“Now that’s what I call a slap in the face.”

Jan Lomona rubbed his cheek as the woman he’d been chatting up strode back towards her friends at the bar and turned, giving him an angry look. He gave her a wave and a grin as he turned back to his Duarga and took a gulp, rubbing his cheek again. Jan tried his best to ignore the incredulous look of disbelief coming from his friend Latti Tellex but couldn’t and looked down.

“What?”

“What? `Hey baby, ever seen a type four injector relay? No? Do you wanna?’ Not your best line.” Latti took a swig from his drink and stared ahead. “You’re losing your touch.”

Jan glanced around the room of the Outlander Nightclub, secreted on the lower levels of Coruscant and leaned against the bar watching the packed club throb to a loud beat played by a motley assortment of musicians high on a podium. He had to agree it was a lame line, but while he and Latti were far away from Setnin and the Outer Rim on business for Jabba the Hutt he thought he might just try out a few lines he’d picked up along the way.

Scratch that gem from the list…

“Latt old pal, I don’t have a touch. I have a firm, solid grip on what makes people tick.” He subconsciously rubbed his sore cheek again as the sting dropped gears into a throbbing heat. “Most genders are the same, easy to read. But after travelling around this galaxy, some sexes…” Jan trailed off and took a large mouthful of his obviously watered-down drink, as he looked sideways down the bar at another potential evening’s entertainment. “Some sexes are harder to read than brail in a breadcrumb factory.”

“Well, you’d better be able to read Frans like a children’s book, ‘cause if she ever catches you playing around then you’re dead as steam powered starships.”

Jan raised an eyebrow and looked back at his fellow smuggler with a wide smile.

“Hey, don’t knock steam power. You know I work best under pressure.”

Latti grinned as he waved the waitress over for another drink and ordered a plate of cockons, his favourite snack. Jan lifted his drink and moved down the bar to greet another smiling female as she approached him.

“Hi.” Jan said simply as he leaned against the bar. “Joel. Joel St. John.” He inwardly raised an eyebrow and a silent thanks to the real Joel St. John, wherever he may be. “Where’d you jet in from?”

“Cloud City, Bespin.” She replied in a sweet voice. Jan nodded in appreciation.

“Well, you sure look like an angel so there had to be a cloud in there somewhere.” He motioned towards a table that had just been vacated and she followed his gaze, grabbing a seat just before another gaggle of revellers sneaked in. Jan squeezed in beside her. “So, what’s your name?”

“Maarssa Abbraynee. I’m here on business. Company conference.” She gave the packed room an amused glance. “Nothing interesting.”

“And what is it you do?”

“Legal assistant.” She took a sip of her bright pink, green and blue multi-layered concoction and cocked her head. “And you, what do you do Joel?”

Jan raised a modest eyebrow and shook his head slowly.

“Oh, this and that. Some customs, some excise. Nothing a legal assistant like you would be interested in.” He gave her his best smile and leaned in a touch closer. “So, is this conference staring early tomorrow, or do you have time to play?”

“Play?” repeated Maarssa, a playful smile teasing at her lips. “Whatever do you mean?”

Jan shook his head as innocently as he could.

“I have no idea. I’m making this up as I go.”

Maarssa smiled again and sipped at her drink.

“I’d figured that out.” She motioned towards a gaggle of stiffs in sharp suits that were clustered around the bar. “That’s my team. I’ll tell them I’m heading back early and then you can show me exactly what `play’ means where you come from.”

Jan allowed her to squeeze past him and away from the crowded table. A few metres away he could see Latti deep in conversation with a tall, grey-skinned Twi’lek female, and he couldn’t resist a wide grin as he watched for a second. The female seemed deeply interested in whatever it was Latti was saying, and Jan instantly felt better about abandoning his pal for a few hours. He waited for Maarssa to finish her brief chat with her colleagues and stood to escort her out, but paused as Latti looked directly at him and motioned for him to come over.

Don’t tell me you need help, he thought to himself. She’s a Twi’lek. They’re easier to pull than calf muscles.

“Jan!” yelled Latti, and Lomona frowned as he moved towards him, knowing that Maarssa wouldn’t have heard his real name over the crowd and the pounding music but annoyed nonetheless. He stood next to Latti as the Twi’lek leaned in.

“What? I’m kind of busy.”

“You are now.” Interrupted the Twi’lek female, giving Jan a meaningful glare. He moved back and raised an eyebrow at her.

“Whoa, lady. I’m flattered but I’ve already hooked up here. Latti here’s a great guy. Girls love those face braids.” He waggled his eyebrows at his friend and patted him on the shoulder. “He’s second best, but he’ll do.”

“Jan you idiot, this is our contact.”

Oh crap, thought Jan as he felt the ground beneath him begin to open up.

“Lysaar Shenn. My information told me you’d be easily distracted.” She gave Maarssa a sideways glance. “Although I didn’t anticipate how easily.”

Maarssa sidled back towards Jan, waiting for him to return to her. Lysaar raised an arched eyebrow at Jan in a manner that was entirely unplayful.

