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Deflection on Nar Shaddaa

Posted on Tue Oct 13th, 2020 @ 1:27am by Lieutenant Melvyn Kosta

Mission: Scoundrels, Cuttthroats and Rogues
Location: Various / Nar Shaddaa
Timeline: Day 1 at 0000

The Exterminator was in a low enough orbit to be visible from the ground of Kuat, but it was hard to tell which of the destroyers currently floating in the sky it was. Melvyn counted at least twenty of them, and that was only in the southern hemisphere. A flurry of smaller ships danced around them, like bees around their hive. Some of the destroyers were only half-built, their hulls gaping wide open like as many wounds on the majestic vessels.

Bringing his attention back on the ground, Melvyn resumed his walk. He was officially on leave for the next three days, until the Exterminator was ready to resume its normal patrol towards the outer rim. If they'd only stopped on Onderon, Melvyn wouldn't have risked sending a written message ; but they were going to Mimban, and from there to Nal Hutta.

People on the street were going about their business, all races, sexes and ages mingling without paying much attention to anyone else. Imperial soldiers were a common sight here, and no one even spared Melvyn a second glance. The anonymity felt... safe. His quarters on the Exterminators had made him feel more and more claustrophobic of late. More than once he'd caught Asher looking at him, occasional sidelong glances that made him feel on edge. Melvyn was running out of time. With each battle, his growing sympathies for the rebellion risked being discovered.

The place he was headed to was located at the edge of a seedier area of town, one street short of Melvyn bringing his blaster. It was a fairly small communication center, run by a bored-looking Omwati. In there his uniform did draw a second look, and not a friendly one.

"I'd like a holonet access," Melvyn said.

The Omwati was silent for a few seconds, and Melvyn was about to repeat himself, before he finally nodded. "Booth 2."

"Uhm, how much do you charge ?"

A long blue finger pointed at a sign hanging behind the Omwati. The prices looked fairly standard.

"Alright. Thanks."

Booth 2 was a one by one meter cubicle, soundproof for privacy, with nothing but a holonet station in it. Melvyn sat in the chair and switched the unit on. The secure messaging system his cousin had recommended was fairly basic, but it got the job done. Melvyn only hoped that it really was secure ; to be on the safe side he started by logging into a proxy, from which he logged onto another proxy, from which he accessed the anonymous messaging account he'd set up. There was a new message, text only.

I am always glad to hear from you, and I am especially happy to know you are thinking about other potential employment. I was always hoping you'd consider it. We must talk more, preferably in person. Are you able to meet me ? If you give me a planet, I can give you a time and place. Let me know.

The suitably obfuscatory message wasn't signed, not that Melvyn had expected otherwise. He let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. He hadn't been sure how his message would be received, after so many years. Knowing that his cousin was willing to trust him, enough to come meet him in person, meant a lot. Well, Elo had always been the more romantic and committed one in their family. That was why he was a rebel in the first place.

Able and willing, Melvyn started typing. Will be on NS moon in two weeks, barring delays.

The message sent, he erased it from his messaging account, then erased all history on the holonet station before disconnecting from the proxy systems and erasing again everything. Just to be safe he rebooted the machine completely before exiting the booth and stopping at the counter to pay.

As he put his credit chip in the reader, he wondered how many people in there were rebel sympathizers. Quite a few, judging by the fact his cousin had recommended this place, and by the looks given to his uniform. Thankfully, in the short time needed to pay and leave no one panicked enough to take a shot at him, because that would have definitely been a mess.

***

The next day Melvyn returned to the same communication center and got even more pointed looks as he was assigned booth 3 this time. He went through the same routine to access his messaging service, relieved to see a reply to his latest message.

Will contact you when you get there. Erase this account. Be safe.

Well, that was short. He wondered how Elo would manage to get in touch, then shrugged the issue aside. If his cousin said he would, then he would. Obviously the Rebellion had more resources than Melvyn had ever thought. The thought should have been comforting but it felt hollow, just as Melvyn felt hollow now. He had truly believed in the new order carried by the Empire. Peace and safety for all. The shattered illusion left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Agreed.

The one-word message was switfly sent and everything erased again, and then the account suppressed.

As he left the communication center, Melvyn was so busy ignoring the suspicious glances the patrons gave him that he also missed another look, more distant, from a familiar face.

***

Asher Areksen watched his erstwhile friend leave the seedy-looking communication center with a heavy heart. Reaching inside his tunic, he grabbed his comlink and bipped twice. Nothing would happen just yet, but once the Exterminator left Kuat, the ISB would look into this place.

Melvyn... you idiot. You had a perfect future to look forward to. And now you're ruining everything.

***

If things had been uneasy between Melvyn and Asher, of late they'd become simply unbearable. It was getting to the point where it was hard to fly with Asher. Only a few months ago they'd flown together as if they shared a brain ; now they barely managed not to crash into each other. Nothing was said outwardly ; in fact, they both went to great lengths to avoid having to talk. Melvyn tried hard to pretend everything was fine, but he knew the other pilots were not blind. No one asked anything, of course. Getting along was not mandatory, so long as they did their duty. While they were having a hard time working together, they still managed to shoot down enough targets individually to keep their scores at satisying levels, which made sure in turn that superior officers did not investigate any further.

