The tap-caf was busy and I was glad I had been able to snag the small table outside all to myself. Situated in one of the Corellian Sector’s prime locations, The Jumping Nuna was perfect for people watching and had the added bonus of making the best Zabraki stim’caf around. I sat with the latest flimsiplast news magazine, pretending to read while sipping a ‘caf blend that was spicier than I had bargained for but nice all the same. To the casual observer I was nothing more than one of the billion inhabitants of Nar Shadda going about my daily business. To the man who was following me I was probably boring the hell out of him, which was my intent because if he was bored then he might not figure out what I was really doing.
I had spent the morning meandering with a purpose through the core of the Corellian Sector. The routes I took were convoluted and would, I hoped, appear random but they were anything but. I had a specific destination in mind that I didn’t want my ugly, short shadow to figure out. Around lunch time I decided to stop and get some food. Grabbing a bite to eat would give me time to sort through the plans Navaari and I had made the night before. Thinking about him made me smile, just knowing he was out there made me feel better even though we had agreed the night before that it would be to stay out of contact, no com-links or any other methods of communication because Jyrki wasn’t stupid and it would be a really bad thing for all concerned if he found out I was no longer alone.
It was pleasant to sit and it allowed me time to stretch out into the force side of thing to tag this man so that I could easily find him again, a little like finding the signature engine wake ships left behind. Unlike Jyrki, the man following me was not force sensitive or else he might have felt what I was up to. This was one of those rare times when I was grateful for my strange force gifts; they meant I did not have to keep looking at the man following me to know he was there. I wondered how long we would keep this dance up until something interesting happened because I was not the most patient person in the world and sooner or later this was going to end. It was making me cross.
I was a little surprised, at first, that Jyrki had hired this guy of the job, he seemed nervous and out of his depth but then as I observed him better I saw this was all a ruse. Like Lorano Dek this man was a pro and equally as dangerous. While Jyrki may not have known the extent to which I had trained and become far better at the art of combat or the craft of using this unwanted power of mine he was not about to underestimate me, at least not as much as I would wish for. So I waited, playing jax and mouse with the ugly man. I had an end goal in mind but, as Navaari had said, it must be played out subtly.
“You must become the hunter not the hunted.” Navaari had said. “Lead him without him knowing you are doing it. He is the one following you. He is not the one in charge.”
From watching and listening to the holo recording Jyrki had made of my father for me as proof of life, I had managed to puzzle out, along with Navaari’s help, that he was being held somewhere fairly close to The Burning Deck. Jyrki had been careless and there had been a very distinctive warning siren that could be heard clearly in the background sound of recording. I had heard it several times while sitting in the cantina both times I had been there and when I mentioned that to Navaari he made a call to the cantina to ask what it was.
“The very nice bartender informed me that this sound you are hearing is the warning siren for the Redbock Heights Hotel’s shuttle bay which is situated on the lower south side of the hotel. She tells me they have complained about it but the hotel insists it is necessary for its customers as well as the pedestrians who walk there. Apparently when the shuttle Bay door opens the pedestrian concourse also raises. When this happens, she said there was a second less annoying alarm that goes off for that.”
We had watched the recording again, boosting the sound, listening for the sirens as well as anything else.
“I can’t hear the second alarm or any mechanicals lifting the concourse.” I had said.
“Perhaps the room is too well sound proofed for that. But it is a beginning, now we are knowing the area of the place this man has your father.” Navaari had said. “So, we study the images again and find more signs.”
The room my father was in, as far as I had been able to see from the recording, was small and had no windows on any of walls that had been shown. The light in the room was dim and completely artificial. All the shadows indicated a single light source, leading us to think that there were no windows at all which meant the room was either in the middle of a building, not very likely given the area which was all cafes, cantinas or hotels, or it was a part of an area no longer well used like a basement or subbasement.
Its sparseness had reminded me sharply of a utility room except it was far too large for that, and given the lack of furniture, junk or usable fixtures in the room, as far as we could see; I surmised that it was a place no one had been in a long time. Empty rooms on Nar Shadda were rare, space was at a premium, especially in the Corellian District, so this room had to be in a building that was either no longer used which meant condemned to be demolished or it was in one of the subbasements of one of the hotels. Because of the clarity of the warning Claxton it had to be very near the Redbock Heights Hotel, probably on the same side which narrowed down the field a lot.