“Ditch the girl. We’ve got work to do.”

Jan’s eyes narrowed as he glared down at Lysaar but thought better of causing a scene in so public a place and turned back to Maarssa with a sorry smile on his face.

“Look, something’s come up. My associates here,” he jerked a cursory thumb over his shoulder at Latti and Lysaar. “They’ve hooked me up with a contact I’ve been trying to liaise with for a while. And given that I’m not from these parts, well. I might not get the chance again.” He gave Maarssa another smile, this time a genuine one. “Although I hope we do.”

Maarssa nodded, a breezy smile hiding the disappointment evident in her eyes.

“So do I Joel. I was looking forward to getting to know you better.” She handed Jan a small flim card. “My number. Give me a call sometime. I’ll make sure I’m not busy.”

Jan as he pocketed the flim and watched as she walked smoothly back to her friends. Bespin wasn’t so far around the Outer Rim. Just a swift blast down from Sedapard, across the Corellian Run, the Hydian Way, the Rimma Trade Route and along the Corellian Trade Spine. He blew out a long breath and turned back to Latti and Lysaar.

“Okay. What’s so damn important?”

Lysaar Shenn motioned towards the wide doorway and began to move.

“These walls have ears. Get moving and I’ll tell you things you won’t believe.”

Jan followed Latti and the grey-skinned Twi’lek as they strode out of the Outlander, giving Maarssa a final smile.

Another friend in the Core. That’s what I call networking.

“Cool pad you’ve got here. You must get paid top credit for your services.” Jan paused by the transparisteel window as he watched a freighter not dissimilar to his own fly past. ”Whatever they are.” he added under his breath.

“Yes I do. And my services are my own business.” Lysaar stood next to Jan and stared up at him. “Which brings me to the reason for your trip.”

Latti perked up at this, wisely staying clear of the verbal sparring that had gone on between the A-desandian and the Twi’lek for the past hour as they journeyed to her quarters. How they had managed to simply walk past so many Imperial Stormtroopers, military police and security operatives Tellex would never know. But then, they weren’t in the Sedapard Cluster, where their face was plastered on every wall and holoscreen. This was the Core and there were much larger fish to fry than himself and Lomona. And for once he was thankful of that.

Jan watched another stream of vehicles silently cruise by as the evening began to roll around and the shadows grew softer. Up here, many hundreds of levels above where the three of them had rendezvoused, the stark beauty of Coruscant was readily evident, and Jan was transfixed by its steel and concrete allure. Jan had never travelled to Coruscant before, although he knew plenty of agents who regularly did, and the steel planet reminded him of Commodor back in Setnin, a world largely covered in starship repair bays. For once he was thankful to Jabba for assigning him this mission, and hoped that it would be the beginning of even more lucrative and vital missions. Perhaps if Jabba kept up this generosity he might have to consider relocating towards the Outer Rim, be closer to the Tatooine action.

Jan finally looked down again at Lysaar.

“Okay, so the mission. I’ll tell you what I know and then you tell me how wrong I am.”

“Alright, what do you know?”

Jan blew out a long breath and raised his eyebrows as he glanced at Latti who was scrolling through the inter-sector edition of the Chancai Express.

“I know that when I was given this job it was a hot one that a couple of the guys had shied away from it. I know it’s important to Jabba, but I don’t know why.” He paused and fixed Lysaar with a hard stare. “I know that if he can afford to allow you the time to brief me like this, then it’s some heavy deal that’s going down here.”

Shenn nodded and moved away to the centre of the apartment, seating herself in front of Latti. She waited for Jan to sit.

“Jabba has got a problem.”

“Yeah I know. Water retention.”

“Jan!” barked Latti as he looked up from the magazine, frowning as the smuggler grinned it off. Lysaar continued.

“He has agents, operatives, bounty hunters, assassins and smugglers working in all parts of the galaxy. He has a network that’s only rivalled by Black Sun. But,” she paused as she leaned forward. “He’s got problems in the Mid Rim. Your part of town.”

Jan frowned and cocked his head as he too leaned in.

“Problems with who, exactly?”

“Don’t panic Captain, it’s nothing to do with Cipple. This problem is with another ganglord. A character by the name of Gale Fender.”

Jan turned to Latti, a look of surprise etched into his youthful features. Gale Fender was a player in the Mid Rim, and worked on the peripheries of Sedapard, but had never elevated himself to main event status. If he had somehow managed to anger the Hutt, to such a degree that he would send two smugglers to Coruscant to be briefed by one of his agents, then Fender had certainly earned Jans admiration.

“Never knew he had it in him. Fender, eh.” Jan rubbed his chin in thought. I really should have shaved this morning. He looked at Latti again as his partner took a swig of his drink and cleared his throat.

“Fender has nibbled at the edge of Setnin’s pie but has never taken the next step. He’s a name but not a serious threat to anyone, although I know he makes good profits and has a loyal team. If he’s managed to get noticed by Jabba then he’s worth watching.”