When they finally made it to Nar Shaddaa, it was a relief. Melvyn wasn't sure if he would be able to leave just yet - it may take time to organise his defection so his family was not threatened - but he was sick of the pretense. He just wanted to talk to Elo, find out if his cousin could really help. Most of all he needed to talk to someone who would understand how he felt.

As the Exterminator emerged from hyperspace, everyone was at their battle stations. It was standard policy ; they should be ready in case of an attack, especially when entering Hutt space. Melvyn was pretty sure the Exterminator's visit was just a way to remind the overgrown slugs who was in charge. He was also quite sure that the Hutts wouldn't risk attacking an Imperial Star Destroyer, and as such he was slouching in his seat, reading on his datapad, as the usual dropping-out-of-hyperspace alarms blared. Nar Shaddaa hung in space, brownish green on the day side, black criss-crossed by yellow lights on the night side. Melvyn's screen showed him the view from the ship sensors, and he could see a few ships slinking further away from the Exterminators as the destroyer got closer to the planet. Smugglers or pirates, he wondered. Maybe even rebels. Or just a captain who had smudged his manifest a tad too obviously.

The alarms died. Typically it would be another hour or two until they were allowed to go back to Defcon1, at which point they could leave their cockpits and return to their normal schedule. And, in Melvyn's case, go on leave.

Few crewmembers went on leave around worlds like Nar Shaddaa, and those who did more often than not had less than honorable motives. A few would go watch twi'leks dancing in smokey, disreputable bars, some would do more than just look. Others would stock up on hard drinks, and hope that they didn't get found out when they returned onboard, only then to sell the smuggled liquor for ten times its real price. Those who enjoyed gambling and such would also probably go on the ground.

It wasn't unheard of to lose a crewmember or two. People who ended up on Nar Shaddaa usually had a lot of reasons to dislike the Empire, and wouldn't hesitate to kill Imperial soldiers if they thought they might get away with it ; Melvyn would make sure to take his fully-charged blaster. But first, he had to wait for his cousin to send him a message.

***

In the end it was two full hours before the Exterminator went back to a normal level of readiness. Maybe the Hutts had pissed the captain, Melvyn mused. Nothing like heavy cannons aimed at your seat of government to suddenly become highly agreeable to any suggestions the Empire had to make.

After that Melvyn went back to his quarters ; he had six hours before his next shift, and after that he'd be on leave. It had been cleared already by Commander Nielsen, though his superior's slightly disbelieving and disappointed look had made Melvyn wince. He couldn't even say that his commander's prejudice was misplaced. He was about to defect. The thought made his feel sick. Deserter. Traitor. Turncoat. All words he'd never thought would ever apply to him.

He tried to sleep, but he was turning and tossing and it really was no use. In the end he got up, took a shower and watched the first thing he could find on the Holonet ; a documentary on the mating habits of gungan. The subject was cringe-worthy enough to effectively distract him and he ended up dozing off on his bunk.

His alarm woke him up just as he was finally going to sleep. Melvyn deactivated it with a groan. He was on duty for another twelve hours and he already knew it was going to feel like the longest shift of his life.

***

Of all the ways Elo might contact him, Melvyn had not expected it to be on his Imperial messenger service. To be fair, this was not a standard way of getting in touch with unlawful organisation. Especially for people who, like Elo, had a bounty on their heads.

He actually came quite close to erasing the message before even reading it.

***

THINK BIG... NO, BIGGER !
Dear customer [custom name = Melvyn Kosta],

Are you tired of making do with your limited biology ?

Are you waiting to finally fulfill your true potential ?

Then wait no further and jump on the H[b]elo[/b]net to order your own *** enlargement.

Various sizes and financing plans* ! Don't let kosts deter you !

All our enlargement prostheses are shipped directly from Jyvora.
Best quality for the best males !

*Special conditions apply. Interest rates depending on the financing plan.

***

After reading this particular piece of litterature, Melvyn groaned and covered his eyes. He should have known. Trust Elo to come up with something like this. Using spam was fairly clever, he had to admit, but it could have been just a little bit more tasteful.

There was a contact number on the fake spam message but trying to dial it would have to wait until Melvyn was on the planet. A quick search on the Holonet revealed that
Jyvora was the name of a Mandalorian clan, a species of butterflies native to Corellia, and incidentally the name of a bar in District 102 of Nar Shaddaa. Quite far below in fact, close enough to the surface to be considered a red zone. In theory Melvyn should apply for special permission if he wanted to go to a red zone. But, well, no one needed to know his intentions. He erased the spam after committing the name and com number to memory, and finished getting ready.

He couldn't afford to pack anything, that would raise suspicions. He could only take whatever he could fit easily in a pocket. There went his credit chip, a couple of photos and his ID. After a slight hesitation he left his medals behind. They belonged to a past life, not on the chest of a defector. He gave one last look at his quarters, the place where he'd spent the last two years of his life. It seemed oddly empty and lifeless now.