After looking at a grid map and a tourist guide to this part of town Navaari and I had come up with three possible places. Now I wanted to check these places out. I had one day to figure this out before I had to meet with Jyrki again after that the game became more interesting ad a lot more dangerous because chances are it would be taken off world. In space, on his own ship, Jyrki would have the advantage but down here it was equal footing, more or less, plus I had Navaari on my side.
I ordered lunch and ate the spicy soup slowly while pretending to read my magazine. In reality I was studying technical readouts of the buildings I wanted to look at. At Navaari’s urging I had logged into the public archives and had been utterly surprised to find the building plans on file available for download for a small fee..
Navaari had shrugged, “Too long you lived under the shadow of secrecy and lies. Information such as this is usually not hidden but is open and accessible to the public. ”
I had made a face but had not argued with him, then had paid with my cred-chip and downloaded the files on to my small hand held data-pad and studied them until my eyes burned. We had narrowed it down to three buildings and then had gone back to watching the recording until I had quite literally crashed asleep on Navaari’s shoulder.
It was a warm day for Nar Shadda and beings of races, types and colours were out enjoying the day, ignoring the pollution and the general stench that I would forever associate with this place. The Concourse was busy and many of the shops were having sales to try and pull in more customers. Shop owners barked at potential customers as well as each other trying to make more credits and on the whole the scene was raucous and lively. I set aside my magazine for a moment to watch the strange, unchoreographed dance and let my mind drift. The swirl of people moving along the sidewalk by the tap’caf swirled into a strange blend of liquid colour. I could feel the vision coming but I could not stop it. I could count on one hand the number of times I had been on the receiving end of a waking dream and none of them had been happy.
The room was dimly lit and bare save for a chair in the center. It stank of stale urine and vomit tainted with the sickly coppery scent of blood. Something bad had happened here but it had happened a very long time ago, ‘ancient history’ a voice whispered in my mind. ‘Mass murder, a moment in time gone bad, very, very bad. You don’t want to look, girl. You don’t want to look now, or ever….’
There was moment of peace then it was shattered by the sound of a warning siren, the shuttle bay door of the adjacent hotel opening. That hotel must have sound proof windows I thought absently other wise no one would stay there ever.
Suddenly the room which had been empty and badly lit almost burst with light and action. Navaari moved like water, fighting someone I could not see. There was fresh blood and lots of it on the floor and the walls but I didn’t know where it was coming from. I frantically looked around for my father but all I saw was a body lying on the floor. I couldn’t tell who it was.
“Go!” Navaari shouted, “Go now!” but he was too late and as his form vanished into dimness I felt rather than saw the person move behind me. When I turned around I came face to face with Jyrki Andando, hatred blazing in his eyes.
“Why, Mouse, why?” He hissed between clenched teeth. “Why must you always take the difficult path?” He reached out for my hand but I pulled away, shaking my head, not understanding what it was I was seeing over his shoulder. The room had erupted into a mass of writhing, screaming beings most of them twi’lek but none of them were real. Their bodies were translucent, and ghost like and I could see through them. It looked for a moment as though I had stumbled into a night club during the busy dance time but to my horror I realised they were not dancing, they were all being slaughtered. Suddenly the searing pain of a knife slicing through my shoulder, the same shoulder he had stuck the Anzati blade into, brought me to my senses. I reeled with agony, far too much agony for the wound that had been caused and dropped to my knees. I was grateful when the scene around me swirled into darkness.
I blinked and found myself on a Star Destroyer, kneeling on the floor cradling a body in my arms, at first the face, covered by hair matted with blood, was Jyrki’s but then it changed to my uncle’s which then morphed into Navaari’s. I tried to clear the sticky hair from his face but when I did so it was not Navaari I was staring at but Thrawn. I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out.
Hands touched me then, pulling me back from the floor pulling me back from Thrawn’s lifeless form. I tried to hold on to him but he was too heavy and I was not strong enough. I tried to back away but I could not move properly, as though something had bound itself around my lower legs. I looked around and realised I was up to my knees in snow, freezing cold and very much alone. All around me a blizzard howled and in my hand I held my mother’s lightsaber hilt. I had no idea how it came to be in my hand and as I slowly turned around to try and figure out where the hell I was, the whiteness from the swirling storm blinded me.
