“This is something that could affect the rest of your life,” Carson said, hoping to calm Szygar. “You don’t want to do something rash like pull a blaster in a casino.”
Slowly, Szygar pulled his blazing eyes away from the Neimoidian to meet Carson’s gaze. “I’ve been had,” the Devaronian said. “You guys have to deal with this.”
“You had yourself,” Vorn spat.
Bariss slipped away, running for the security office.
“Maybe if you two slipped off to the refresher together, you could work this out,” Kelyn said.
Vorn looked Kelyn up and down and licked her lips. “If your mistress would let you off your leash for a moment, perhaps we could go to the refresher together.”
“Fine,” Kelyn said. “Let’s go now.”
The Neimoidian grabbed the scoundrel’s thigh and caressed it. “In a moment, but first let’s get this poor loser out of the tournament.” Vaday turned to N3MO. “Check the computers and scan the rules. Tell everyone what’s happened here is not against the rules.”
N3MO patched into the table port and scanned through the volumes of data. He couldn’t find anything remotely related to this situation in the rules. “Biological ongoings do not affect the rules of sabbac,” N3MO concluded.
“Szygar Kaladril Myutrig Weizak of Clan Czygat, respectfully and with honor, let’s be calm and talk about this,” Carson said, nailing Szygar’s full Devaronian name in proper order and with the correct words of friendship from Devaron.
Vaday whirled toward Jacc Mandelbrott and hissed, “Are you going to let this foolishness continue? Your reputation is hanging by a thread.”
Jacc looked out the windows. “Guys, before long the people out there are going to catch wind something’s wrong, and we’re going to get bad press.”
In the security office, Bariss scrubbed through recent footage and zoomed in on a shot of Zaday. Something was sticking out of her jacket pocket. He zoomed in closer. He refined the focus. It was a datacard about succeeding in life through seduction. Bariss relayed the info to his companions and Jacc, who promptly asked to examine Zaday’s bag.
“No!” she shouted.
Kelyn used that moment to reach a hand around her and squeezed her pinched her butt.
“Whooo!” Zaday shouted, and Kelyn snagged his hand into her handbag, producing the datacard.
“Okay, I see you have this book,” Kelyn said. “I don’t see what this proves. You two went into the bathroom and did whatever the Sith you two species could do to one another. So, she has a book. Szygar, you lost. If you let your love of this hag affect your play in the tournament, that’s your real problem, and you deserve to be out of this tournament. So man up!”
Szygar turned red in the face, pounded the table, sending chips flying, and stormed out of the casino.
Tor and Carson stood behind Moro as he played against Fiorno. The tournament paused for a brief intermission. “I take it the tournament is going well for you,” Carson said.
“The money is of course no object for me but these riff raff need to be reminded someone will always be their superior,” Fiorno sighed.
“Quite a unique way of looking at things,” Carson replied.
“I guess it is,” Fiorno said and looked out over the skyline, leaving Carson stumbling.
“What do you think of the competition?” Tor asked.
“I’m surprised as many of these competitors have gotten as far as they did,” Fiorno said. “Of course, many things surprise me, like I would have thought my room in the famed Yerith Bespin Hotel would be of higher quality than the Hapes servant hovels.”
“What would you say is your biggest trick for maintaining your lead… for an up and coming sabbac player?” Carson asked.
“The only way to play sabbac is to play aggressively,” Fiorno advised. “Any other way is bound to fail.”
“That seems to be working out for you so far,” Carson smiled.
“If money is no object, how come you feel like you have to be superior?”
“It is a constant and good feeling,” Fiorno said. “When you’re as well off as I am you can afford to find new ways to fell superior.”
“What do you plan to do with the winnings if money is no object?” Khalic asked.
“I might buy another palace,” the Hapan beauty pondered.
“You say everyone has to have a superior,” Tor said. “Who’s your superior?”
“Oh honey,” Fiorno cooed. “If I ever find my superior, I’ll tear him down and become his superior.”
“If you’re into that kind of thing,” Carson muttered.
“Have you noticed anything unusual about any of your competitors?” Tor asked.
“Not really,” Fiorno said. “I was expecting a much better crop of competition.
Especially that Bothan. You would think the competitors would be required to bathe before showing up.”
“Have you seen any of the other players talking to one another… in bathrooms or dark alleys…” Tor asked.
“I don’t like where this conversation is going,” Fiorno interjected.
“I just wanted know if you’ve seen any Hutts around.”