“Believe me, Jabba has been watching him closely. Very closely.” Lysaar uncrossed her legs and lifted a datapad from the table, motioning for Jan and Latti to do the same. “Take a look. Reports of his activities along the Corellian Run and the Rimma Trade Route, through the Expansion, the Inner Rim. Right here to Coruscant. It seems Mister Fender is a very wily operator. An opportunist. He’s acquired backwater routes from a wide range of people and hooked them together in such a way that he can carry merchandise from the Elrood Sector to Vulpter without encountering a single picket ship, interdictor, pirate raid or inspection frigate.” Lysaar tossed the pad onto the couch. “Now do you understand why Jabba’s taking notice?”

Jan nodded slowly, engrossed in the tale scrolling down the datapad. This was unbelievable. In just a few short months, Gale Fender had gone from being a bit-part player in a large production to directing it. He’d achieved things that Cipple, Dressel, Wessen, hell, even Dessio D’Staan had failed to do. No wonder the slug’s annoyed. Jan stood and wandered around the centre of the apartment, the mood lighting slowly growing as the sun set outside and the neon glow of Coruscant increased. If Glann ever got his hands on this information, it would be worth…it would be priceless. Jan caught himself before his thoughts carried him away into dangerous waters. But Jabba would know it was me who gave it to him.

“What’s Jabba got in mind then? If he wanted Fender dead he’d have hired an assassin, and I’m no killer.” He paused. “Unless you countlady-killers.”

Lysaar closed her eyes and shook her head wearily.

“He doesn’t want Fender dead. Quite the contrary, he wants him alive.”

“Kidnapping?” Jan lowered the pad. “Lady, I think you’ve hired the wrong guy here. I’m a smuggler and pilot, Latti’s the same. This sounds like a specialist job.”

Lysaar stood and moved towards Jan slowly and he froze, unsure of what she was about to do. She took the datapad from him and placed it on the table, looking him square in the eye.

“You work in the Outer Rim. So does Fender. Speak to him in his own language.”

“And say what? I’m an up and coming smuggler with some Mid Rim experience. What can I say to Fender?”

Lysaar allowed herself the luxury of a smile, and Jan noticed that her entire face looked different when she did. It suited her.

“You can say things like `Jabba thinks it best you restrict your activities to the Mid Rim’, or `Wouldn’t you be better off concentrating your efforts away from the Core?’ Or best of all `Back off or you’re a dead man.’”

“And you want me to tell him that?”

“In your own words, yes.”

“In my own words.”

Latti glanced from one to the other and shook his head in disbelief.

“Well, you said we wouldn’t believe it and you were right.”

Lysaar strode past Latti and out of the room, looking back over her shoulder as she did so.

“Good. I hate to disappoint.”

Jan watched the Twi’lek exit into her room and raised his arms in exasperation as he stared, open-mouthed at his partner.

“And today started so well,” he began. “And there’s me jabbering on about how glad I was to be here. No pun intended.”

“You’d better be careful what you wish for, because I don’t see a way out of this one.” Latti slumped back into the couch. “We’re gonna have to think of something to say to Fender, and fast.”

“Too freckin’ right we are. But what? I know I’m building a rep back in the Mid Rim but out here, things happen. Fender could dice me into strips and sent what’s left of me back to Setnin in a blender. I’ve got no sway over him.” Jan glanced back at the pad. “And by the looks of this, neither has Glann.”

“Or Jabba. Which gives you some leverage.”

Jan furrowed his brow and looked back at Latti.

“And exactly how do you figure that one out?”

Latti leaned forward to the edge of his seat.

“Alright, if Jabba wanted Fender gone then he’d be gone. Hell, if Jabba wanted Glann gone he’d probably be able to manage that, right?”

Jan nodded slowly.

“Right.”

“Okay, so Fender is someone Jabba needs on the scene for a reason. He’s a pawn in Jabba’s larger game.”

Jan smirked as he slammed back into the couch, arms spread across the back of the cushions.

“Aren’t we all?”

Latti nodded as he continued.

“Gale Fender may be small fry as far as the Mid Rim is concerned, but this elevates him right up the superiority ladder. A good few rungs past Dressel, Wessen, Glann. Do you get where I’m going with this?”

Jan looked away as he tried to unravel what Latti was saying.

“No, and I don’t think you do either.”

“What Mister Tellex is trying to say is that sooner or later Fender knew he’d get a visit from one of Jabba’s men. But he wouldn’t expect that person to also be an employee of Glann Cipple.” Lysaar stood in the doorway of the room, silk dress smoothed down the toned contours of her body like freshly poured cream. “Trouble in the Core is one thing. Trouble at home is quite another. That is what you were about to say, isn’t it?”

Latti gulped and nodded slowly.

“Err, yeah. Right. That.” He turned back to Jan, his eyebrows almost touching his hairline. “Just that.”

