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Dec. 4th, 2007

dealing

The Riskier Road

Sleheyron wasn't exactly a vacation spot, but it seemed to fill in just fine for a meeting like this.  Ronin sometimes wondered why they had picked it of all places to hold these meetings, whenever they occurred.  But they had to meet somewhere, no matter how uncomfortable it made him.  He suspected that that was one of the reasons.  Nervous clients might respond to the right pressures, might be more easily bullied.  It was a strategy he himself employed from time to time and he would have to make sure that it didn't happen to him.  He'd also need to make sure that this was the last time he came for one of these meetings. 

Odric's nudge in his ribs made Ronin look up from his drink to see their expected contact approaching their booth.  The individual was a simply-garbed, green-skinned Twi'lek.  The clothing hid the man's decent build as well as his status as one of the many small time middle men belonging to the crime syndicate known only as the Exchange.

"Hello Groleck," Ronin said as the Twi'lek slid into the booth.  Odric simply stared the man down stoically. 

"Ronin, I knew you wouldn't be able to stay away for long," Groleck replied with a sharp-toothed smile.  "Those like you and me know where the true opportunities lie."

Ronin fought back a scowl.  "Well, I would've, but then one of your bosses sent out an offer I couldn't refuse."  Groleck's grin widened.

"As I said.  So what is it specifically that brings you back to us, Mr. Cartalli?" 

With a quick look to Odric, Ronin leaned across the table.  "One of your bounties."

If he was surprised, Groleck neglected to show it.  "Oh yes?  Not something I understood you generally do.  And which bounty would that be?"

Ronin's voice was barely above a whisper.  "What if I told you I might know where to find a Jedi?  Maybe even two?"

Groleck leaned back, appearing somewhere between skepticism and intrigue.  "Do you?"

Ronin nodded.  "It's possible.  I can point you or Goto or whoever you'd like right to them.  You nab them, we get paid."

Groleck shook his head.  "You don't get it, do you Ronin?  Do you have any idea how many two cred pistol jockeys make that very claim?  If my employers followed up on every one, we'd never get anything done.  No results.  No results tend to make men like Goto very angry.  And you don't want to make Goto angry, do you Ronin?"

Ronin swallowed, trying to keep his composure.  "Not really."

Groleck flashed another wicked smile.  "Thought not.  Money, especially vast sums of it, makes idiots of many.  The Exchange doesn't take kindly to idiots.  Now, you've been an asset to us in the past.  That's why I agreed to meet with you.  So I'll give you a choice.  You tell me where you think this Jedi is and every bounty hunter in the sector will know it by tomorrow.  Good chance you get nothing, even if a Jedi's where you claim.  On the other hand, you bring Jedi in yourself, it's a good pay day for you."  As he finished, Groleck took each drink on the table, downing them one after another.  "Thanks for the drinks," he said as he stood from the table and headed out, leaving the two shipmates alone in the booth. 

Ronin turned to Odric with a knowing look.  Odric's eyes widened.  "No, we can't possibly... there's no way."

"We have to, Odric.  It's the only way."

"Bullfrell," Odric hissed in a hushed tone, in spite of the bar's ambient noise. "Let's just go back to what we know.  We don't need to hunt Jedi.  We are not that good."

Ronin nodded.  "I agree, we're not.  But we may not need to be.  Like you said, we're former allies.  Jedi are trusting and compassionate to a fault.  We only need to get close, execute a plan, and get them to Goto.  She'll let us get close."

Odric stared at him with narrowed eyes.  "And what is our plan, exactly?" 

Ronin looked off as he sipped a newly arrived drink.  "I haven't quite figured that one out yet," he answered.  Odric downed his glass.

Dec. 3rd, 2007

tough

Change of Course

Ronin looked back when he heard the cockpit door slide open to see Odric enter.  The Whipid moved to the co-pilot's seat as the door sealed behind him and sat down heavily, affixing Ronin with an expectant look. 

"So, Boss," Odric began, "what are you thinking?"

Ronin sighed.  "I think we may have to break our vow about not dealing with the Exchange.  I checked that bounty.  Tarph's not exaggerating.  We bring one of those in and we could each retire, probably to our own private moons."  Not that they would, even if they could, at least not yet.  Ronin, though, was beginning to feel the years creep up on him.  "This could be the one, Odric." 

From the look he had, Odric was clearly not sold on the idea.  "We thought we had that before, and we kriffed it up." 

"We've learned a lot from that.  And since," Ronin pointed out.  "We don't try this, mate, and we could regret it for the rest of our lives."