“I’m here to play sabbac and win. And that’s all,” Fiorno said, raising her voice.
“Do you know Darga the Hutt?” Tor pressed.
“That’s nonsense, I told you,” Fiorno hissed. “If you don’t stop these ridiculous questions I’m going to have security remove you.”
Our friends are security, Tor thought to himself.
“Excuse me, I need some air,” Fiorno said and sashayed across the casino to the restroom.
About that time, N3MO received a message from Switch. “How’s it going over there?” the droid crime lord asked.
“It’s going,” N3MO said.
“So, you guys helping me out?”
“It would seem so.”
“Excellent. I have a virus to send you. I want you to install it on the dealer droid at the table Moro is about to play at. It should give Moro a break this round.”
Khalic walked over. “Switch, I was wondering if we might ask a favor of you. This would actually help Moro win. There is a competitor in the tournament. He is in there because he owes a debt…”
“Black Sun,” N3MO interjected.
“Black Sun,” Khalic repeated. “If you forward us the credits to give to him to pay Black Sun off, he’d quit the tournament, giving Moro a clearer shot at winning.”
“Give me until the end of the day,” Switch said “to come up with a favor you can do for me that will make this worth my while.”
“Very well. I’ll get something done with this,” Khalic said.
N3MO studied Mandelbrott’s computer records to see where Moro would be playing next. A couple of caterers were setting up a mini bar near the table. Fenn walked up to the Ishi Tib and Gungan caterers. He saw a spot near the minibar where there were a few drops of consensation. The Bothan feigned slipping, called out and crashed into the bar. Bottles and glasses flew out in every direction and shattered.
Tor took that moment to raise his hand toward the dealer droid and pull it loose of its mounting bracket. Sparks flew as wires snapped. “Why’s that thing sparking?” Fenn called out and scampered away, followed by the caterers who were starting to freak out.
“Security, you’re up,” Tor whispered into his com.
Khalic raced in and leapt up onto the table, tool kit in hand. His hands danced as they reconnected the droid and uploaded the virus. Ten minutes later, he hopped back down to make his getaway. N3MO blocked the security camera. Bariss blocked the view of any prying eyes down one corridor. Fenn kept his distraction going in the other direction. Khalic escaped by walking from the scene, pressed against N3MO’s side.
The first hand of Moro’s next set, Moro gets a pure sabbac and pulls into a lead at the table.
Switch approved the loan and transfers the credits to Carson to give to Silas Draver. Silas thanked the heroes profusely and hurried away, promising they’ve seen the last of him.
By the end of the day, only Fenn, Creeska, Lady Fiorno, Lt Arandis, Moro, Nina Baser and Vorn Zaday advanced.
At 2am, the room com beeped. Tor answered it. A husky female voice said, “I know who Darga’s contact is. I’m sending you the coordinates for a landing pad. Be there in fifteen minutes.”
The com hung up.
“Wait a minute, wasn’t X a lady?” Bariss asked.
“And she was a sniper,” Carson reminded the Duros. “Not a very good sniper though.”
They reached the Heights and took the lift tube to the second floor. Carson and Tor stepped out. The rest went to the top. Fenn immediately ducked into the shadows at the edge of the landing pad. They saw Nina Baser standing waiting at the far edge of the platform. Suddenly, the crate next to her exploded, and the child celebrity’s corpse fell to the planet below. Fenn saw the humanoid with a long lock of red hair pulled tight in a tail and an antennae sticking from her pale white head standing behind where Nina had been blown to bits. The Bothan raced toward her.
Khalic blasted a Whippid thug hiding behind a crate. He dropped dead.
Bariss drew his heavy blaster pistol, peaked around the corner of a refueling tower and blasted another Whippid. The bolt to the head made the goon fall backwards and off the platform. Tor reached out with the Force and lifted a Rodian goon off the ground and slammed him against the docked freighter. The Rodian’s back broke.
Another Rodian fired at Bariss, who shot back, hitting him in the left arm. The Rodian fell back a step and plummeted off the platform. Kelyn unloaded at a Whippid providing cover for the albino bounty hunter, Aurra Siing. The shot eliminated all genitalia, killing the Whippid. Aurra ordered the jump droids to attack the Jedi. They activated their electrostaffs and rushed Tor, trying to force him back enough that he’d fall off the platform. Tor whirled and leapt the attacks, maintaining his ground.
