The Free Flying Soul’s gangplank dropped down bleeding light up into the hanger. Bralor stood at the back of its mouth in his full beskar’gam. He could make out the feet of the personal guards that had come out to escort their arrival. He turned to the woman beside him. “You know where we are.”
Tiila Sadi’s fingers fidgeted momentarily with the blue jewel that hung from her neck, her pink thumb running back and forth over its elegantly smooth cut. She didn’t look at him but simply nodded.
His arm fell beside one of the DC’s that hung from his hips. “Want me to see you down?”
With a slow breath, she nodded again. “Arriving without some entourage is very low class.” She gave a half-smile, still facing the open door. “And so they know what’s coming when I change my mind.”Her laugh was tight with the thread of truth in it.
“Alright then,” Bralor said, stepping to the side and gesturing toward the gangplank. “After you, Ambassador.”
The Zeltron nodded her head a little, and Bralor had the distinct impression it was more about psyching herself for the task she was about to undertake. He watched her shoulders rise and fall as she took a deep breath. Then her head rose and her back straightened.
The Mandalorian picked up the rifle that was leaning against the wall, checking the charge out of habit as he leveled it across his body, and he fell in behind her. His boots clanked in a soldiers pace down the durasteel plating. He kept his head straight, letting that cold, blank mask play its role while his eyes took in the greeting party.
A protocol droid stood beside a smiling blue twi’lek male. The two of them were flanked by a pair of togruta females. As the twi’lek strode forward, Bralor’s eyes focused on the two in the back, instinctively dropping into threat assessment. Togruta were pretty, but not the usual choice for a simple greeting party. He scanned their simple robes for the telltale signs of weapons.
Experience had taught him that while many liked to show their strength as a warning, the more crafty hid their strength in plain sight. Often, those were the most dangerous.
There was no sign of the anxiety Tiila had just seconds before as the woman politely met the servants sent to welcome her. “It is a pleasure to be here.” She looked around with casual curiosity.”And where is my host, Lord Varian Thane?”
“He is inside, Miss.” The Twi’lek bowed politely gesturing to the sprawling white manor behind him.”He is preparing everything for your arrival. If you would care to join him, he is very pleased you are here.”
The sun shimmered off her hair as she flicked it over her shoulder. “Then I would hate to keep my dear patron waiting. Take me to him.”
The Twi’lek nodded again and turned, the Togruta taking up a place on either side of the pink woman, leaving only the rear for the Mandalorian.
Bralor didn’t hesitate, following suit close behind. His experience with custom told him that he was being put in his place. Raised in the clone army, he found himself unconcerned with issues of status that surrounded nobles and the power hungry. Their insults rolled off his him like water off a clone’s bucket.
It also keyed him in on their flawed approach to strategy – protocol over security. Should they try anything, he was nicely positioned to take care of it. He could put one blaster right between the headtails of each togruta before either could breathe.
Trees with soft white petals dipped over the path they followed towards the home of Varian Thane, a rich lord of Osarian. Her data pad had been both demanding and vague in its instruction. There was something Thane wanted from Durga and, in return, he would owe the Hutt a favor of nearly immeasurable size. This was a somewhat unusual job for her. She usually only met with clients who Durga needed something from, not the other way around. Still, the scenery was nice, and if she could manage her way around the activities she dreaded, this job could be quite enjoyable. “Your Lord’s home is quite lovely.” She spoke casually to the servants around her. It was met with an odd silence.
Walking up the white stone steps, the twi’lek opened the light wood door and gestured for the others to enter. “Thank you.” Now being steered by the Togruta at either side, she was herded through several lushly decorated rooms. Finally breaking through the parlor, they entered an impressive indoor garden. The home’s master was sitting in a red plush loveseat in the middle of a curved wall of alien pink flowers. Flowers that strangely matched the Zeltron’s skin exactly.
