The chime rang with its sing-song charm through the lavish suite. Though they all were expecting it, it seemed to freeze them in place, glasses held mid-way to their mouths. Moments of truth seemed to have that effect on people. The moment held and second ring came from the door which seemed to cancel its predecessor’s spell.
“Who could that be?” Bralor set his squat glass, half emptied of its Corrillean ale, back onto the bar and reached for his helmet.
“Some overly adoring fan,” Aidenne chuckled, quickly falling back into her role after these few moments of relaxation. “Get rid of them for me.”
There was slight hiss of air as his helmet sealed itself. “Right.” The bodyguard unholstered one of the DC-17’s and moved to the door.
Jamming his thumb into the console it opened with a soft sound that only lots of money could buy. Behind it was a tall human. He was a broad-chested man and both the flecks of gray in his hair and the splash of medals across his breast and down his arm carried a sense of respect and authority by sight alone. “I wish to-”
The cool crisp sound of cut the man off. “The Diva’s had her audience for the evening.” Bralor was positioned with practiced precision. The man couldn’t enter nor could he clearly see the rooms guests. What he could see was a taste of the Theelin’s dappled orange shoulder on one side of the helmet and the Zeltron’s long, crossed pink legs on the other. “No private concerts.”
With a brief glance to the blaster in Bralor’s hand, the captain’s arms folded across his impressive chest in a vain attempt to puff himself up against the imposing obstacle. Still, he maintained his professional cool. “The Diva’s performance was splendid; one our Princess will never see the likes of again unless she were to grace us with another performance,” his eyes shifted to the right of the Mandalorian’s helmet, speaking somewhat indirectly to the woman he knew could hear him, “Which I would be most gracious if she were to.” Again he looked back to the guard, letting his arms fall and clasp behind his back. “But my business here is official. Nothing more”
There was a long silence from the room behind the Mandalorian. Then, with an almost lazy stride, the Diva moved to the door. Her hand came to rest on Bralor’s armored shoulder, moving him aside just enough to be seen. “Official business?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “A rather sensitive matter. May I come in?”
She made him wait there in the hall for several moments before finally stepping to the side. Expecting her bodyguard to do the same, she crossed her arms over her delicate chest and waited with a perfect air of impatience for the captain to explain.
Looking from one body to the other, the man thanked her and stepped into the room. He didn’t pause for more than just to examine the other faces in the room. In fact he went right to the matter as soon as the door was closed behind him, not even taking an extra breath to prepare. “It is regrettable and embarrassing to inform you, but during your wonderful performance our vessel was infiltrated by a group of thieves.”
“Thieves?” Meticulously manicured eyebrows rose toward her flaming hairline. “That is… most discouraging to hear.” She cast an absent glance around at her opulent surroundings. “My room appears to be untouched…”
“Yes, well,” The captain gave his own cursory glance around the room, “They seemed to have only helped themselves to a handful of rooms. I’m glad yours was spared. Particularly because…” It was there that the Lithani Princess’s captain found himself stumble a little.
“Because…” Aidenne’s tone grew frosty.
Captain Treenu stood up right, almost at attention, now taking that breath he had saved when entering. He looked the Diva in the eye, as if looking death in the face and accepting that fate. “It was your ship they used to make their escape.”
“My ship.” The words dropped from her perfect lips with a quiet articulation that seemed almost more dangerous than anger. “Thieves infiltrated your vessel and made their escape by stealing my ship?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
He certainly was brave. Under different circumstances she might have been tempted to give him a private performance after all. But, of course, Aidenne had a part to play. “And am I to assume you’re not here to tell me that you’ll soon have these thieves in custody?”
“I wish that were the case.” Now the Captain’s eyes fell, that shame in his failure surfacing. “They made the jump to lightspeed before we could get any lock on them.”
“There is evidence that this was more than just a simple robbery.” His shoulders straightened, catching a look at the Mandalorian’s visor. “I understand that my apologizes aren’t nearly enough.”He took a breath, “And as you can imagine, our management would like to keep this incident as close to the vest as possible.”
“You’re quite right. Apologies aren’t nearly enough.” She crossed her arms over her chest, her tone settling into that cool fury that was somehow more intimidating than actually raising her voice. “And how do you propose to keep a disaster of this magnitude ‘close to the vest’?”