As suddenly as this vision had descended down upon me so it receded and I realised I was not stranded on a planet full of snow and ice in the middle of a howling gale but seated in a pleasant tap’caf on Nar Shadda at lunch time. I looked at my hands hastily but there was no lightsaber and no blood only a bored sounding waiter asking me if I was alright and if there was anything else I wanted to order.
“I’m fine, just daydreaming.” I said as I shook off the remnants of the vision and nodded, mindful that I was being watched.
The waiter gave me a sceptical look and asked again if I needed anything else, the underlying threat being that if I wasn’t going to order I should leave so that another paying customer could have the table.
“Bring me another of these, please,” I added tapping my empty stim’caf cup, “with a shot of brandy on the side.”
The waiter nodded, picked up my empty cup and vanished into the dimness of the tap’caf. I sat back against the chair and drew a deep steadying breath. Puzzled by what I had seen and more than a little annoyed with it. I didn’t like that in more and more of my dreams and visions I saw Thrawn and I hated that he was usually dead or dying. This vision was particularly bizarre because there was a second story going on in it that had nothing to do with my current situation. I closed my eyes to bring back the images of the screaming mass of people, mainly young female twi’leks who had been ghost like in the back ground of the room I had seen myself in. It was the same room as the one in the holo recording Jyrki had made, windowless but large, too large to be a storage room, it had been meant for something else, something grim and unpleasant if this vision was anything to go on.
‘Ancient history’ the voice in the vision had said. ‘Mass murder, a moment in time gone bad, very, very bad. You don’t want to look, girl. You don’t want to look now, or ever….’
When he came back a few moments later my head was clear and as he placed the ‘caf and the brandy on the table I asked. “Excuse me but have you worked here long?”
“Yes miss, almost fifteen years now.”
“So you know the area well then?”
“I’d like to think so.” He replied in a get to the point tone of voice.
“I heard that near here there was some sort of a terrible murder which happened around this area. Someone was telling me that it happened in the Redbock Heights, a very bloody slaughter?” I asked in that voice tourists sometimes used when they are unsure about a local urban myth and want it conformed.
The waiter, an older looking human male, furrowed his brow. “You’d be talking about the Dibbson slave ring murder but that weren’t at the Redbock that were at the Grish’min Inn and no one stays there any more. Inn’s been shut down for maybe going on ten years now though the council won’t tear it down on account that the owner still pays his taxes and everything. People says it’s haunted, and most people stays away from it, says they hear the screams of the dead coming from it still.” The man said in the hushed voice of a co-conspirator telling a story.
“You seem to know a lot about it.” I said mildly surprised.
“I aughta,” he said, “I was working here the night it happened. Right mess it was too. Woulda never happened before the Empire, let me tell you, things was different in them days. Them jedi would have taken care of it before it got out of hand but the storm troopers, they was clueless.” He shook his head, “It was a slaughter pure and simple, they say the room was red from all the blood that was shed. There were so many dead that they had to farm out the bodies to some of the mortuaries in the nearby sectors, not enough space for ‘em all in the Corellian Sector. Place was crawling with stormtroopers and the like but even they was not man enough to handle what they saw inside. I remember clear as day one of ‘em hauling off his helmet and throwing up his lunch. Put the customers right off, it did.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “What happened?”
He snorted. “Slavers fighting over slaves is what happened. There was an auction, secret like, being held in the Inn’s lower rooms. The story goes that the slaves had been taken from all over the galaxy, though it was mainly twi’leks and most of them were female and young at that, younger than you even. The shipment of slaves was supposed to head over to someone in the Duros sector but they was stolen and the owner, a nasty piece of work named Merken, wanted them back. When he heard that his slaves was being auctioned off here and by his arch rival no less, he went ballistic, called in his people and the next thing you know there was a bloody war going on. Instead of being able to work it out with money and spice like they usually would the two warring factions turned on each other and the slaves in the room. It was a blood bath from start to end. Sixty three slaves plus the owners and their gangs were all dead, torn to shreds. Only one to survive was a little twi’lek girl who saw the whole thing and testified, told the HoloNet news and everything. Don’t know what ever became of her though. Big scandal for the Inn, seeing as how auctioning slaves outside of a proper auction arena ain’t exactly legal though usually everyone turns a blind eye to it, you know. The inn closed down after that.”
“Sounds awful.” I said letting the breath I had been holding in slowly out.
“It was, them pictures was splashed all over the HoloNet, nightmares for months afterwards. Why you so interested anyways?” He asked suddenly a little suspicious.