Having an eidetic memory was one of the most strategically useful tools that the Kamino engineers had bred into Bralor and his brothers. He forgot very little, and he never forgot a face. As the seated human raised his head he saw the man over the shoulders of one of the Togruta escorts.
His voice was eaten by the vacuum silence of his helmet. “Stang.”
The man’s handsome face lit a memory in Tiila of the Lianthi Princess and his arms around her as she fell. That professional work smile greeted the man that had helped her on the luxury ship. “My white knight.”
“The immaculate Tiila,” He rose from the cushions and crossed the grass slowly to greet his guest, the pace of a man who rushed for nothing. “finally come home.” He slid his hand under hers and lifted the pink fingers to his lips. “Welcome.”
“Thank you for bringing me to your exceptionally lovely home.” Her jaw tightened just a little as a realization clicked into place. A favor from Durga for this man. This was too much to be coincidence. She had a sinking feeling there was no Plan B to fall back to. “And thank you for your help back on the Princess.”
His fingertips touched the warm blue stone on her chest. “I am glad to see you still wear my gift.”
Her stomach sank even further. He was the one that gave her the stone that matched her hair. His flowers matched her skin. He searched her out after meeting her for only mere moments. This was far from a negotiation. Her earlier words, said in jest, had come true. She was now Durga’s whore. Despite the stone in her belly, she showed no outward change. “It has become my favorite piece.”
Looking over the soft pink shoulders to her guard, Varian Thane finally spoke to the other person who had entered his garden. “Thank you for delivering Tiila in such immaculate condition.”
Shoulders square behind Tiila, only the Mandalorian helmet turned to Thane. A few flickers of his eye reactivated the voice projection. “We have our reputation for good reason,” he replied with that simple, cool deadness. It could have meant any number of things from the guarantee of her safe arrival to the hell that might follow should anything go wrong.
The togruta on the right let her emotions slip, her lips parting to bare a sliver of those sharp, predatory teeth.
Thane raised his hand to his guard, effectively settling the female in one short gesture. “Yes, your reputation is well known to me. Fortunately it should not be an issue any longer.” He passed Tiila’s hand from one of his to the other, leading her to sit on the couch where they had found him. From within his satin jacket, he produced a silver key. “There is a lock box that has been set beside the door. The credits within along with whatever you can fetch from the sale of her things should show proper appreciation for your delivery. She won’t be needing them anymore. I can provide more than enough to keep her happy.”
Bralor stood motionless. He didn’t look at the key. Instead that beskar’gam held the perfect poker face with its black T visor trained on Varian Thane’s eyes.
This was a turn of events he hadn’t quite counted on. That alone gave him an urge to pull one of his DC-17s and split the smug bastard’s head right down the middle. Entertaining the simple thought left him through the series of events: How quickly the togruta would respond and how to put them down most efficiently. All the covert security they had passed on their way to his home, plus the others, no doubt hidden. Then there would be the trickiness of getting them off planet.
His head turned ever so slightly and he looked at Tiila.
For only a second, the Zeltron lost her breath completely. There had to be a mistake in communication. That solitary thought moved her feet and lips. She stood and rested her hand on Bralor’s scarred armor. “It’s okay. I’m sure there is just a miscommunication.” She was speaking as much to her own nerves as she was to him. “I will contact Durga and get everything straightened out.” She tried to give him her best smile.
Bralor nodded. He knew that he should probably say something reassuring to her. Unfortunately all too often the time and place when you needed it the most was not the time and place where you could give it. So all he said was, “Understood,” and hoped that she got the message.
He shifted to the noble and nodded again, “Lord Thane.” Leaving the man holding the key, Bralor turned and left the parlor.
Arden paced in her quarters. She really didn’t want to do this. She hated the idea of opening up, even if these people were her… What were they? Could she call them friends? Just people she worked with? She didn’t know what.
