, constructed along a mountainside. Its lifeless, grey durasteel buildings were all similar to each other. The bronze sky and the grey facade bore an unpleasant, melancholic tone. The streets were covered in a thick layer of smog and the roaring of the factories echoed throughout the entire city.
After a ten minute walk he’d reached his destination – “Prancing Ronto” cantina, located in the eastern regions of the city. The automatic door slid open, revealing a festive atmosphere within the big square room. The miners were hard working here on Nubia, but in turn they knew how to enjoy themselves when the working hours were over. People of all ages were singing traditional miners’ songs, saluting one another, and falling unconscious off their chairs. The sound of the miners’ songs overpowered the soft, repetitive music played in the background.
Wells approached the slightly rounded bar at the far end of the room. Finding a place on one of the bar stools he called out to the waiter: “Waiter, your strongest!” The bald, fat man nodded and after a second came back, carrying a palm-sized glass filled with transparent liquid. “One shot of Miner’s Sweat. It’ll be five credits.” Wells handed him the credits, took a taste of the brew and the small sip burned like lava all the way to his lungs. He shook his head to wash the grimace off, and looked around the cantina again.
“Ya’ must be new ’round here?” concluded the bartender.
“What makes you say that?” Wells asked.
“Well ya’ obviously never tried the miner’s sweat. Look at ya’ face, it’s like ya’ stuck it in a ronto’s behind, if ya’ know what I mean!” he grinned at the man. “Where ya’ from, mate?”
“Doesn’t matter!” replied Wells almost instantly.
“All right, all right! Keep yer’ blaster in yer’ pants!” the bartender waved him off.
Wells took another sip of the see-through liquid, and after shaking off another grimace asked: “I’m looking for a man named Victor Kahn? You know where I can find him?”
“I know who he is. Have no idea where he is. What are ya’, a bounty hunter?” asked the bartender through a short laugh.
Wells tried to hide his astounded reaction to the mention of those two words.
“No, just an old friend. Why would you think I’m a bounty hunter?”
“Kahn is a small man of big words. He’s gotten himself into a big mess, and no wonder if somebody would wanna put a bounty on his big mouth, if ya’ know what I mean!”
“I’m not sure I follow you.” said Wells, trying to look surprised.
“Well ya’ see, as ya’ must know yer’ friend is a former Republic Senator. He held the Senate seat for Nubia during the Great War, ya’ know!” the bartender paused to catch his breath “During the time of his membership in the Senate he fought for independence of Nubia from the Republic rule, claiming the Nubian government is corrupt to the core, taking orders from the Republic’s tycoons, and that’s the only reason we’ve not gained independence yet! He claimed that Republic took a lot from Nubia but gave nothing in return. I don’t like him, but he’s right ya’ know! All they give us was this military protection, and we give them a huge share of all our work. Well, we sure can protect ourselves.” The bartender paused again, spitting on the floor. He turned back and poured himself a shot of “Miner’s Sweat” and swallowed it in one big sip, followed by a growl from the bottom of his throat.
“Anyways, now that he’s out of the Senate he is threatening to publish all their most guarded secrets he claims to have. He also threatened to expose the guts of the Nubian government. Ain’t gonna be long ‘fore somebody tries to get rid of him. But ya’ don’t have to worry bout yer’ friend” said the bartender ironically “I’m sure he’ll be all right.”
“Well, do you know where I can find him?” asked Wells, extending a fistful of credits to the barkeep. The man took the credits from Wells’ hand and swiftly put them in his back pocket. “I hear he’s down in the Odeon Casino every night. When he lost his position he sure lost his edge – got himself drinking and gambling a lot, I hear! Would you like another round?” the bartender waved the bottle above Wells’ glass. He snatched it from the bartender’s hands and said “I’ll have the whole bottle.” and offered another bunch of credits to the fat man.
“Suit yourself!” the bartender said aloud as the man walked out of the bar.
Heavy rain was pouring outside. The air had a strong scent of sulphur and ozone. The water poured down the steep desolate streets of Nuba city; the only sounds were those of the heavy raindrops, a few air-cars and the ever-present roaring of the factories. Several people who were caught in the rain were running from cover to cover, their heads coated in their jackets. The town looked even more miserable than usual.
Inside the Odeon Casino, however, the mood was different. An enormous crowd was inside the exquisite gold and blue decorated room. The chiming of the slot machines and the cursing of the gamblers overpowered the monotonous sounds coming from the outside. A band was playing, positioned right across the main entrance, consisting of three Biths, an Ithorian and two Twi’lek dancers wearing silky, revealing clothes. Human and Twi’lek girls, dressed in short blue blouses and even shorter yellow skirts, were going from player to player, serving refreshments to the anxious gamblers giving all their credits to the ravenous machines. The overhead lights were dim, but were made up for by the flashing neon lights coming from the machines and various holovid commercials.