Aurra worked her way around the edge of the platform, positioning herself for an assault against Fenn. N3MO charged the fueling tower between himself and Aurra, trying to knock it over. It wouldn’t budge. Carson called out, “Do you know how many gallons of blood our droid has spilled? He will get to you, no matter how you try to hide. I don’t want to hear any more bones turned into a liquid slurry.”
Aurra crouched down, waiting for Fenn to pop up and take a shot at her. As soon as that furry head was in sight, she leapt up and squeezed the trigger. The gun exploded in her hand, which scared her big time since the blaster fired trihexalon poisonous darts.
Bariss blasted the remaining thug through the chest. Kelyn approached the turbolift and hotwired it so it started ascending again. Robobino quickly stole control away again. Tor used the Force to lift one of the jump droids off the ground and slam it into its counterpart. Durasteel buckled. Sparks flew. The droids lifted themselves up and turned back to their prey.
Adrianna rushed over to Kelyn, spun him around and gave him a kiss. “For luck,” she said.
The jump droids leapt off the platform and flew up to the third level. Electrostaffs sparked as they charged the nearest targets—Carson and Adrianna. One pike pierced Carson’s skull. The other went through Adrianna’s lower back as she completed her kiss with Kelyn. The love birds were forced back a step, and Kelyn dropped off the platform, but caught the edge with a couple of fingers. N3MO charged one of the jump droids. The droid withdrew a bloody blade from Adrianna’s kidneys and sidestepped N3MO’s saw.
Khalic ran around the fueling tower and fired his autofire blaster. A few lucky bolts singed Aurra as she leapt over the bolts and ran up the tower before doing a backwards sommersault back where she had been standing. Fenn hired again. Seeing that she was getting penned in, Aurra leapt from the platform and caught on to the ledge of the next platform down. She turned toward Tor and drew two blasters from her holsters. Despite the danger and intimidation, Tor felt a little turned on by Aurra.
A jump droid backed away, sized N3MO up and charged, driving the electrostaff through N3MO’s chestplate. Tor stared down Aurra and sent a ripple through the Force that shook the bounty hunter to the spine. Her legs buckled as she struggled to regain her focus and strength. Bariss blasted at Aurra then ducked behind the freighter. Adrianna reached down, took Kelyn by the hands and pulled him back onto the platform. N3MO swung back at the jump droid, hacking it in two.
“I’m not the target you’re looking for,” Carson bluffed to the jump droid.
“You are on this level. I am ordered to capture everyone on this level,” the machine replied. “Surrender. It is your only choice.”
“You should surrender,” Carson said.
“You are damaged,” the droid said.
Adrianna ran up behind the droid and pounded her fist into its side. She screamed in pain.
Kelyn blasted the droid, taking its left hand off. The smoking machinery remained standing and fighting. Fenn took a couple steps and placed a shot between two cracked chest plates, turning the droid into a micro fireball.
N3MO attached his grappling hook to the fueling station and slid down the syntherope to the level beneath him.
“Give up now,” Tor ordered Aurra. “My friends will be here soon.”
“At least I can take down a Jedi,” Aurra hissed. She dropped her blasters, ignited a blue lightsaber and charged Tor. She swung wildly. The Cammaasi raised his hand and deflected the energy.
Bariss fired at Aurra, who dropped to one knee with catlike reflexes, allowing the blaster to pass right over her head. N3MO walked into Aurra’s sightline. He taunted her with rumblings from within its core. His chainsaw glistened in the emergency lights. Fear filled Aurra Siing in a way she had not known in ages. The droid charged. Aurra dove between the droid’s legs.
Robobino climbed into the lifttube and rode up to the second platform.
“Look,” Tor said to Aurra, “Our droid is fearsome. He’s spilled gallons of blood.
You’re surrounded. There’s more of us coming.”
Carson slid down the grappling hook. Khalic hacked control of the lift tube, trapping Robobino, who struggled from within to regain control.
Aurra leapt back to her feet, took up the vornskyr’s ferocity stance and charged Tor in a nightmarish attack, driving her blade into Tor’s chest.
Fenn slid down the grappling hook. N3MO swung its blade at Aurra. She leapt onto N3MO’s head then returned to the ground once the blade was past. Khalic programmed the lift tube to send Robobino as far down into Cloud City’s depths as possible… and a delay before the lift tube would go up again.
