Not many planets know suffering as Metellos does. A dystrophic planet in the Core System and Coruscant’s retarded twin brother, the planet had struggled with over-population for decades. All attempts at rivalling the galactic heart in trade and industry had been flushed, leaving the population divided between those who could and those who would. Those who could, the Gentry, managed to avoid the misery of living on such an urban jungle by dealing with politics and information. They built enormous floating cities, which shadowed the densely populated surface of the planet. Those who would, the Groundpounders, were the working class – labourers, con artists and scoundrels – who had never left the durasteel soil which was their cradle and their grave. Every step of the populated area was filled with small green, copper-red and black houses randomly scattered around. Towering over these slums were Stratablocks, massive skyscrapers – the bridge between the two different worlds, housing what could only be described as the middle class; industry headquarters, banks and information dealers.
But the wise say that it is where the standards are the lowest, the people enjoy life the most. And indeed, there are no cantinas within the boarders of the Core Worlds like those in the Moridebo district on Metellos. The people here were known for having their own dialect the Gentry do not even understand, drinking and gambling a lot, getting into massive bar-fights and enjoying Limmie, a ball-sport famous across most of the galaxy. Among many cantinas the groundpounders spent their time in, none was more infamous than the Wondoo. It was known across the entire Core for sporting spices, gambling and illegal kinds of alcohol. Its huge interior was mostly durasteel, with pictures of famous Limmie players hanging from the walls. The dim illumination came from the flickering glowrods hanging on the numerous massive pillars scattered across the entire cantina. The only strong source of light came from the bar, from the giant glowrods positioned above this elongated table construction that surrounded the bartenders and the crates stacked with bottles of alcohol.
Even though it was way past the working hours, the Groundpounders’ favourite watering hole was still crowded with customers. From gamblers, alcoholics and prostitutes to off-worlders who came to check whether the rumours about this place were true; and those who, after witnessing it once, became regular customers. Bounty hunters would come often as well, as this was the perfect location for their prey to hide. One such group of five Rodians was scanning the area, wearing distinctive markings of a bounty-hunter – leather jackets, reinforced protection vests, utility belts stacked with energy packs and frag grenades, holstered pistols just slightly visible under their jackets and the peculiar, indignant smiles. They pushed and shoved their way through the crowd towards the bar, where they had a small chat with the bartender, a tall monotonous Ithorian who pointed his finger towards the corner in the eastern section of the cantina. The Rodians gripped their holstered blasters tightly and cautiously approached a small, round table, where a man was lying unconscious besides an empty, knocked-over bottle and a scattered pazaak deck. One of the Rodians rambled something in their native language.
“You check him,” the other one answered in Basic and gave him a cold, exasperated look. “You get paid the most!”
After the heated quarrel, the smaller Rodian, infuriated that he had to do all the dangerous work, went around the table and approached the man. His blonde hair was greasy and soaked in alcohol and sweat; his hands cold and motionless. The Rodian studied the man for a while, and then grabbed his neck to check his pulse. “He’s alive,” he shouted, and just as he was about to tie his arms, the man grabbed the Rodian’s hand and threw him over the table, back at the other Rodians. The rest quickly drew their blasters, but the man anticipated that, and rolled the table over, ducking behind the small but significant cover it now provided.
“What the…Am I dreaming, or is this the worst hangover ever?” The man mumbled to himself, as he reached for his blaster; only to realize it is no longer there. “Right; I left it in the apartment.”
“Caleb Wells,” the leader of the Rodians shouted; “some people are paying handsomely to see you! Surrender now and we might spare your limbs!”
“Well, has it occurred to you that I don’t want to see them; whoever they might be,” he replied, searching for a way out of this tight spot. He was surrounded; the walls cornered him like a cage. He evaluated the possible options, and as always, went for the most dangerous one. He grabbed the thick leg of the table and charged at the mercenaries. They scattered as the surface of the table hit the tightly-packed group. Three of them fell to the ground, and the other two just dropped their blasters, still unaware of what had just happened. Wells used their confusion and jumped over the table, almost losing his balance as his vision was still blurry and the whole bar was still spinning from the alcohol still flowing through his system. He shook his head, and tried to land a punch on one of the Rodians’ chin, but the sudden movement invoked dizziness again. The Rodian noticed that and quickly landed a punch in the man’s belly. He swung hard again, this time going for his head, but Wells dogged, grabbed him by the waist, spun him around and threw him. The Rodian ended up delivering his punch to a wrong person – a bulky man wearing the markings of the local Limmie club. The man shook his head; his ugly face became distorted with a mixture of anger and content as he grinned and shouted “Bar fight!”