I shook my head. “Someone on the shuttle I came in on mentioned something about a haunted hotel is all. I am staying at the Redbock; I asked about it there but they won’t tell me anything, said it was not a story for lady-like ears to hear.” I said with a nonchalant shrug, “I didn’t want to stay in a haunted hotel and I don’t think they wanted to lose my business.”
“Don’t imagine they would be wanting to discuss that seeing as how they is situated directly across from the Grish’min Inn. He nodded knowingly. “Don’t blame you either but the Redbock is alright, though you might like to look over your bill carefully when you checks out, they has a habit of making expensive mistakes with their billing.” He said with a wink. “If you know what I mean.”
“Oh really, thanks I will make sure to keep an eye on that.” I beamed a delighted and relieved smile at him.
The waiter nodded then seeing a frantically waving hand from another customer he gave me a polite shrug and went back to work. I had to fight from grinning like a mad thing or worse jumping up and down with excitement. I was certain that this place, this Inn the waiter had told me about was the place Jyrki was holding my father. It was one of the three buildings I had narrowed my search down to. It fit the profile and now it fit the vision I had just had.
I dumped the shot of brandy into my stim’caf and sipped at it thoughtfully. The trick would be how to get rid of the guy who was following me and get into the condemned Grish’min Inn to search it. I had technical readouts to the building so finding a way in should not be that hard to do. A little voice whispered in my ear to wait until I could talk it over with Navaari, who had given me several stern warnings against taking matters into my own hands, but another part of me felt that time was running out for my father and that if I didn’t act now I might regret it more. So, I sat and waited, trying to logic my way around this situation, the way Thrawn did, hoping to find a solution that did not end up with me or my family at death’s door.
Thinking of Thrawn made me melancholy. I missed him terribly and despite all of Navaari’s assurances, I was certain he would not forgive me for running off in the manner that I had. I had reasoned out that he, of all people, would understand the need to do everything I could to save my family, after all he had lost his brother and I know he still mourned for Thrass even though he rarely spoke about him. I was certain that if he could go back and change things, he would have done everything he could have to save his brother’s life. I knew he understood my reasons for coming to Nar Shadda I just wasn’t so sure he would forgive me for the way in which I had carried out my plan. We had agreed no more secrets and I had completely ignored this in order to come here at Jyrki’s command.
Now I was wasting time, letting Jyrki to set the pace and make the rules. I drummed my fingers on the table and sighed, this waiting around was becoming tedious and I had had enough. It was time to turn the tables; it was time I took the offensive. Instead of being the hunted I was about to take on the hunt. I drained my stim’caf, the shot of brandy in it burning as it slid down my throat. As nonchalantly as I could I got and headed into the dimly lit tap’caf to use the ‘fresher. This was one of the most useful pieces of advice my father had ever given me. Eat, drink and use the 'fresher when ever you get the chance because you just never know what will happen next and it sucks if you end up someplace thirsty, hungry and desperately needing to pee.
I stood in the dimly lit fresher staring at my reflection as I splashed cold water on my face. I took a very deep breath and nodded to myself then I found the waiter and paid my bill giving him a generous tip on top. I lingered inside the tap’caf a few moments under the guise of watching the HoloNet feed they had on display and when the waiter had left the inside again I moved quickly to find the back entrance, which as luck would have it was through the kitchen.
I used all the force talents I had to make sure the cook and his helper did not notice I was there. Mind tricks, Lord Vader had called this talent and while it wasn’t my strongest talent it was good enough to get me through the somewhat dubious looking kitchen and out through the back entrance into a small ally. I glanced around and reached out with that sixth sense. The man who had been sent to follow me was still sitting at his table, expecting me to return no doubt. I breathed a little sigh of thanks because this gave me a head start. The ugly man was not stupid; it would not take him very long to figure out what had happened when I didn’t come back to my table.
I glanced around the ally to see how best to proceed and spying an escape ladder decided that since most people thought in two dimensions the very best way to elude being followed again was to go up. Gathering my courage and ignoring the little voice in my head telling me this was a very bad idea I grabbed the first rung of the ladder and began to climb up it. It was time to go find my father, meet up with Navaari who was probably trying to figure out how to get into my ship and then get the hell off this planet. If Jyrki wanted to kill Luke Skywalker he was going to have to do that without my help.