Adrianna slid down the grappling hook. Tor raised his hand toward Aurra Siing. Fire engulfed her. Refusing to surrender to the pain, she swung her saber at Tor. The fire and smoke made her head swim, and she couldn’t focus on any of her targets. Aurra stumbled back, and N3MO struck with his blade, drawing gushes of blood. Aurra turned to the edge of the platform and leapt, determined to land on the third level. As she left the platform, Tor raised a hand and used the Force to suspend her in space. Then, he flung her back onto the landing platform. Aurra Siing fell unconscious at Tor’s feet.
N3MO pulled out his fire extinguisher and doused the famed bounty hunter. “Is she worth chain sawing?” NEMO asked.
“We need to get information out of her,” Tor said.
“She tried to kill the last known Jedi,” Kelyn said.
“She only hurt me this much because I let her,” Tor bragged.
“But she might do more if given the chance,” N3MO said.
“We’ll take her weapons,” Tor said.
They wrapped her in mesh tape after stripping her of her gear. Doc analyzed the poison in the vial as Tor uncovered six more lightsaber on her person. “It looks like Bundar Root,” Carson said. “It causes memory loss. Kinda like drunkenness in a bottle.”
“This is pretty tame for a bounty hunter of this caliber,” Tor said after sensing through the Force many Jedi falling at her hands.
“I worked in a pharmacy for three years, sir!” Carson said offended.
“Maybe you should check again,” Tor suggested.
Grudgingly, Carson rechecked the vile. He gulped as he discovered it was trihexalon, a poison that causes decomposition on contact. Tor suggested Khalic hack into the cloud car channels, as he observed them keeping their distance from them.
“There was a horrible explosion on the landing pad!” a pilot shouted.
“Stand down. It’s only a training exercise. Everything is under control,” said a very familiar voice… the voice of the Sarge.
Back in the panic room, the heroes surrounded Aurra as she came to. “Why’d you kill Nina Baser? She was so cute and brought joy to children,” Tor said.
“It’s what I was paid to do.”
“The same person you’re looking for.”
“Darga?” Tor asked.
Aurra laughed. “That’s right. Darga said you’d ask about him. I laughed at him, because I didn’t think you had a chance at capturing me. I guess ol’ Darga’s the one doing the laughing now. You filthy Jedi dog.”
“He may be here. He might be on his way.”
“So who wants to mess with her bio-computer?” Bariss said, prodding the antennae on Aurra’s head. “Are you sure you can’t give us any information that would prevent me from messing with this thing I don’t know what it does?” Bariss said to Aurra.
“I’d be happy to tell you everything I know. I was hanging out with Horno, and Darga contacted me about some troublemakers who infiltrated his palace on Cato Neimoidia and had followed him to Cloud City. He was afraid they’d interfere with a major business transaction. You had already compromised his contact, so I was sent to eliminate all of you.”
“Wait, this kid was the contact?” Bariss shouted disbelieving.
“I met her when she was still Darga’s slave, along with her brothers and sisters. She learned sabbac from his majordomo, and soon she was hustling all of Darga’s guests. Eventually, she had enough credits to buy her freedom. She was probably doing him a favor to get her brothers and sisters free. I suppose Darga never got over losing a slave.”
“So who’s Darga’s contact now?”
“That’s the question isn’t it?”
“Who would know?”
“Where is Darga?”
Aurra laughed and shrugged. “I hope he pays me for this job. He probably won’t pay me in full since I obviously misjudged your quality.”
“How were you going to contact Darga?” Kelyn asked.
“I wouldn’t have to. He’d know the job was done. He’s had you tailed by plenty of people.”
Kelyn looked up at the security camera and smiled. “Is that majordomo job still open?”
“How much were you going to be paid anyway?” Bariss asked.
“More than you can afford, sonny,” Aurra cooed.
Tor wagged the lightsabers in front of Aurra. “Where did you get these?”
“From Jedi I killed of course. I am sentimental. I like a little trophy here, a little trophy there.”
“When was the last Jedi you killed?”
“About a fortnight ago.”
“You kill Jedi? Force adepts? Who all do you kill?” Kelyn asked.
“The Empire pays good money for any of those, sonny Jim,” Aurra replied.
“Stop calling me that,” Kelyn said unnerved.
Tor ignited a lightsaber from the “trophy pile” and held it to her throat. “You’re going to pay for all the Jedi you killed.”
“We’re all going to pay, sonny Jim. And if you strike me down, you’ll pay every moment for the rest of your life.”
“She’s right,” Kelyn said. “Let N3MO do it.”