Title: Conflicts of Interest (Part One)
Genre: Gen (adventure)
Summary: Missions for their respective governments seem to have set Kyrian (an Imperial Agent) and Jezari (a Smuggler who does work for the Republic) on a collision course. There is also the slight matter of a Bounty Hunter...
Lord Dralick's receptionist watched with a mixture of curiosity and concern as the bounty hunter shoved her bound prizes into the room. She should have used the delivery entrance, but the receptionist hesitated at the thought of correcting her. Although the bounty hunter was human, her scarred face and well used armor suggested she took on Trandoshans and won.
Her captives were an odd pair, and clearly hadn't stood a chance against her. They were bruised and disheveled and moved like they were in pain. The woman was some human looking alien with weird yellow-tan skin and small facial tattoos. She looked furious. The man was human, dusky skinned and good looking despite his current condition and the small scar on his left cheek. It was too bad he'd somehow gotten on Lord Dralick's bad side.
He smiled at her. "I see Dralick's taste in employees has improved."
The bounty hunter thumped him between the shoulder blades with her blaster, hard enough that he stumbled. "Take these fools off my hands, and I'll take my credits," she growled.
"You'll have to wait for..." The receptionist changed her mind at the bounty hunter's glare. She hated to disturb the Sith, but she also hated to anger an armed bounty hunter. And this was important. "I'll call Lord Dralick right away."
"I don't care who you call as long as they've got my credits."
The receptionist fumbled with the holocomm. "I'm so sorry to disturb you, my Lord, but your bounty hunter has arrived. With the bounties."
"Excellent." Even in a tiny holo, he looked pleased. "They're just in time to test my latest creation. I love fresh subjects."
The prisoners exchanged glances. They clearly knew Lord Dralick's specialties.
The bounty hunter tapped a heavy booted foot. "My credits?"
"Yes, yes, pay the hunter." The holo blipped off.
The receptionist transferred the credits swiftly, too aware of the bounty hunter's impatient stare. "If you could just wait for the guards to-"
"Your problem now, sweetie," the hunter said. "I got what I came for."
The outer door hissed shut behind her as the inner door let in four of the installation's guards. The receptionist quietly pressed the button on her desk that locked the front door. The prisoners were Lord Dralick's now.
Twenty-four hours earlier...
"You lost an engineer?" Jezari stared across the table at the pair of SIS agents. The yellow green light of the bar made them all look Mirialan, though her prospective employers were human. And quite possibly younger than her. "How do you lose an engineer?"
"He was kidnapped," the woman explained. "By a Hutt. Until we track down the leak that made that possible, we can't trust any of our own people to get him back."
"And we can't afford Imperial attention." The man lowered his voice to near inaudibility. "It's bad enough that the Hutts have him. If the Empire were to get their hands on what he was working on, it would be a disaster."
"We're pretty sure we know where he is," the woman continued. "We just need you to get him back for us."
"Why me?" Jezari asked, afraid she already knew the answer. "I'm just a freighter captain."
The man shook his head. "You're a lot more than that. You've got quite an interesting record, Captain. Rescues, sabotage, blockade running, I think you've even saved a planet or two. We know you're the right person for the job."
"Right..." Saved a planet? Her reputation was getting out of hand. She wondered if Risha knew any slicers who could edit the SIS database. Not that it would make much difference; the SIS needed all the help they could get.
"We pulled all the info on Zarva we could get from a public terminal," the woman said, sliding a datacard across the table. "You'll also find a holo of Adson on there, and the address of Zarva's only factory. We're pretty sure that's where he'd keep him. He'll want a working prototype before he does anything else."
Jezari massaged her forehead. "Prototype of... No, don't tell me. I don't want to know." Whatever it was, she didn't want the Hutts or the Empire to have it. She sighed. "I'll get your engineer back for you."
"Zarva has most of his notes and plans, too. He can't be allowed to keep them. We can't risk anyone else completing the project."
"Of course," Jezari muttered. The Republic was chronically unable to hang onto anything. "Anything else?"
The two agents considered, then shook their heads.
"No, everything else is on the card," the woman said.
"Your service to the Republic is greatly appreciated," the man said as they stood up to leave. "Without your efforts-"
"Nothing would get done," Jezari finished. "I know. I'm on it." As soon as my crew gets back from shopping. The SIS job would nicely cover the upgrades Risha was going to make to the Wayfarer's Luck.
She watched as the two agents made their way through the seedy bar and disappeared into the relative safety of the Promenade. She had to give them that much. They might have picked a dive, but at least they'd picked one that didn't sideline in organ trafficking or slavery. The drinks were even halfway decent.
