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CHAPTER TWO: THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

“Did you hear about Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe, after drawing out all his hard-earned cash.

And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor. Could it be our boy’s done something rash?”

“Mack the Knife,” as popularized by Bobby Darin

 

Darkness. Silence. It’s blazing hot, like the twin suns of Tatooine. Am I in…?

 

“Good, you’re conscious. I was afraid that Ribok’s illegally-modified blaster wasn’t set to ‘stun’ after all.”

 

I open my eyes, which are almost gummed shut, and see a blurred face through a watery haze of tears.

 

“Who are you?” Due to my numb throat and thick tongue, this comes out as a watery gurgle: Huu-yuggh?

 

“I’m Stimous Lanz, but my friends call me Mouse. You seem to be my newest one – friend, I mean. Both of us are locked, along with three other unfortunates, in the hold of a cargo vessel for Czerka Corporation.”

 

Cargo vessel? Czerka Corporation? Locked? Mouse? I sit up, my whole body stiff. “Tell me more.” These words fall from my mouth like viscous fluid, and sound like a holonews report played at one-quarter speed.

 

“Hey, baldie,” says a younger man. “Before you start yakking, remember the security cameras in here.”

 

“I’ll keep it short, then. We’ve been captured by two members of the Exchange, a Trandoshan by the name of Savessk and his superior, a well-armed human thug called Ribok. I assume you’ve met before.” I nod. “This is what they call a ‘collection run’, meaning that time has run out on our debts. Only two things happen in this case: debtors are killed or sold into slavery. If they wanted to do the former, they would have already.”

 

“So, we’re…?” I’m beginning to see the picture. “Do you know where they’re taking us?”

 

“Probably Nar Shaddaa. No one asks too many questions about influxes of ‘new employees’ out there.”

 

“Is there any hope of – ?”

 

“Not unless you’ve got a blaster.” Mouse chuckles while I check my pockets to no avail. “I certainly don’t.”

 

“None of us does,” says a haggard-looking woman, “so let me sleep.” She curls up in a corner of the hold.

 

“If I had to guess,” interjects a gorgeous orange Twi’lek that would put Nat’ala to shame, “I’m destined for the richer part of the Red Sector. So are you,” she continues, looking at me and lowering her voice to a whisper, “unless you start winning again.” I blink in surprise. “I’ve often seen you at the pazaak tables.”

 

The sedative, or whatever was in Ribok’s stun gun, is beginning to wear off. “My luck’s run out at last.”

 

“So has mine, although in a different way.”

 

“Are you a professional gambler like me, or did you dance in the cantina?”

 

“Neither. On Citadel Station, I was the mistress of its top Exchange boss. He grew tired of my company.”

 

I blink twice. “That’s a heck of a way to dump someone.”

 

“Not only that, but he charged me for all the ‘gifts’ he so lavishly bestowed. I couldn’t pay, so here I am.”

 

“What about the rest of you?” I glance uneasily at Mouse, the other guy, and the snoring harridan.

 

“None of your business,” says the muscular youngster in a dirty shirt. He turns his back to me and falls silent. From the gang tattoos rippling up and down his arms, I gather he’s a more “hands-on” type of enforcer than Ribok. What could have made him fall from grace? Maybe he didn’t want to rough up a family member or a lover who had fallen behind on loan payments. Now he’ll make an excellent freight-hauling slave.

 

“Maurtha over there cleaned refreshers throughout the Station,” says Mouse, “but to take the edge off the work, she did spice. Harder drugs, too. She says she has no sense of smell anymore, which is good.”

 

Good? “I guess everything is relative. If you’re willing to tell me, what’s your tale of woe?”

 

“You sure you want to hear it?”

 

I take a deep breath, inhaling the pervasive aroma of armpit sweat, hair oil, spice, smoke from vapor cigars, and – urine? Poor old man. If Ribok stunned him the same as he did to me, then Mouse couldn’t help it.

 

“I haven’t got anything better to do than smell everyone’s feet,” I quip. “Including my own.”

 

Mouse grins, revealing the loss of a few back teeth on top. “You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but I was once the number-one bookie on Citadel Station. I was here long before Czerka came, before the Ithorians tried to put their environmental plans into place, before that schutta Sarai Vesod ever arrived.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Sarai Vesod. Some exiled Jedi who served with Darth Revan in the Mandalorian Wars.”

 

I nod and pretend to look savvy, but I’m bluffing. I’ve heard rumors here and there about this woman. From the bits and pieces I’ve cobbled together, she had two choices: side with a group of pacifist aliens called the Ithorians, who wanted to “restore Telos” – whatever that means – or side with Czerka. She chose the Corporation, and I’m not surprised. If you’re venturing on a long starship journey, go where the money is. Another tale I’ve been told is that Vesod did just that, eventually defeating not one but three Sith Lords.

 

Even if it’s true, that has nothing to do with us directly. At the same time, it’s dictated almost everything.

 

“So you were on Citadel Station taking bets for ages before she showed up. Life was good then, right?”

 

“Fantastic. The Exchange didn’t even have half of the foothold they do right now, but what they did have was a steady supply of gamblers and cantina clientele. Humans and aliens alike wagered on pazaak, hyper-reels, swoop races, stun-pistol duels – even how many drinks their fellows could consume at once.”

 

I smile. “Sounds familiar.”

 

“Sure, but there was one more crucial factor to consider: At first the Republic didn’t really believe that the Telos restoration would work. Thus, they didn’t send their best men out to guard and police a dead planet.”

 

“That means most of the law enforcement on-station had to have been provided by another organization.”