Wells made his way through the labyrinth of machines, careful not to be too conspicuous. He was wearing a loose black leather jacket and a pair of matching jeans. He positioned himself so that the security couldn’t notice him but that he could have a clear overview of the huge hall. Double-checking that nobody was looking, he rushed his way across the long room, and went directly towards a huge pair of staircases that encircled the band. There, under the left staircase was a door labelled “Maintenance.” Turning his head again for one last look he swiftly opened the door and went in.
Getting ready for this mission was not an easy task. Wells spent two days in quiet observation, carefully analyzing the situation, the architecture and the habits of his victim. Kahn was here most of his days and all of his nights. His entourage was made up of two humans, around their forties who on both nights carried him out of the club. He was playing in a private room upstairs, away from all the noise and the commotion of the main floor. The casino was divided into two sections – the public gaming house downstairs and the private rooms upstairs. The good thing about the private rooms was that there were no cameras active in order to protect the privacy of the more prosperous guests. The only other way besides the obvious was by a fire escape, accessible only through a passage in the maintenance room.
Getting his gear in for the mission was the hardest part. The main entrance was secured by two guards who performed a thorough check of all the guests. He tried to find a way to smuggle it in through the vent shaft and inside vehicles transporting supplies, but all in vain – the vents were too secured and the supplies were carefully checked. Luckily, one of the maintenance workers, discontent with his income, was more than eager to smuggle a simple brown box in inside his assistant droid, for a sufficient amount of credits. Wells had told him that there was spice inside, although the man did not seem too interested to know.
Wells entered the small damp room, illuminated only by a single glow rod positioned above the door. He searched a pair of shelves, stacked with various broken pieces of machinery, tools and cleaning equipment. He found his brown box on the top of the left shelf, concealed behind a large piece of metal, probably taken out from a malfunctioning droid. He unpacked it and found his personal blaster pistol, a bottle of ‘Miner’s Sweat’ and a small, cylindrical container, made of metal and no more than a finger’s length. He set his blaster to stun and placed inside a shoulder holster, concealed the small cylinder inside a hidden pocket in his sleeve and the bottle in an inside pocket of his leather jacket. Having checked all of his equipment again he headed towards a window right across the door. He stepped outside, and found himself on a durasteel ramp that served as a fire-escape. He climbed up the stairs, his boots ringing against the metallic surface of the construction. He tried to damp out the sound of his footsteps by moving gently on his toes. Two staircases above, he reached a sealed window. The electronic lock was accessible only from the inside of the building. He had been prepared for that as well; he reached inside his left sleeve, to another concealed pocket. He placed a small, disc-shaped object he pulled out of his sleeve against the window and activated a small button on the side of the device. The device released a small electro-magnetic jolt that unconfined the restraints on the window. Wells opened the window and snuck his way in, placing the small device in the foot of the window so that it would not shut entirely. He was in a long corridor with tall, white walls and several doors on either side.
Sneaking his way across the hall he reached a corner, where he paused and leaned to observe the other section of the room. Footsteps! He quickly turned around to look at the window he’d just gone through. The coast was clear. “Must be my damn paranoia,” he thought to himself. He rushed along the rest of the corridor towards a door, which led to a small staircase down to the midsection. The stairs were covered with a delicate blue rug, and the railing was made out of fine, polished wood. He silently went down, in a half-crouched position, scanning bit by bit the anterior that extended before him. The stairs ended in a small corridor, decorated in the same manner as the stairs, with a small dark wooden door at the left wall.
He reached the last step when something jumped him from behind, landing above him in the foot of the stairs. He gathered his strength to throw the heavy entity off him, and recognized the attacker as one of Khan’s bodyguards. The bodyguard was now underneath Wells, who clutched the massive man’s legs tight with his own, and instinctively hit the man several times in his chest. The bodyguard’s fat bald head was severely scarred; his nostrils widened as the intruder hit him in his lungs. He pulled one of his legs from the blonde man’s hold and hit him as hard as he could in his abdomen. Wells lost his air for a moment, and that’s when the bodyguard used his opportunity to throw the slender man away from him and back onto the staircase. Wells took a hard hit into the back of his head, and on impulse grabbed his blaster pistol and set the little switch on the handle to stun. Just as the bodyguard was about to stomp on Wells with his enormous boot, the assassin pulled his gun out and fired two repetitive shots aimed at the man’s head. His gigantic body almost instantly collapsed before Wells, revealing the door open behind him, and the other bodyguard rushing towards a small panel on the wall opposite the stairs. Wells jumped towards him before he reached the alarm. He grabbed the man’s arm and forced it against the bodyguard’s back, but the guard waved his other hand back towards the attacker and shoved his elbow into Wells’ face. This bodyguard was thin and feeble, compared to his colleague, and Wells had no problem using his grip on him to throw him down on the ground, in front of the door. He fired a single shot from his blaster he still held in his hand at the prone man, who immediately ceased moving.