Suddenly the whole bar was overflowing with people randomly punching each other. The hooligans had diverted their attention to the Rodians, unaware that it was the drunk human who was responsible for one of them being hit. The Rodians picked up their scattered blasters and started firing at the rabid local thugs. The hooligans, in turn, drew their vibro-daggers, and went for the Rodians, who were suddenly vastly outnumbered. Wells used the situation and went for the exit, dodging the angry mob’s punches as he ran. The Rodian leader saw their mark running, and quickly went after him, jumping him from the back and throwing him to the ground. He grabbed Wells’ hair and started smashing his head against the floor. “Not the head,” Wells mumbled through his gritted teeth, “it’s already killing me!” He managed to throw the Rodian off his back with a sudden push-up; launching him onto a table. As the mercenary was getting up, Wells smacked him with a bottle he grabbed off a nearby table. The bottle broke and soaked the Rodian’s head with alcohol, burning his fresh wound. The Rodian was still persistent; he drew his stun baton and went for the man again. Wells dodged a few blows by a finger’s length; each attempt making his head swell all the more. As the mercenary sought to thrust the weapon into the man’s abdomen, Wells stepped aside and grabbed the Rodian’s hand, taking the stun baton from his hand. The bounty-hunter tried to punch Wells, but the man was more proficient with the weapon he’d obtained – he dodged the punch and smacked the Rodian in the stomach. As the mercenary instinctively crouched in pain, Wells hit the Rodian on the head – the weapons electrical sparks igniting the alcohol he had been soaked with before. The bounty-hunter shrieked in agony, as Wells went for the exit, knocking several other mugs, bottles and tables along the way.
He rushed out on the street, which was barren compared to the cantina. He ran a few blocks, making sure the bounty-hunters weren’t following him along the way. Catching a few shortcuts here and there, he was soon far enough from the Wondoo that he could relax. He crouched against a wall in a dark, dead-end alley; grabbing his swollen head and trying to think straight. The adrenaline had sobered him up, but he was still nauseated from the moonshine the bartender had to offer for the only twelve credits Wells had left. He had gambled all of his credits in a game of Pazaak against a shrewd little Chadra-Fan. The diminutive pointy-eared creature anticipated Wells’ every move, and if the latter hadn’t been too drunk already, he would have probably realized that the opponent had been counting cards and would have backed out immediately. This way, his drunken pride had the best of him; and soon enough he had no stakes left to place.
He snapped back to reality, remembering the mercenaries that were after him. He looked around the corner again, and decided that the best way back to the apartment he was staying at was by a subway hovertrain. The station was five or six blocks away, and he wasn’t about to waste more time. Checking the coast again, he rushed across the street through another dark alley, a few corners and then straight to the subway entrance.
He relaxed a bit when the train’s massive engines started rumbling and chose to sit in the most occupied section – just in case the mercenaries would somehow track him. “Who in the universe would track me here,” he thought to himself. Although he had wronged many crime lords while he was working for the Hutt cartel, he couldn’t imagine one of them tracking him all the way to the Core. He’s been in the Hutt space several times, and if some of the slimes wanted him dead, what better place then their own sovereign piece of the galaxy.
Halfway to his apartment, Wells left the hovertrain he’d entered and waited for the next one – to cover his tracks just in case the Rodians were persistent enough. The second train was much older than the previous one – corrosion had eaten its outside in several places, and the inside reeked of alcohol and vomit.
Wells rushed into his apartment and started packing up. The first things he took were his holster and his customized blaster pistol, “a dirty nine” as he liked to call it. It had a longer barrel than most pistols of its size, and it had an additional power-pack slot as a back-up. It also featured two firing modes – automatic and single shot. He rushed to his bed and took his old vibro-sword from under the pillow. He holstered it in his boot – inside a secret compartment he had built in just for the purpose. He took his clothes out of a dusty old cupboard by the bed and shoved them into his green travelling bag. After he packed all his stuff, he lay down on the bed and rested his head on the pillow, only to catch a few moments of rest. However the alcohol and the adrenaline took their toll – his eyes closed tight, his mind wandered off.