 

“You’ve earned yourself a fifteen in the cards so far. Now earn eighteen. Who came through on security?”

 

“Those who’d only be in the business for the money, never mind ‘to protect and serve’.”

 

“Excellent. Now, think of all the TSF cops you’ve seen on Citadel for as long as you’ve been there. Once the Republic’s higher officers and military personnel realized what was going on, what do you think it did?”

 

“Let me guess: No crackdowns? No sordid exposés on the Station holonews? No raids on Exchange HQ?”

 

“Not a one. However, what does the Exchange do when someone won’t pay up, someone with a secret?”

 

“Extortion.”

 

“The Republic did the exact same thing. ‘Trade one uniform for another,’ they told the ‘security,’ or…”

 

“What? They wouldn’t dare. They’re the good guys.”

 

“Why wouldn’t they? With all due respect, for a professional gambler, you’re naïve. Remember: Criminals such as you and I have no leg to stand on when our number’s up. We have to fight, go on the run, or serve prison time. There were, of course, squealers and stoolies who helped to clean up the force quite a bit. That’s what the Republic would have you believe. However, I knew differently and survived the transition.”

 

“How? You don’t look like the Telosian Security Force type – you know, tons of brawn and little brain.”

 

“Once a bookie, always a bookie, even when you’re wearing a cantina bartender’s drink-stained clothes.”

 

“So you repented and converted, if only in your day job. In the meantime, you still worked for the Exchange.”

 

“I owned the Exchange, girlie. This Mouse didn’t squeak like the other ‘reformed’ TSF rats. This one roared. Organizations such as ours survive on the four G’s: gambling, girls, gigolos, and goods such as spice and tripper-vapor. I handled the first and the last, not being skilled in the flesh trade. I felt squeamish about it.”

 

“Like most people feel squeamish about mice.” Silence. “So when did the Czerka Corporation come in?”

 

“About the same time as the Ithorians did. They claimed, like so many other false messiahs, that they could bring a Sith-ravaged planet back to life. Czerka said they’d do the same, albeit through vast terraforming instead of importing natural specimens from Dxun and Onderon. Before that, however, no one else was very interested in Telos’ fate. Only when the Republic realized how many credits it was wasting trying to provide law and order, and “extra-planetary” experience for job applicants, did it realize it needed outside help. Enter the aliens who talk in bass tones so low that they hurt my ears, and the bloodsucking parasites.”

 

“While you served them as a barman, taking numerous bets and doling out ‘recreational fauna’ on the side.”

 

“That’s when the tide started to turn against me. The Exchange boss at this point was a Quarren named Loppak Slusk. He had a sultry second named Luxa, whom I attempted to entice, but she turned me down.”

 

“Gee, I can’t imagine why.”

 

Mouse lets out a loud, barking laugh that wakes Maurtha up. “I had all my teeth then, but not for long.”

 

“Luxa told Slusk about how you tried to hit on her?”

 

“That was the beginning of the end. Obviously, he wasn’t happy about that, but did he have to go and replace me with a kriffing droid? I’m a thousand times better at mixing drinks than IT is. What was worse was that there weren’t many job openings for a geezer like me, except on the cleaning staff with Maurtha.”

 

“So what did you do?”

 

“What you ought to, the both of you, is shut up.” Maurtha cradles her head in her gnarled hands.

 

“I’m almost done. What I was supposed to do, according to the laws of decency, was swallow my pride and go scrub sani-bowls. However, why do that when you can make far more credits getting revenge? I still had my secondary occupation, and started skimming money off of the proceeds that were meant for Slusk and Luxa. I got away with it for a bit, but it was the other prong of my two-fold vengeance that got me here.”

 

“Which was?”

 

The orange Twi’lek goddess winks. “Yeru Q’leth, at your service.”

 

I can’t believe it. “You and that slimy, face-tentacled Quarren…?”

 

“Were partners a short while ago.”

 

I still can’t believe it. “You and Mouse…?”

 

“Were partners an even shorter while ago.”

 

My head’s reeling again, and not just from the aftereffects of the stun drugs. “Why?”

 

“Every girl needs a spice daddy,” Yeru shrugs, “but Mouse cares about more than my looks and his wallet.”

 

“So now you’re being shipped to Nar Shaddaa as slaves. How romantic. Why didn’t Loppak Slusk kill you?”

 

“That exiled Jedi killed him and Luxa first. It wasn’t long before the Exchange sent Ribok and Savessk.”

 

“Thus, here we are.” I sigh. “Here we all are, unless a good technician can – wait.” I stand up with a start.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“All I have to do is get over to the security camera and disable it.”

 

“Don’t be rash!”

 

Too late. I begin to counterbalance the codes for the surveillance feed with frantic glee, delighted that my coding skills have come in handy for something other than Czerka’s profits. All of a sudden, the door opens.

 

“Freeze,” says an all-too-familiar enforcer’s voice.

 

I throw my hands up in surrender and hear the sharp report of a blaster shot. This time I’m dead for real.

 

When my ears stop ringing, and Maurtha stops screaming, it’s Ribok’s body I find on the floor of the hold.

 

Savessk towers over it. “You should have listened to your friend,” he hisses, “but the tables have turned.”

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The last part was unexpected. Of course, I expected that Vyshe would survive as she is the main character, but I could not have foreseen that Ribok would be killed. And neither I would have expected that Savessk would be the one to kill him.

 

You are doing a quite good job keeping the reader's interest through unexpected events. :thmbup1:

 

As for the rest, I liked Mouse's story. Also you are doing a good work at using first person, which is a difficult tense, as JediMaster12 has noted.

 

Hope to see soon the next chapter. :)

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