She ordered another and pulled out her datapad. She still had the better part of an hour before she was supposed to meet her crew across from the giant gold Hutt. That would give her plenty of time to look over the info the they'd given her. And figure out what they'd actually need to know to retrieve the engineer.
Mostly, the datacard left her with uncomfortable questions. If the agents were right, Zarva had - somehow - snagged their engineer, Adson Riada, from a safehouse, along with all of his notes and designs. The fact that Zarva seemed to be pretty much a nobody who dealt mainly in overpriced personal tech and knockoffs of Balmorran Arms blasters from his personal factory did absolutely nothing to explain why he'd kidnapped Riada, much less how.
Jezari assumed the engineer had come up with some new weapon. That would certainly give Zarva a spectacular foot up on his rivals, and explain why the SIS wanted Riada and his plans back so badly. It didn't explain what Riada was doing on Nar Shaddaa in the first place. Unless the SIS had decided to do a little weapon-selling on the side.
The whole thing gave her a headache.
Why didn't I stick to smuggling? Jezari wondered as she headed to the upper Promenade to meet her crew. Simple, straightforward... Everybody wants to kill you or rip you off, she added, abandoning the nostalgia filters. And, oh yeah, the galaxy's going to be at war any day now. Little things like that.
"Captain!" Corso called, ending her gloomy line of thought. Risha had loaded him down with a surprisingly large collection of bags and boxes: parts for the upgrades, no doubt. And, knowing them, new clothes and weapons as well.
Bowdaar waved and hooted a cheerful greeting. Either the wookiee hadn't bought anything, or Corso had ended up carrying his bags as well.
They'd chosen her more than she'd chosen them, but she had to admit they made a good crew. Sometimes she missed the peace and quiet of working by herself, but she didn't miss having to find outlaw techs anytime she needed the Luck upgraded and she definitely didn't miss working without backup.
"Do we have any credits left?" she asked, eyeing Corso's load.
"Enough for lunch, if you're not too hungry," Risha said. "Don't worry, Captain, we're not going to get impounded for docking fees or have to starve. I know how to drive a hard bargain."
"I know," Jezari said. "And it'd be worth it even if we did have to beg for lunch."
"You bet it will. How'd the meeting go?"
Jezari shook her head. "Typical. But we can pull it off, unless you turn up something really wrong. They didn't give us a lot of information."
Risha took the datacard. "I'll check it out back on the ship."
"Hey," Corso said, scowling over the railing. "What's he doing here?"
Jezari followed his gaze. On the other side of the Promenade, she spotted a familiar pair: a somewhat dark skinned human man and a petite Rattataki woman. Both were armed, like everyone on Nar Shaddaa, and the woman wore heavy armor. She squelched a foolish urge to wave.
"Well, he hasn't gotten himself killed yet," Risha said.
Corso frowned. "I still don't trust him. And he pops up everywhere."
"It's Nar Shaddaa," Jezari pointed out. "Practically the crossroads of the galaxy. I'm not gonna go say 'hi,' if that makes you feel any better." She could just see that exchange: "What're you doing here?" "Oh, job for Imperial Intelligence, can't talk about it. You?" "Job for the SIS, can't talk about it." The sad thing was, Kyrian probably would let it go at that. He was the damned strangest Imperial she'd ever met.
"You're not?" Risha looked at her.
Bowdaar expressed his surprise as well. They'd helped each other out in the past.
"Our employers are around somewhere," Jezari indicated the datacard. "That'd look great."
"You've gotta tell them," Corso said. "What if he's here for them? He's a-"
Jezari cut him off. "Not likely. Let's just get that stuff back to the ship and check out the Hutt factory."
Kyrian hoped the side trip to Nar Shaddaa would be a short one. The gaudy, overcrowded city-moon was neutral space, but it was also built on the Hutts' horrific business practices and only slightly less dangerous than taking an unarmed stroll through the forests of Dromund Kaas. Naturally, it was one of Kaliyo's favorite places.
She called out rude suggestions and leered at passersby as they made their way through the Promenade. He kept a casual eye out for any sign of danger, but, as usual, people contented themselves with glowering or shouting rude suggestions back.
They weren't there to indulge in her passion for blood sports and whatever else she'd amused herself with in her downtime on their previous visits; they were there to make themselves useful while they waited for further information and instructions from Watcher Two. They couldn't will the location of the Eagle and his remaining terror cells into their ship's navcomputer, and there was no point in pacing the ship, waiting. The Intelligence offices on Nar Shaddaa always needed help.