A smile slithered onto the robed ambassador’s lips. Negotiations were her specialty. Tiila crossed her legs, one pink stem bared from the opening of her lavender robe, exposing her skin to the air. “It sounds like equal restitution needs to be made…” The woman stood and walked to the small gathering at the door, adding her influence to the already impressive group. “What are you prepared to offer?”
His throat jogged up and down as he swallowed hard. The way his eyes blinked and his weight shifted was enough to gauge his level of discomfort. “I examined the registry of your ship, a classic YT-2000. A few years off the line, it’s market value is around 40,000 credits.” It was impressive that he managed to to maintain a level of steadiness in his voice. “We would like to extend the offer of 200,000. That should be plenty to purchase even a new YT-2400 right off of the line and still have plenty of credits left over to cover any costs you may incur for customization.”
Slowly, and without a change of expression, the Diva’s eyes met the Zeltron’s. A wicked light shone in those amber depths that offered unspoken encouragement. “200,000 credits?”
Tiila’s voice almost echoed with the subtle scent of intimidation and seduction. “Two hundred thousand would barely fill the bar on our ship. If that is all this ship is able to offer, perhaps we overestimated the level of quality here.” She sighed softly, billowing panic his direction while maintaining disappointment in her eyes.
The Captain’s throat jogged up and down, trying to choke down the lump that seemed stuck there. Sweat beaded up on his brow as he felt increasingly more uneasy with how this would play out, for his ship and himself. “You’re right…” It was only through the most deliberate concentration that the man did not stammer when he spoke. “Forgive my imprudent offer, please.” He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the words. “I could ask you to take no less than 500,000 for the inconvenience.”
With Tiila’s influence still heavy in the air, Aidenne took a step toward the Captain. The ice in her demeanor melted as she graced him with a smile. “You’ve taken such good care of me.” Sooty lashes brushed against the tops of her cheeks, the Diva looked away demurely, cementing her hold on the poor man. “Your offer is so generous. I’m certain that will help us replace my beloved ship. But I’m concerned…” Her amber eyes rose to meet his gaze with a look that could have melted steel.
“Concerned?” Captain Treenu cleared his throat, looking back over his shoulder at the imposing figure of the Mandalorian. “What concerns you, ma’am?”
“As much as I would love to linger in your hospitality, I have a schedule to keep. I need to be on my way.” She reached for the Zeltron’s pink hand to prove how distressed she was. “I simply can’t reschedule my next performance. It would disappoint far too many people.”
“Of course.” He nodded with a blatant eagerness to have the situation resolved. “I can have transport secured for you within the hour. Anywhere you need to travel.”
Aidenne allowed herself a smile, full lips curling in what could only have been gratitude. “Thank you, Captain. My guard will give you the details.”
She turned, linking her arm with that of the pink Zeltron and walking away. The figure of her guard stepped in, blocking his view of their bare backs. That sharp black T that split his helmet tilted down. Slowly he lifted the DC-17 blaster and deposited it into the empty holster on his hip. “Alright then…”
The Lathani Princess was crowded with people as the Diva and her small entourage moved through its lavish corridors. The Chiss cleared the way at the front as Tiila Sadii strolled at a leisurely pace several steps behind him. The lady herself walked alone. She waved at the many admirers that had the courage to smile and acknowledge her, thanking her for her gracing them with such an amazing performance, but for the most part they all kept their distance, gracious enough to heap their praise outside of the invisible bubble that seemed to move with her.
From the back, Bralor watched the man approach. It was a thin man, human, dressed in the most expensive of business attire. He’d caught him from the crowd several minutes ago, keeping pace with the group as they moved. He had made a noble effort of trying not to look like he was watching their procession, noble enough for a rank amature. Bralor wasn’t quite impressed, but he was amused enough not to shoot him dead as he maneuvered through the multitude when it seemed thickest. Were there not so many people being amused likely wouldn’t have been quite enough.
“Ms. Diva,” he said softly as he pierced into that bubble, taking matching stride. “Allow me to personally thank you for such an impressive performance.”