“So I visit Fender. We visit Fender.” Jan motioned to Latti. “And we get a face- to-face.” He stood and strolled around the couch towards the window, affording himself a view of both Coruscant by twilight and Lysaar in profile. “And I throw him the well-thought out lines that you suggested. What then? What if he decides he’s a Jawa in a Rancor pit with a flick knife and goes all brave on us? As much as I respect Jabba I’m not willing to die for him.”

Lysaar smiled and pushed away from the doorway towards Jan.

“I didn’t expect you would be. But what I am willing to do is to follow orders. And my orders are to back you up to the best of my abilities.”

Jan fought back the cocky grin that was just dying to spill out across his lips.

“Oh yeah, your services.”

“That’s right.”

There was a ten second bout of silence as Jan and Lysaar eyed each other, neither sure if the other was testing or teasing. Latti cleared his throat and took another swig of his beverage.

“Well we’d better arrange to meet Fender quick, because we head back tomorrow.”

Jan and Lysaar both turned their heads and looked at Latti as if he’d sprouted a second head.

“Do you think I got into this dress just to impress you?”

“No,” said Latti flatly. “But well done all the same.”

“20.00 hours tonight, Monument Plaza. Fender has hired the plaza for three hours to celebrate his `success’. He’s fooled the authorities into believing that it’s a business conference for a company from Bespin, which it is, but the gathering largely consists of his most trusted operatives.” Lysaar raised an arched eyebrow. “And I’ve got three invites.”

Jan rubbed his hand across his chin and rued the stubble once again as he put two and two together and came up with a certain young lady he had been chatting up not two hours ago.

“Err, there might be a slight problem with that.”

Lysaar reached into her handbag and pulled out a slim invitation card, and Jan couldn’t resist a grin as he noted the Holo-picture and writing. Nice move lady.

“I’m way ahead of you, Mister St. John.”

“Now, you know what to do old pal. Blend in but don’t get blended. Mix it up, look natural.” Jan glanced around at the glitterati spread across Monument Plaza, the only remaining piece of natural Coruscant left untouched. “And remember, this place is classy. So no Cockons”

“Yeah, I got it.” Latti gave Jan a good look up and down, noting his deep purple evening suit and orange tie. “And I suppose you’re putting the class in classy.”

“Damn right. I’m the class, she’s the sass and you’re the ass, as in park it in that seat and mingle.” Jan pointed to the long, well-staffed bar. “Now get moving, we ain’t got long.”

Latti gave Jan a final sideways glare and straightened his jacket as he ambled to the bar. Lysaar was a study in concentration as she surveyed their surroundings and eyed all those close to her. Jan had a better vantage point, being toweringly tall as he was and checked out their situation for potential danger, but he could neither see nor sense none. Here on Coruscant, where he had been told that it was wise to not only check your pocketbook for pickpockets but also your kidneys, he had felt perfectly safe and easy. It was not unlike Chancai or Amagad back in Setnin. While it was clear that all three locations held hidden dangers, if your wits were kept close to the surface then it was fine. And Jan Lomona always kept his wits about him.

Lysaar slipped her arm into his, strengthening the impression that they were together and simply guests at the soiree and leaned in close to talk, swinging her eyes nonchalantly across the skyline to where Gale Fender was regaling a gaggle of his associates with some unknown tale and eliciting loud laughter from the group. Jan nodded and began to walk forward slowly. He felt naked without his blaster or any other weapons on him, but knew by planetary law that here in Monument Plaza no one else would be packing either. Not that he felt any easier by that. Not having his trusted blaster was like missing a limb.

He neared Fender and his associates, an easy smile on his features and a beautiful Twi’lek on his arm. He knew how women like Lysaar were seen as trophies here in the Core and clearly she would be viewed as a championship victory and perhaps another step towards a conversation with Fender. A twosome of brawny Trandoshan bruisers blocked their path and Jan looked down at them.

“A word with Mister Fender, if you don’t mind.”

“I do mind,” growled the left side Trandoshan, his emerald green eyes and olive skin glowing palely in the neon hue of the evening. “Mister Fender isn’t to be disturbed. You speak to him when he speaks to you.”

Lysaar moved around Jan, standing in front of him, her hand still in his and gave the two hulking lizards her sweetest smile. Jan glanced away, smiling to himself.

“Surely Mister Fender wouldn’t begrudge us a moment of his time. My fiancé has travelled a long way to be here. All the way from the Setnin sector.” The two Trandoshans traded looks. “He simply wishes to pass on his congratulations.” She squeezed Jans hand as he slipped an arm around her waist and nodded in agreement. “Where’s the harm in that?”

The silent Trandoshan turned and walked through a ring of bodyguards, made up of races from Belkadan to Anoth and spoke to Fenders aide, a stick-thin, ash-haired woman by the name of Ol-oria Eneira. Eneira gave Jan and Lysaar a slit-eyed stare, her gaunt features and pallid skin giving her a sickly appearance and nodded slowly, not breaking off her gaze. Jan and Lysaar moved through the throng and into the inner circle of Fenders associates. Jan straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat as he approached Fender. The gangster turned as Jan and Lysaar arrived and cocked his head in acknowledgement. Jan squeezed Lysaar’s hand again and spoke.