She let out an exasperated scream and ran her fingers through her hair. She kicked the pair of shoes that the Diva gave her and they clattered against the wall. She threw herself onto the bed.
This was maddening. She thought for sure this was how some brat youngling would act if they had their toys taken away. She rolled over onto her back and blew the hair out of her eyes.
What could they do to me? Arden thought to herself as she sat up and looked up at the ceiling, Well toss me out of an airlock. Shoot me. Shoot me and toss me out of an air lock That brought a smile to her face.
“Fine,” she said out loud. She made sure the blaster was comfortably on her hip. She smiled again, good thing she was the best shot on board, and Bralor wasn’t here.
“I don’t care what you think you can do,” Vullif said, frowning at the glowing eyes staring back at him. “You are not taking Pal apart.”
Nik chattered indignantly and walked back down the corridor leading to the engine room. Trey wasn’t entirely sure what the Jawa had said but the Soul’s captain was fairly sure his ancestry had been insulted.
“My loyal crew,” he muttered as he walked into the lounge and dropped into one of the padded chairs. At least he could count on Arden, he thought. She had always worked with him and tried to encourage him to find more profitable operations for the ship.
The twi’lek returned to the garden, bringing a tray of drinks to the seated pair. “I would feel better if I could speak to Durga directly. You must understand, this is a drastic difference from the instructions I was given at the palace.”
The tray set on the glass and wood table in front of them, Thane carefully uncorked a familiar rose colored bottle and poured the chilled contents into delicate crystal flutes. “Very well, my dear. I will have him contacted.” That confident, easy smile never left his face as he gestured to the servant to leave. The smell of the liquor perfumed the air, drowning any scent of flowers that had been lingering.”While we wait, I understand you have a fondness for mycosia. I have procured an extremely pure vintage.” The glass held out to her was an unspoken invitation.
Protocol and politeness dictated she take the offering, but she needed neither. What she needed was a drink. She took the fine glassware to her lips and indulged as deeply as manners would allow. This was indeed a fine example of the floral alcohol. The scent was only overwhelmed by the deep complex flavor that washed over her mouth. It was like no other mycosia she had before. “This is a very fine vintage.” She couldn’t hide the pleasant surprise in her voice.
“I’m glad you like it.” He watched her drink more of the heady liquid, his eyes almost triumphant. “I had it made specifically for your arrival” A soft chime rang out from the crystal as he slid his finger around the rim. “Your species are known for your ability to metabolize liquor faster than any other human or near-human because of your unique anatomy.” He ran the backs of his fingers down the side of her bare arm. “And you are even more unique, aren’t you?”
Tiila’s head spun a little, dizziness taking her breath unexpectedly. She put the glass back on the tray and stared at Varian. Did he really try to drug her? It would only be a few moments and her system would be clear. This guy was going to be in a lot of trouble. Her body instinctively reached for its defences and found nothing.
“There is a secret written in your genetics that may come as a surprise to you, a kill switch if you will.” His smile grew wider, his fingers sliding up to her face. He ran his thumb over her lower lip, tugging it to the side a little. “A protein written in your genetic code that disables all of your defenses. Essentially, it is a designer drug that is made especially for you, Tilla Sadi, and you alone.”
Panic raced through her foggy mind but her body could only react in sluggish, weak, ineffective means. “What. No…. no.” She tried to stand only to stumble back into Thane’s arms like a common drunk.
The wicked lord ran his fingers through her cerulean hair. “Don’t be upset, my dear. Durga said you would be a little resistant to the idea at first. This is just a precaution until you become acclimated to life here.” Moving his fingers under hers, he squeezed her hand gently. “You have a beautiful life before you, Tiila. Here, you will want for nothing. I can give you everything you can imagine and more.”
Raising her hand to his lips, he pressed a soft kiss to the back of it. “You are mine now, girl.” He slid his arms beneath her back and legs to lift her from the couch. “I will make that call to Durga. I will call to tell him our transaction is successful.”