If Aidenne was surprised at the man’s audacity, she gave no sign. “I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.”Her smile, though lofty, seemed genuine enough. There were always bound to be a few overly forward fans in a crowd as large as this one. But with Bralor behind and Krynn ahead of her, the Diva wasn’t concerned.
The Mandalorian’s cold exterior appeared stoic, a good mask for his caution. He carefully rested his hand on one of his holstered weapons. He had no fear that the man was an assassin, he simply didn’t carry himself like one, and Bralor could have him dead before he raised a hand. But something was suspicious. His breath clicked, announcing his presence.
The man looked back over his shoulder. He eyed the guard but seemed unconcerned. “I did,” he replied, giving her his proper attention. “I was lucky enough to have caught your performance at Cloud City last year.”
Another smile. “Then I’m honored you enjoyed it enough to see me for a second time.” Her amber eyes turned away from him, ready to enjoy the peace of the reverent bubble around her once again.
“It was a shame what happened to Lord Truntlok,” A thin smile of remorse split his face.”Experiencing such that amazing concert and then his heart giving out. At least he went out on top.”His chuckle was as airy as that expression he wore. “Of course it is practically a crime what happened to his business after his passing.”
Gace Truntlock had been a Vigo in the Black Sun syndicate, and to Tyber Zann he was a rather frustrating obstacle in his rise to power and prominence. He had used Aidenne to see that he was removed. With Truntlok out of the way, Zann acquired every bit of his business. In his typically ruthless fashion, once his puppets were in place Zann made sure that all of the lord’s closest advisers were never heard from again.
“Of course, a lady such as yourself needn’t bother herself with such things.” That smile turned cold and treacherous. “What business is it of yours if a man like Tyber Zann reaps the happy accidents of life, no?”
Her expression remained neutral, that same lofty Diva air, as she turned back to the man but there was a subtle tightening across her beautifully mottled shoulders that screamed to Bralor. “It was a tragedy,” she told the intruder, her fiery brows knitting with distress as she thought back to the event. “I’m certain a man like Truntlock is still missed. Some deaths go unnoticed, unmourned…”For a brief moment her eyes met his. “But a gentleman like that will always be remembered.” As was her practice, she didn’t touch the name of Zann. She never would.
“Indeed. Indeed.” He nodded.
“You know, it’s a shame what happened here as well. Of course, they’ve tried to cover their embarrassment up, but we all know why the casino is being closed and the ship docked. It has nothing to do with repairs to a faulty alarm system.”
He chuckled and when he stopped laughing his grin was almost as sharp as a Firaxan shark. “I wonder,” he looked at her straight on and serious. “What would Tyber Zann do if he learned of the opportunities someone had taken here tonight?”
The light in her amber eyes cooled, settling into that frosty anger she used so well. “It is a shame,”the Diva replied, her magnificent voice holding no trace of guilt… or fear. It was only the presence of the crowds around them that kept this man breathing, a fact she was certain he knew already. “I’ve seen it time and time again. The actions of opportunists never end well for those individuals. But sadly, some people never learn… until it’s too late.”
If she could have reached out and frozen his heart she would have. Instead she gave a cool smile.”I’m sure anyone trying to take advantage of this situation will get what they deserve.”
“Oh,” he nodded with that predatory grin, “I’m sure of it.”
The stranger bowed his head with an air of graciousness. With a few steps back the bubble was complete. He stopped and disappeared from sight as he was swallowed up by the masses of busyness, and the foursome moved into the hangar bay.
“Fierfek…” Bralor cursed.
Aidenne reached out to take his arm as they pressed forward, steadying her steps as the moved toward the transport ship. For an instant her hand trembled against his armor, but the moment fled as quickly as it had come. “Nothing we can do now.” There was a heavy resignation in her tone.”Lets just be on our way.”
Bralor paused, looking back into the crowd. His Mandalorian blood boiled with the urge to hunt thedi’kut down and feed him his organs. His eyes flashed in the HUD display of his helm. He stared at the profile in the playback. “Oh, I’m sure of it.” The man’s face was printed in that photographic memory, a gift of his Kamino breeding.
They would meet again. And when they did, there would be no crowds to protect the man.