“Mister Fender. I’ve been asked to convey my congratulations to you and your associates.”

Fender lapsed into an amused smile as he glanced at Lysaar, who looked stunning in her eveningwear.

“And who’s congratulations am I accepting?”

“My own. Joel St. John. And my employer.” Jan paused a second, just for effect. “Jabba the Hutt.”

Fenders calm visage slipped a notch as Jan spoke and he turned an angle away from the rest of his entourage, closer to Jan and Lysaar.

“Jabba the Hutt?” He repeated, almost to himself. He looked at Jan and Lysaar in turn. “And why would the mighty Jabba be congratulating me?”

Lysaar released Jan’s hand and moved in front of him again, much as she had with the guards.

“Because he admires fearlessness and inventiveness. Because you managed a feat that few from beyond the Mid Rim have either attempted or achieved. And because he has a proposition for you.”

“A proposition? Really.” Fender paused, rubbing his chin with his finger and thumb, deep in thought. “Why hasn’t he come here with this proposition himself?”

Jan raised an internal eyebrow. Jabba, travel? He’s probably left his Palace ten times in the past ten years. He wouldn’t travel all the way to Coruscant for a player like you. Lysaar spoke.

“Because Hutts don’t travel well. And because Jabba’s overlord Prince Xizor has ordered him to remain on Tatooine.” Lysaar’s last words were a total fabrication: Jabba was on Tatooine attending to matters of court but the mere mention of Black Sun’s head brought another worried look to Fenders face. While few would dare to directly oppose or annoy the Hutt, none in their right mind would even consider going against the wishes of the Falleen Prince who ruled the criminal underworld of the galaxy. And if Fender believed Jabba could be ordered to remain in the Outer Rim, then what say would a small time operator punching above his weight like Fender have?

Gale Fender reigned in what composure he had kept in the last minute and eyed Jan closely.

“I see. So Mister St John, this proposition. What does Jabba propose?”

Jan looked around at the assorted mass of guests and lowered his voice.

“Maybe we should take a stroll.” He smiled down at Lysaar, who remained outwardly charming and courteous but inside was as steely as a photon torpedo. “Alone.”

“Certainly.” Fender moved over to briefly converse with Ol-oria Eneira and motioned for his guards to make a path for him and Jan to walk through as Lysaar initially refused to release Lomonas hand. He stayed in the moment, leaning down and planting a soft kiss on her pale grey lips and giving her a calming grin.

“It’ll be okay honey. I know what I’m doing.”

“You’d better.” She replied in a serious tone, a smile on her face as Jan walked to join Fender and the two men left the party in full swing behind them and began a lap of Monument Plaza. They strolled in silence for a couple of minutes until they were well clear of the congregation and began to speak.

“Joel St. John. So that’s the name you’re using these days is it, Lomona?”

Jan looked down at Fender and shoved his hands in his pockets, a smile drifting across his face.

“Didn’t think that would fool you for long.” He looked above, a thousand fireflies of starship engines buzzing through the night. “Keeps a man like me out of trouble.”

“I dare say it does.” Fender gazed into the distance at the furious light shows of the entertainment district that glittered like a jewel before them, and viewed the lazy drift of Imperial vessels as they patrolled overhead. “You know I could have you eliminated right now. You, the Twi’lek girl and Tellex.”

Jan nodded in agreement as they continued their wide arc around the plaza.

“No doubt about it. But we both know what that would get you.” Jan turned and looked down at Fender. “Jabba sent me. Glann knows I’m here. And as if that wasn’t enough, Xizor ordered Jabba to send someone as his envoy instead of coming himself.” Jan looked ahead again. “You shoot the messenger and the cavalry won’t be taking any prisoners.”

Fender smiled to himself as he nodded.

“You think very highly of yourself Lomona. What makes you think you’re any more or less important than any other aspiring smuggler I have to deal with?”

“Because if I wasn’t, you’d have had her deal with me.” Jan thrust a thumb over his shoulder towards the ashen Eneira Ol-oria. “I wouldn’t have made it into the plaza, much less be here talking with you. And besides,” Jan stopped walking and waited for Fender to do the same. “You and me both know that there are ways to settle things and there are ways to settle things.”

Fender knew what Jan was talking about. How could he not, it was part of the code. The creed. The Setnin Way. Perhaps the A-desandian was handing him a narrow path through the chaos, when the forces of Jabba the Hutt, Black Sun and the Empire swelled around him. Fender continued to walk and waited for Jan to catch up.

“I knew this day would come.”

Jan cocked his head and gave Fender a nod of admiration.

“For what it’s worth, you’ve impressed the hells out of me.”

Fender stared ahead as the tunnel vision of inevitability began to whir its black-rimmed swirl around him.

“Don’t patronise me, smuggler.”

“I’m not. Believe me, I’m not. But think about this.” Jan moved ahead of Fender, stopping him in his tracks. “You’ve done something Jabba’s only dreamed of. Something Glann would give his right arm for. You’ve made Xizor sit up and take notice.” A lie, but one that conveniently fit the story. “And all from the Mid Rim. From Setnin.” Jan blew a long breath out of his mouth. “Talk about putting a place on the map.”