***

As Melvyn left his quarters, he was surprised to run into Asher. His friend was waiting outside with a stony face. In fact he looked like he'd been waiting a while. Maybe he wanted to clear the air. Melvyn wasn't sure he wanted to have this conversation now, though, of all times.

"Hey, Ash. Did you want to talk ? I was about to go on leave."

"I know." Asher hesitated, his jaw munching silently over his words. "On leave on Nar Shaddaa ? Doesn't sound too exciting. Or a little too exciting maybe."

"Yeah, I know," Melvyn said with a diffident smile. "Not the nicest place out there, eh ? But I really fancy a drink. I'll stick to the landing pad or thereabouts, should be safe enough. Wanna come ?" He really, really hoped Asher would say no. Otherwise, he'd just have to ditch him at the first opportunity. Once, even six months ago, he'd have offered him to defect together. But Asher had changed. Or maybe Melvyn had.

"No. No, I don't think so," Asher said, his face still blank and stony. "Let me walk you to the hangar."

"Sure." Melvyn led the way. His shoulderblades tingled with a distant sense of dread. They walked in silence for a while. At this time, between night shifts, the corridors were fairly empty. Most of the crewmembers were either on duty or asleep. It made their echoing footsteps a little bit eerie. "So when are you planning to take leave ? You haven't in the past six months. You must be tired."

Asher kept walking silently.

"Look, I know things have got awkward between us lately but - "

"Stop. Don't." Asher stopped walking abruptly, turning to face Melvyn. "How do you do it ?"

It was Melvyn's face to look blankly at him. "Do what ?"

"This. Pretend that everything is fine."

"What ? Look, I know we've had our disagreements, and I know I let you down when that freighter got past me, but - "

"Pretend that everything is fine," Asher said, loudly enough to cover Melvyn's voice, "Even though you're turning your back on the Empire. Traitor."

In the half-second of stunned silence that followed Melvyn realized that Asher knew. He didn't know how, but Asher knew of his plan to defect, and he'd pulled his blaster and was aiming it straight at Melvyn's head. And there they were, the two of them, face to face, without a fighter's shell to protect them from each other anymore.

"I don't know what you're - "

"Don't bother." Asher's laugh was full of bitterness. "I knew you had doubts but I didn't think you'd actually go all the way to full-fledged betrayal. You should have been more discreet when you contacted your cousin. I guess betrayal runs in the family, eh ?"

Melvyn's blood ran cold. If they knew he'd been in touch with Elo, they'd be going after him too. And it would be his fault. He looked past Asher's shoulder to the marking on the hull. E-23. They were close to the hangar bay, close enough that he might be able to make a run for it. Unless Asher blasted him down first.

"What now ?" he asked, stalling for time.

"Your name's a respected one, Kosta. So for the sake of your family, and Onderon's honour, I'll give you a choice. You can take care of the matter yourself, or be court-martialled. The end result will be the same, I guess. But at least if you pick the first, your family doesn't need to know. No one needs to know. I'm offering you this, one officer to another, for the sake of our past friendship."

And Asher probably thought he was making a grand gesture, too. Melvyn weighed his options, but they were dwindling quickly. He only really had three options, and out of those only one gave him any chance of survival at all.

"Well," he said. "If I'm going to die, I'd rather it be an honorable death." And, as the words left his lips, he grabbed his blaster and fired.

Asher was not an idiot, and he'd seen it coming. But the movement he had to make to duck made his own shot go haywire. It missed Melvyn by a comfortably large margin. By the time Asher recovered his balance and aimed again, Melvyn was already sprinting towards the hangar bay. He slalomed left and right, narrowly escaping another shot, and then he saw the door leading to the hangar bay begin to close. He ran faster, his lungs burning at the extra effort.

The only thing that saved him was the fact that the hangar bay doors were heavily armoured, and it took time to close them completely. Not a lot of time, maybe thirty seconds ; but that was enough for Melvyn to get there and get through, though he hit his elbow badly against the closing door. A bruise was better than an execution though. Without slowing down he made it to his tie fighter, dropping in the cockpit just as a battalion of stormtroopers rushed in the hangar.

He didn't have his life-support suit on but that consideration was far in the back of his mind as he flicked the engines on. There was no time to do anything else than hit the emergency unlock and fire the thrusters. The cockpit of the TIE, while not built for life-support, was sealed well-enough to keep him alive for the few minutes it would take to reach the surface of the planet - or at least, so he hoped.

The hangar bay doors leading outside were open, it had to be with TIEs coming in regularly for refueling. They started closing, slowly, even as Melvyn was regaining control of his TIE after it had dropped like a stone from the magnetic clamps that held it. He increased the power in the the engines and his TIE popped outside of the hangar bay, nearly scraping a solar panel on the closing doors. The deep cold of space started seeping through the cockpit as soon as he left the mother ship, Melvyn's breath coming out in short puffs of mist.

His radio crackled to life. "Lieutenant Kosta, surrender now or be destroyed. This is your only warning."

Biting back a smart-ass reply, Melvyn switched off the radio and headed for the planet.

 

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