Privately, he thought that both the Empire's and the Republic's attempts to win over the Hutt Cartel were lost causes. Individual Hutts might make promises and offer "exclusive" contracts, but they were still Hutts, and Hutts cared first and foremost for the bottom line; limiting their clients to merely the Empire or the Republic was bad business.
On the other hand, if the Empire and the Republic were busy wooing Hutts, they weren't finding new and different ways to - unofficially - break the Treaty of Coruscant. If only the galaxy had a few more distractions. He was more than content to spend his career chasing terrorists, interfering with Sith plans, and trying to convince immovable neutral parties to side with the Empire. If enough time passed, the galaxy might even have real peace.
They skirted the immense golden Hutt statue and its surrounding fountains. Across the Promenade, on the upper level, he noticed a very familiar group. Jezari alone would probably have blended into the crowd, as would Risha and Corso, but Bowdaar was not someone you overlooked. Wookiees were more common on Nar Shaddaa than most places, but not free Wookiees carrying gigantic vibroswords.
Kyrian smiled, and wondered what they'd do if he waved. Then he considered that he was on his way to an Imperial Intelligence listening post.
"Not going to hook up with your Republic girlfriend?" Kaliyo asked.
He shook his head. "I don't think that would be wise. I'd rather not explain her to Imperial Intelligence."
Kaliyo grinned. "I'd love to watch you try."
"Perhaps another time." Never would be best.
"I can't wait."
It wasn't a kind joke. As a cipher agent, he had fairly broad leeway in his activities and associations, but they both knew his friendship with Jezari was just one of a long list of things that needed to stay very much off the record. Keeper seemed willing to overlook quite a lot, but helping out the Republic, even indirectly, was almost certainly going too far. The Sith Empire did very unpleasant things to traitors.
She smirked at his mildly discomforted look. "Just keep me entertained, Agent, and you won't have to worry."
"With you, Kaliyo, everyone should worry."
"Mm." She slipped her arm through his. "You always know how to make a girl feel appreciated."
"And you're most frightening when you're in a good mood."
"Keep flattering me and we'll be late for your meeting."
He smiled. "We wouldn't want that. Especially as we're already there."
Kaliyo eyed the small shop that fronted for the listening post with displeasure.
"There will be other times," Kyrian noted, leading the way past displays of over-priced knickknacks. The shop's handful of customers didn't notice them walk behind a large display and fail to reappear on the other side.
The listening post was dark in comparison to the shop, and Kyrian took a moment to let his eyes adjust before heading to the office at the end of the short hall. He hadn't been to that particular post before, but they all used the same floor plan, which was probably more efficient than wise.
The man at the desk looked up as they entered his office. His expression soured. "You were the only available agent?"
Kyrian had last seen the man on Balmorra, fuming about his lack of authority to have cipher agents flogged. He smiled pleasantly. "Watcher Two said you might need some help?"
"Yes." The man glowered at him. "I trust you've learned to follow orders."
"The wisdom of that has been made clear." More than once. Before the man could realize that wasn't an answer, he continued: "I should congratulate you on your promotion. Your own listening post and personnel. You must be pleased." I'm baffled. He had met a few others in Intelligence with the Fixer's - former Fixer's bloodthirsty leanings, but he hadn't expected to meet him again, much less find him promoted to...whatever his current designation was.
"My... Yes." The man smiled thinly. "I intend to make the most of this operation. Nar Shaddaa will ally itself to the Empire, and we will extract all its secrets."
"I'm sure your usual subtle methods will make an impression."
The man gave him a sharp look. "Indeed. I do have one mission even you should be able to manage." He switched on the desk's display, casting a faint blue glow over the room. "A Hutt has recently acquired the plans for a new type of ion weapon the Republic is working on and the man who developed it. Acquire those plans from the Hutt, and make it appear that the Republic was responsible. This Zarva," his voice dripped distaste, "is unimportant, but I want nothing to interfere with out plans for Nar Shaddaa."
"We can't bargain for them?"
"And trust the Hutt not to keep a copy for himself?" The man snorted. "No, you will take the plans and anything else related to the project." A squat building rotated on the holo. "This factory is the Hutt's only property of size and the most likely place for him to hold the engineer." The building was replaced with the image of a pointy faced man in coveralls. "Adson Riada. Eliminate him."
"Perhaps he'll be willing to change sides," Kyrian suggested. "I would be rescuing him from a Hutt."
"You will kill him," the man repeated. "I don't believe in taking unnecessary risks. Take the plans, kill him, and frame the Republic. You can choose from a selection of captured gear on your way out. Leaving a few items should convince the Hutt that they were responsible."