Caleb Wells was just finishing his meal at his favourite diner on Metellos. Their chef, a specialized cooking droid, had inherited all the recipes from the diner’s late founder, Immie, who was Wells’ close friend. Although the droid followed the exact same preparation methods as the respected chef the food just did not have the same feel. The old cook was chaotic, always cooking by heart and regardless of measurements.
The diner was a long but narrow room with several tables placed on one side and a long bar on the other. Just as Wells took the last bite a familiar face appeared at the door. A beautiful and slender, yet masculine woman, wearing skin-tight leather pants, a short white top and a knee-length leather overcoat entered the diner. Her red hair fell over her tattooed face – she bore the markings of a Kiffar, sentient of the conquered planet of Kiffu. Turning many heads around as she passed, she sat on the chair opposite Wells.
“Well, well. Who’ve got here?” The woman spoke with deep but still very feminine voice. “What brings you here Caleb?” She interrupted herself with a wave of her hand. “No, no, don’t answer that. Pazaak and hookers, right?”
“Alana, humorous as always,” Wells replied. “I need your help.”
“I know. Why else would you have called me,” she grinned. “Surely you did not want to drink or chat, or reminisce about the old days, now would you?” Wells’ cheeks blushed a little.
“Never mind, I’m here. How could possibly I help you?” She shook her head to wave the hair off her face.
“Someone’s after me,” Wells replied. “I figured, of all people, you would know who in the universe wants me dead this time.”
“Yes. I do. The Hutts do. The Empire does. Everyone wants you dead, darling.”
“Very funny,” his face turned serious. “Well this time, someone has actually made a move and sent a couple of imbecile Rodians at me.”
“Oh, yeah. Last night at the ‘Wondoo,’ right? I heard about that this morning. Should have figured you are back.”
“Well, do you have anything?”
“No. Have no idea. Although, I know a guy who might know something. I can ask around, if you’d like.” She leaned over the table. “You could come too. I could hide you away for a while, until things lay low.” She blinked and bit her lip. Wells suddenly extended his leg under the table, kicking a hold-out blaster from Alana’s hand. She quickly jumped over the table and held Wells by his throat.
“You too?” He gargled. “Should have figured it out!”
“Nothing personal, darling,” she smiled. “Nothing personal.”
He pushed her back into her seat, knocking both the woman and the chair over. She extended her hand and went for her hold-out blaster, just as Wells was making his way towards the exit. She fired one shot into the glass window, shattering it to pieces, and the second into Wells’ shoulder. He cried out in pain, but still managed to run out of the diner. Alana quickly got back on her feet and started chasing her long-lost love through the windy streets of the Moridebo district.
Wells ran through the small alleys and between the compact houses, trying to fool Alana’s trail. “She’s a good hunter,” he thought, “so I have to be a smart prey.” He made his way towards the nearest Stratablock, knowing that there would be much more pedestrians there, which would make it easier to cover his trail. He got rid of his old green coat as he ran, keeping only a small piece of the sleeve to patch the sore wound. He grabbed a tattered old cloak while he was passing through a sort of a flea-market, and quickly coated himself, pulling the hood over his head as he kept on walking. He turned around, but there was no trace of Alana anywhere. And right in that moment, a blaster shot echoed through the crowd – all the people on the market immediately ducked for cover. At first Wells’ instinct told him to find a shelter, but his common sense told him to blend with the crowd. Looking back at the shot’s origin he saw Alana, rushing her way through the crouching crowd, pulling their hoods off, and shoving the people to the ground when she realized they are not who she was looking for. He tried to crawl through the terrified people, but steadily as not to attract Alana’s attention. He moved towards a counter filled with exotic linen and jewellery when Alana screamed – “Stop!” and rushed towards the moving cloaked figure. She violently tore the cloak, and revealed a terrified old woman; her wrinkled face petrified the woman started crying for mercy. All of a sudden an unknown force grappled her from behind, knocking the blaster pistol out of her hand. She tried to kick back, but Wells anticipated that move and used his own leg to trip the woman. As she fell to the ground Wells started running and jumping over the crouched people. By the time Alana got back to her feet, Wells was nowhere in sight. “You sneaky bastard!” she cursed out loud.