Fender paused, uncertain as to what to say. It was clear the smuggler wasn’t here to gloat, or to throw down shallow and boring threats. Perhaps there was a way out of this predicament. He frowned to himself. And the evening had started so well…

“What do you suggest?”

“Jabba hired me for this job. And you know how Jabba deals with threats and annoyances.”

Fender knew only too well how the Hutt dealt with his enemies. A well-fed Rancor and a thriving galactic bounty hunting profession was testament to that.

“I do.”

“But I figure he didn’t wager on you and me having this connection. Setnin. And the way I figure it, even if you have to withdraw right back to the edge of the Soluman Delta Gulf, you’ll still be creds in.”

“It certainly beats the alternative.” Fender seemingly resigned to his business’ fate asked another question. “My operation to the Core. What will become of it?”

Jan knew this would be asked of him, knew that he would have to formulate an answer to placate every one concerned. But until the words began to stream out of his mouth, he really wasn’t sure what he was going to say.

“The map plots a free path through the Core from Elrood to Vulpter, right?” Fender nodded as they continued to stroll. Jan continued. “And even though you must trust your staff, no one but you has a full copy of that map.”

“Of course not. In my organisation, starmaps and hyperspace routes are on a need-to-know basis.”

Sensible. Glann should adopt that policy.

“Alright, so you have the only map. And there really is only one map, right?”

Fender nodded slowly, beginning to grasp at what Jan was suggesting.

“One map.”

Jan looked at Fender, raising an eyebrow. The gang boss nodded as his shoulders slumped slightly.

“If I agree to destroy the map I’d have time to regroup. Extricate myself from this situation.”

“It’s a start. That map is probably the most highly prized hyperspace route in the galaxy right now. A route like that, evading Imperial pickets and pirate raids would be worth a fortune. But think about it. With the map, you’d be a target for every single crime organisation in the galaxy. Not just in Setnin, or the Mid Rim, but everywhere. Jabba wants it, Xizor wants it, Ploovoo-two-for-one wants it. Hell, I want it. The best thing you could do with that map right now is delete it. And destroy the computer that held the information.” Jan gave him a sad smile. “Maybe that’s crazy. You’d be throwing away a fortune, but believe me, what’s the alternative? You’d be rich but you’d be miserable. That crick in your neck from looking over your shoulder would keep you awake every night.”

Fender let out another long breath as he shook his head and walked on slowly.

“And what of the Hutt. Xizor. Cipple, Dressel and the rest of the Mid Rim?”

Jan didn’t have an answer for that question, not even one that conveniently fitted the facts of the story. He placed his hands back into his pockets and watched as the skies filled with stars and ships.

“I’m just a smuggler. If I had an answer for that then I wouldn’t be here. That’s for you to figure, but I wouldn’t take too long about it.” Jan swung a look around Monument Plaza as they began the walk back to the gathering. “Jabba has men everywhere. And Black Sun is based here.” He stared ahead again. “It’s time to make a decision.”

“My decision is made. Better to retreat and fight another day than end it all here.” Fender rubbed his hands together, surreptitiously pressing a button that was nestled in the cuff of his sleeve. “Rejoin the party, enjoy the evening. Tomorrow you can tell Jabba that the map has been destroyed and that balance has been restored.”

Jan furrowed his brow as he acknowledged Fenders words and wondered what the button was activating. He could see Lysaar deep in conversation with an imposing male Twi’lek, and Latti mingling with the glitterati at the long, well-staffed bar, eating Cockons and sinking drinks. He continued the final hundred-meter walk back to the party alongside Fender in silence and nodded at Latti as he passed him, moving beside Lysaar and sliding his arm around her waist. She responded with a squeeze and turned from the male Twi’lek, moving Jan around to talk face-to-face with him.

“All done?” She asked. Jan smiled.

“He’s destroying the map.”

Lysaar almost gasped aloud but managed to compose herself before she let slip. Jan looked directly down at her, right eyebrow cocked, waiting for her response.

“He’s what?” She whispered incredulously.

“You heard. No map, no problem.”

Lysaar pushed against Jan, making him back-peddle into an open space with no other people within ear shot and pulled him close, making it appear to bystanders that she was whispering sweet nothings into his ear. The male Twi’lek looked on enviously.

“Jabba expects the map to be delivered. No map, big problem.”

“Lady, you said nothing about Jabba wanting the map.” He cast a quick glance around them, checking for spying eyes and curious ears and returned his gaze to Lysaar. “It’s a little late for me to change the deal now.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that Captain Lomona.”

Jan frowned but didn’t take his eyes off the beautiful Twi’lek. It was Fenders voice, and he could see out of the corner of his eye Latti being shoved towards them and Fenders two hulking Trandoshan bodyguards, blasters in hand aimed unwaveringly at both him and Lysaar. He gave her an assured smile that she couldn’t quite read and turned to look at Fender.