"I doubt the Republic would kill one of their own," Kyrian pointed out. "Though they will try to rescue him."
"I expect you to beat them to it."
"If I kill him, your Hutt will know that the Republic wasn't responsible. He's also likely to be suspicious if there's a Republic strike force there as well."
"Don't presume to tell me my job!"
Kyrian spread his hands. "I'm sure you know best. But I would think our superiors would be happy to get their hands on a live engineer, and not just his notes."
"An engineer is far too dangerous to hold as a prisoner. Kill him. Dispose of the body." The man fixed Kyrian with a grim scowl. "If you lose him or the weapon to the Republic or deviate from my orders in any way, I will see you punished, cipher agent or not. Do not get 'creative'. Is that clear?"
"Quite clear, sir."
"Good." He dismissed them with a wave of his hand.
Kyrian took a quick look at the captured gear, mostly for the benefit of the nervous man in charge of the supply room. He couldn't help feeling sorry for the post's staff. Whatever had prompted the man's relocation to Nar Shaddaa didn't seem to have improved his disposition or his tactics. Though it did suggest he had connections.
Once they were safely away from the post, he glanced at Kaliyo. "You may not want to report back with me."
"Why report back at all?" She grinned. "The Hutt has the right idea. People pay a lot for weapons."
"I'm not taking up arms dealing, and neither are you," Kyrian said. "At least not with our mission objective."
"Just make it worth my while, Agent."
"I will," he promised. "But first, we should see if our friend from Balmorra is right about the factory."
Savler had no trouble following her target and his Rattataki partner through the crowded passageways of Nar Shaddaa. The moon was one of the easiest places in the galaxy to capture bounties. It bustled with all manner of life and much of it had been built and rebuilt so many times that the tangled corridors hid pursuit almost without any effort on her part. That a few credits would take care of any witnesses was just a bonus.
Though this bounty was a little different.
She hoped he was heading for somewhere out of the way. If she was going to take down an Imperial Intelligence agent, she didn't want witnesses. She didn't need the torture of some poor slob who just happened to be in wrong corridor on her conscience.
Like working for a Sith Lord isn't bad enough, she thought. The agent was one thing, but she wasn't thrilled with the idea of handing over some harmless freighter pilot. Of course, the odds of her - or anybody else - finding that half of the bounty were slightly lower than the odds of teaching a bantha to ride a swoop. The galaxy was full of XS freighters and the only description of the pilot was "maybe Mirialan."
The best bounty hunters in history couldn't do anything with that. Good thing the Sith cared more about getting his hands on the agent. She was practically just plausible deniability there - she'd gotten everything but a name, not that agents had those, including a flat that had to have been straight out of his employee file.
Still, she had Mako run a comparison while she trailed him down into an industrial area. She liked to take all proper steps, especially when working for a Sith. Her quarry was darker than most of the Imperials she'd met, but that was about his only distinctive feature. Even the scar on his left cheek was too small to be seen from any distance.
His partner was a lot more memorable looking. She'd hidden her prettiness under tattoos and piercings that screamed "I am tough! I will eat your liver!" Savler had already decided to let her go. She wasn't the bounty, and Savler knew something about hiding good looks under fierceness. Her own scars were half of why anybody took her seriously.
Probably why her quarry had kept his scar, too. Like a scratch would impress anybody. But that was just like Imperial Intelligence. They were a bunch of swaggering buffoons.
"It's him." Mako's voice came over her helmet-com as clearly as if the pretty slicer were standing next to her. "But... I don't like this. He's a cipher agent."
"We figured Dralick left off his designation for a reason," Savler reminded her. "It just means he might actually know how to use that rifle. Look, don't worry. Hired by a Sith, remember. If they want to turn the head of Intelligence into a coffee table, they can. Nobody's going to complain about an agent."
"Then why did he hire us?"
That was a good question. "Maybe he doesn't like getting his hands dirty. Maybe he's a lousy Sith." She figured anybody who didn't play up being a Sith was either super powerful or just barely able to notice the Force. Dralick's hulking bodyguards leaned toward the latter.
"Just be careful."
Her voice softened. "I will." She had no intention of adding to Mako's bad memories of Nar Shaddaa. Adding to her good memories, once the job was done, was another thing.
They'd have more than enough money to celebrate, and finish the Great Hunt, just as soon as she handed the agent over to Dralick. What happened after that wasn't her business.
Bunch of cowardly, backstabbing weasels, anyway, she thought. He and the Sith probably deserved each other. Still, she was looking forward to claiming the title of Grand Champion. Then they'd be able to pick and choose their bounties. No more working for Sith just because they pay. She couldn't wait.