With a gun still in his hand he leaned against the door, and saw Kahn cowering behind a gaming machine, his morose, wrinkled, repulsive face filled with horror. Wells walked in, lay his gun on the console of one of the machines and grabbed the startled old man firmly by his shoulder. He pulled him up, threw him face down on one of the machines and pulled out the small cylinder from his right sleeve. He placed it against the man’s neck and injected the content of the syringe into his artery with a silent spurt. The man started experiencing spasms and in a few moments his head dropped lifelessly on the game console.
Wells holstered his pistol and went out to drag the two bodyguards inside the small, circular room. He placed them in chairs surrounding a small table located on the left side of the door. He pulled his blaster out again, set the stun mode to max, and shot the two men again. The amplified stun blast was known to cause a slight amnesia on its victims, so Wells would not have to worry about the guards remembering their encounter. He placed the old man in a chair between the two guards, and pulled out the bottle of ‘Miner’s Sweat’. He poured a large amount of the liquid into the old politician’s still mouth, a couple of solid sips into the mouths of the two guards, and the rest he spilt on their clothes and on the table, leaving the empty bottle knocked over on it’s surface. The injection he gave to Victor was a strong chemical enzyme mixed to emulate the effects of alcohol poisoning, almost undetectable by forensics if they do not know what they are looking for. He checked the console he smashed the old man against for any traces of blood, and after finding none he closed the door and left the same way he got into.
Wells sat at one of the pazaak machines, near where the band was playing. He was searching his pockets for more credits. Luck was not on his side today, but he failed to notice that. “Just one more game,” he thought, “This one will be a win!” He hit the buttons on the console as hard as he possibly could with one finger, the sound of the hit merging with the hundreds of others coming from the gamblers who did the exact same thing. His forehead sweat as he watched the digital cards that popped up in front of him. Seven. Three. Nine. “C’mon hit me!” he said aloud. Seven. “Dammit!” he kicked the machine, and the image on the display froze that instant. As the game blocked he noticed how the music had stopped, the band packing their instruments in a hurry.
“The casino is closed. Please leave in a civilised manner. There is no need to hurry or panic.” Wells noticed the wailing sound of the sirens coming from outside. He packed up and blended into the crowd heading towards the exit. As he was getting near the door a few medics in white work suits rushed by him, followed by two police officers and two police droids. They headed towards the staircase. He turned to look at the group rapidly climbing the stairs and as he walked through the door, which closed with a heavy thud as the last of the visitors were out.
“Hello, Sir. I am D-6O1, and I will be your guide. Do you require any information: directions, instructions…oh, it is you! Have a pleasant day, Sir!” the blue protocol droid rushed away from Wells as he made his way towards the passage leading to the abandoned landing bay. He was wearing a bulky brown overcoat and a pair of black jeans, his head covered with a green hood. At the end of the maze of old, abandoned corridors he reached the familiar hangar, where a familiar ship was being loaded with enormous wooden crates.
“Hello there, captain!” Wells waved to the pale, old man “Got place for one more?”
“I’m carrying a massive cargo today, as you can see!” the old man frowned, pointing towards the cargo hold, “But if you don’t mind squeezing in, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.”
“I don’t mind, can’t wait to get off this rock.” Wells replied. He handed the old man a small, yellow bag with credits clanking inside of it. “This should do, right?”
The old man counted the credits and cheerfully said “Yes, very well. Jump in and find a seat, we’re about to take off.”
Wells took a seat on one of the stored crates that seemed to be the hardest. He looked around the chamber that was once a passenger hold, amazed at how big the room seemed now that it was packed with crates compared to the when there were only three benches along the walls. As he laid back and leaned against the bronze wall the loading ramp shut; a few minutes later the engines started thundering, violently shaking the ship. A few moments later it was airborne. Wells closed his heavy eyelids and in a few moments, unaffected by the unbearable noise, the stench or the vibrations, fell into a deep sleep.