“Thought we had an agreement.” Jan watched as Eneira Ol-oria slid beside Fender like a wraith, a thin-lipped smile greasing across her face. Jan gave her a contemptuous glare. “Maybe you’re not as smart as I thought.”

“Or perhaps I am. It was something you said yourself Lomona. About me throwing away a fortune. And you’re right, of course. I would spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.” He turned to Ol-oria. “But then, I would be able to afford the very best protection credits can buy.”

Jan blew out a long breath as he saw the trigger fingers nudge towards activation. Gotta make my move now, last chance and out.

Jan gripped Lysaar by her head tails, swinging her towards him and held her around the neck, constricting her airway and squeezing tightly. Shocked, the air pushed out of her, she weakly grabbed his arm to release the pressure but found no purchase and began to lose the strength in her legs. Fender, a look of disbelief on his face, gave Jan a quizzical look.

“What in the five fire rings are you doing?”

Jan spat his reply through gritted teeth, renewing his grip on Lysaar as she perched herself on the tips of her toes. He gave Fender a fiery glare.

“Now you listen to me and you listen good. You had your chance to get out of this, but you ignored it. That’s fine, your funeral. But I’m not going down over some small-time crook that got lucky but didn’t know when the deck was stacked against him.” He began to back-peddle, dragging Lysaar with him and motioning for Latti to follow. “You try and nail me, then you hit the girl, and she works for Jabba. So me, Tellex and the girl are walking out of here.” Jan gave the two Trandoshans a quick glance. “You and your two stuffed suits are gonna drops the blasters and let us go.”

Fender allowed an amused smile to crack the side of his mouth as Ol-oria stepped forward.

“And why would I do that?”

Jan gave the arena of Monument Plaza a wide stare.

“Because right now we’re being watched. Right now there are Black Sun agents monitoring our every move. And Black Sun is in with the Empire. You may not have remembered but this is Imperial Centre. And the Empire ain’t squeamish about public massacres.” He curled a nostril at Fender. “So, the Hardball’s in your court. Do we stick to the agreement, or does everyone here die tonight?”

Fender looked at Jan, Ol-oria and the fast-fading form of Lysaar in turn and stepped forward, placing his hands on the gun arms of the two suited Trandoshans. He paused, regarding Jan for a final time.

“Go. Tell the Hutt and his master you accomplished your mission. But know this smuggler. I intend to make Setnin mine. I may have been thwarted in the Core, but the Sedapard Cluster is a vast arena. Glann Cipple has had it his own way for too long. I intend to change things.”

Jan nodded and slowly released his grip on Lysaar. She rubbed her neck and gave Jan a venomous glare, but held her tongue. Jan didn’t look at her, but locked eyes with Fender.

“Just make sure that map is a memory.”

Fender gave Jan a quizzical look as Lomona turned and began to walk away, Latti assisting Lysaar as the three of them left Monument Plaza behind and exited the scene.

“That’s gonna leave a bruise.” Jan finished applying the derma cream to Lysaar’s neck and sat back in his seat. “It’s high neck sweaters for you from now on.”

Lysaar adjusted her top and wiped her hands on her combat jeans as she placed the jar on the tabletop. She crossed her legs and eyed Jan closely.

“Did you know what you were doing when you almost choked me to death?”

Jan glanced at Latti who was engrossed in the latest Chancai Express and smiled as his friend raised his eyebrows in amusement, acknowledging the conversation. Jan turned back to Lysaar.

“Sweetheart, if I ever knew what I was doing then I’d really be dangerous.” He gave her a warm grin and stood to his feet. “Do you think Fender’s wiped the map yet?”

“The threats you made would’ve turned a Bantha white.” Lysaar glanced at Latti. “Your friend’s a good liar.”

“The best.”

Jan rolled his eyes.

“Gee, thanks. I don’t know what’s worse, compliments from him or flattery from you.”

Lysaar moved across the room to a desktop that housed an inlaid computer screen. She activated the display, scrolling through a long list of details. Jan watched in silence. After a minute he cleared his throat.

“By the way, hope I didn’t blow your cover. That choke manoeuvre was the first thing that came to mind that didn’t involve us all being toasted.”

Lysaar shook her head, not turning to face him.

“Not a problem, it won’t affect things too much. I can just as easily wear a mask. Besides, Coruscant’s a big city. And you don’t think Lysaar’s my real name, do you?”

Jan smiled and shook his head.

“No, but it sure is a pretty one.”

Lysaar couldn’t resist a smile of her own.

“Okay, two things. I contacted my field supervisor earlier and she relayed the news back to Tatooine.”

Jan furrowed his brow and moved to join her by the screen.

“And what has Jabba had to say about all this?”

Lysaar turned and eyed Jan closely.

“Not much. He’s disappointed that Fender deleted the map, but he knew that a fight to own it would lead to a major gang war and nobody needs that right now.” She scrolled down the page further. “And we’ve got confirmation that the map and the computer that housed it have been destroyed. Looks like you’ve managed to avert a disaster Captain Lomona.”