“Sorry, madam…I’ll be on my way,” Wells told the confused, half-naked woman he’d stumbled upon when he entered a seemingly deserted house in order to hide from Alana. “So, is there a back door, or…” he asked, but the woman just stood still, looking at Wells with a mixture of confusion and fear.”Never mind, I’ll find my own way,” he said, and bowed down. “Have a pleasant day!” He rushed to the other side of the house, and barely crawled through a narrow window. The chaotic houses were slowly beginning to take the form of streets and alleys proper. The patched houses were scarce now, and taller and taller buildings formed the landscape as Wells went further and further towards the towering giant that shadowed the area – Stratablock 7.
The tall buildings looked as though they were being assimilated into the massive construction, reaching out into the lower atmosphere. Wells left the colourful houses behind him and entered the monotonous grey streets of commercial and residential buildings, leading to Stratablock 7. The streets were much more crowded, and there were several air-traffic lanes. The yelling of children, angry mothers, cattle or the merchants trying to sell their goods was nothing compared to the noise of air-cars and loud machinery inside the buildings. A perfect place to cover his trail, Wells thought.
He caught an air-taxi just on the entrance of the urban settlement. The vehicle was considerably old, and was piloted by an Ithorian instead of a droid, which was a common standard nowadays.
“Where to, sir?” spoke the driver, his two mouths producing a stereo effect that always amazed Wells.
“Stratablock 7 Spaceport,” he replied. “And make it quick!”
“Will do. Please, strap on.”
The vehicle ascended and joined the others in the traffic lane, leading directly into the immense building. Wells used the time to check his wound, and patch it again, this time with a real bandage he picked up somewhere in the market. The wound pained, but he’d had worse. He closed his eyes to gain a few moments to finally catch his breath. Suddenly, something bumped the vehicle from behind. The Ithorian said something that undoubtedly sounded like a curse in his native language. A few moments again the same thing happened, only this time the vehicle behind them rammed harder into the Air-Taxi. Wells turned around, and saw two air-cars rushing behind them, bumping into anyone who stood in their way. Behind the windowpane of the vehicle, raging and ranting Rodians, whose face seemed awfully familiar, were pointing towards the vehicle Wells was driving in. Abruptly a blaster shot shattered the back window of the Air-Taxi. Wells ducked behind the seat, and drawing his “dirty nine,” fired back at the Rodians. The Ithorian mumbled something again, and seeing the passenger did not understand furiously spoke in Basic: “What’s going on?”
“Just drive,” Wells replied, trying to aim at the Rodian’s vehicle engine. The second car approached from the side and started bumping the taxi. The driver tried to manoeuvre his way out of the tight spot, but the Rodians were more than persistent to knock them off the lane.
“Speed up!” Wells shouted at the driver.
“I can’t,” the furious Ithorian replied. “It is against the traffic rules.”
“Screw the rules!” Wells replied, and tumbled over into the co-pilot seat. “Move over.”
“What are you doing?” The Ithorian tried to push Wells away from the controls.” Are you mad?”
“Move if you want to live!” Wells grabbed the controller and leaned over the driver’s lap. He rammed the vehicle into the Rodians beside them and sped up. The Rodians were back on their tail, but were gaining up on the air-taxi fast.
“Hold on!” Wells shouted, first speeding up even more and then suddenly shutting down the ignition. The vehicle’s engines suddenly stopped roaring and it swiftly lost altitude. The Rodians rushed forward – still speeding as their prey all of a sudden vanished from their sensors.
Wells switched the engine on just in time to land right in front of another driver in the lane below them; the latter hitting hard on the brakes, confused by the falling vehicle in front of him. The vehicle gained stable altitude once more, and the Ithorian took the controls back from Wells. He parked at a nearby walkway, and shouted at Wells: “Out!” The sound of his voice magnified by his pair of vocal chords did not sound so amusing to Wells this time.
He continued through the crowd, minding their own business. He scanned the area for any sign of the foes after his head. He saw a flash of light, coming from a building opposite the walkway. By the time he was aware of the danger, it was too late to react. Two bolts plunged into his body, one in his shoulder and one in his leg. Waves and waves of surging electricity rushed through his body, spasming his muscles, making his heart pound faster, and ultimately rendering him unconscious.
At the building top opposite the walkway, Alana stood with content. Her sniper rifle placed against her leg she reached for the comlink hidden between her breasts and spoke: “Alana here. I’ve got him.”