Latti looked up again as Jan folded his arms and smiled his smuggest grin.

“Well, every now and then I’m afflicted by genius.”

“There is one thing Jabba wants to know.”

“And what’s that?”

Lysaar turned fully towards Jan and folded her own arms.

“When you went for that walk around the Plaza. What exactly did you say to Fender that made him back off?”

Jan had no intention of answering that particular question any time soon. The smuggler cleared his throat and gave Latti a look that indicated it was time to depart. Jan placed his hands on Lysaars shoulders and looked her square in the eye.

“It’s been a pleasure working with you. Maybe we’ll cross paths again sometime.”

Lysaar half smiled.

“I doubt it. It’s a big galaxy.”

Jan Lomona looked out of the window at the midnight Coruscant skyline and sighed, thinking of the lost map and the short cuts lost in the eddies of hyperspace.

“True, and I think it just got a lot bigger.”

The Crusader screamed through hyperspace on a weaving route back towards Setnin. Aboard, Jan and Latti both sat in silent thought, the swirls of hyperspace flitting past the thick rectangular window. At the rear of the small cockpit Jans two droids Aurran and Troopie busied themselves with operational activities, the old stock light requiring constant attention and repair. Jan finished a glass of water and placed it on the console, checking his chrono for the time.

“We should be back this time tomorrow.” Jan waited for a reply from his friend, who had been and remained strangely quiet during the journey. “Everything alright?”

“I’m not sure.” replied Latti, fixing his stare on hyperspace outside. “This whole mission has had me bamboozled from the start.”

“I know. Why Jabba would send someone like me to deal with Fender. I don’t know, seems kind of weird.”

Latti nodded and shifted his legs off the console as Aurran moved past to attend to the navigational systems.

“Yeah, apart from the obvious Setnin connections. But Jabba hires other guys from Setnin, and ones with more experience.” Latti frowned. “So why you?”

“If I might interject, perhaps it is due to Master Jans propensity for talking his way out of situations.” Aurran added, turning to the two of them as he finished his work. “I have noticed that where possible Master Jan talks through situations rather than fight through them. Clearly Jabba the Hutt felt that was appropriate for the situation. After all, you were already on Coruscant”

Jan paused, thinking about what his old friend had said. Latti nodded and pointed at the old droid.

“That’s a good point. And if Jabba knew that, so did Fender. So I guess your little choke hold on Lysaar threw Fender for a loop.”

“Maybe.” Jan held his tongue for a moment, not sure of what he was going to say next. Truth was he wasn’t lying when he had said to Lysaar back in her Coruscant apartment that he wasn’t prepared to die for Jabba. Not only that, he wasn’t prepared to die for anyone. He was twenty-two, with a long life and career ahead of him and seeing those Trandoshan guns aimed squarely at him forced him to realise that fact with crystal clarity. If the situation in Monument Plaza had deteriorated any more, Lysaar would have taken that blaster bolt, not him. For a man with immunity to alcohol it was a sobering thought.

“Think Jabba will hire us again?” asked Latti, tossing a Cockon into his mouth. Jan closed his eyes and rested his head against the headrest of the pilot’s chair.

“It’s not Jabba that bothers me, it’s Glann. If Fender’s angry enough to stir things up back home then it won’t take much for Glann to figure I was the guy who caused it. And given that Glann hates me working for Jabba, all I can see is a whole heap of trouble.”

“Then maybe you should be pointing this ship in the opposite direction.” Latti gave Jan a flat stare. “Why walk into trouble when you know it’ll still come looking for you?”

“Because the last thing I’m gonna do is leave Setnin just when it’s getting interesting.” Jan’s nostrils flared as he found a new determination. “Glann can shout at me all he wants, but he’ll need guys like me more than ever.” Jan Lomona grinned again. “Fender may have put Setnin on the map, but this trip has put me on the map too. This is a chance to make a name for myself, and I ain’t about to run away from it.”

“Fair enough.” Latti fell silent for a few minutes before turning back to Jan. “By the way, did you get Lysaars comm. number?”

“What do you think?”

EIGHT SEXES I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND

2003 short story by Mark Newbold

From the Foundation of Empires era, Seven years before Episode IV – A New Hope

Histories

Set seven years before the Battle of Yavin and a year before Jan Lomona traded the Crusader for the Berone Sunrise, this tale tells the story of Jan’s only trip to Coruscant. On a mission for Jabba the Hutt, Jan has to deal with Gale Fender, a roleplaying character created by Jason Brown. Taking the story title from an RPG character sheet quote, this tale shows Jabba entrusting Jan with an important mission, but also realising one of Jans strengths – the ability to talk his way through and out of situations.

Cast of Characters

Jan Lomona

Latti Tellex

Lysaar Shenn

Gale Fender

Eneira Ol-oria

Maarssa Abbraynee




Entertainment Earth





Mark Newbold
Mark is the Daily Content Manager for Jedi News as well as the Program Director, and co-host of RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network.