Odric shook his head.  "We'd need to bring in a Jedi..."

"And we just happen to know where to find one.  Maybe two," Ronin said with a smile.  "How many people can say that these days?  All we'd need to do is point Goto in the right direction and let him deal with it." 

Odric's face changed from reluctant to incredulous.  "Come on, Boss, do you really want to do that?  Betray them after they-?"

"We don't owe them a thing," Ronin cut him off in a deadly serious tone.  "We left them completely even, all bets off.  Sure, we may have helped each other out in the past, but that's what it is: the past.  This is now and some things may have changed, friend, but it's still every sentient for himself.  Still a rancor eat rancor galaxy.  We've got to do what it takes to survive."

"Even selling out former allies to the Exchange?" Odric asked.

"'Former' being the key word there.  We left that path long ago."  Ronin managed to grin as he rested a hand on his shipmate's shoulder.  "Don't worry, when you see those credits, you'll know it was worth it.  And I doubt Goto would be looking so hard for a Jedi if all he wanted to do is kill her."

"Uh huh, I'm sure there will be plenty of torture before he gets around to that," Odric remarked glumly. 

Ronin shrugged.  "Don't worry about it so much.  You'll see, everything will work out fine."  Though he knew Odric would follow any halfway sound plan they came up with, Ronin could see that some doubt remained. 

"It seems that you say that a lot," Odric remarked, "and yet it so rarely is."

Sep. 20th, 2007

thinking, scheming, cunning

New Opportunities

For what felt like the hundredth time that day, Ronin tensed his muscles and moved up from his crouching position, the sizable crate balanced between himself and the bulky Whipid standing on the opposite side. If Odric was feeling half of the fatigue Ronin was, he wasn’t showing it.

“You’d think a shipment this big,” Ronin grunted between gasps as he and Odric slid it onto the Varactyl’s cargo lift. “Not to mention heavy, would be worth a bit more.” Odric muttered an agreement.

“At least Kriggle gave us a job,” Odric pointed out. “I thought things were gonna pick up.” He and Ronin moved to the next crate. Seven still sat around them, scattered about the pad.

“They were,” Ronin said, crouching again. “Nothing’s ever guaranteed. You know that.”

“I think we both do,” Odric said with a hint of regret. “Weren’t we going to get the antigrav unit fixed?” he asked, quickly changing the subject.

Ronin tensed as they picked up another crate. “Fuel comes first.”

“Speaking of, shouldn’t Tarph be back by now?” Odric asked. Ronin groaned, only partially from the load. Vinalinn would have vouched for the kid until Bothawui’s sun went nova. She had, in fact, been the one to recommend him before she left. Even he had to admit that the young Bothan had a gift for slicing and other general computer work, but he too frequently seemed to be more trouble than his skills were worth. Or maybe it was just that he was excessively annoying. Ronin couldn’t help but wonder sometimes if Vina had put him forward as one last parting shot at him.

“Yeah, he should,” Ronin answered as they loaded the latest crate. As if on cue, a cheerful voice traveled from the bay’s main entrance.

“How’s it going, Grans?” Tarph asked with an oblivious smile and he bobbed into the area, walking toward the ship as if he didn’t have a care in the galaxy.

“Did you get the fuel?” Ronin replied, ignoring the Bothan’s pitiful attempt at a barb. Tarph feigned hurt feelings.

“Boss, you know me. Of course; it’ll be here first thing in the morning,” he said as he leaned on one of the crate stacks.

Ronin’s eyes jumped back and forth from the Bothan to the crates and back. “Tomorrow? You’re joking, right? We need to leave tonight!”

This only gained him only a shrug from the Bothan. “I did what I could with what you gave me. Can’t expect miracles every time. I think we were lucky to get what we did. It’s good quality fuel for what we’re paying.”

Ronin’s eyes bored into Tarph, but the Bothan’s attention was elsewhere. “And how extensively did you look for a supplier?” he asked. Again Tarph merely shrugged.

“You know,” he offered tentatively. “If we had a few more credits, this wouldn’t even be a problem.” Ronin and Odric exchange irritated glances as they took another create.

“Again, Tarph… we’re not bounty hunters. We never were… bounty hunters… and we’ll never be… bounty hunters,” Ronin said between breaths.

Tarph sighed. “Ah, come on, Cappy,” he whined. “There’s a whole set of new ones that’d keep us good for a while. And they don’t even look that hard. Couple of debtors in the Mid Rim. Thief on Tatooine. Little crime boss on Ylesia. A smuggler from Sullust-“

Ronin snorted. “Ah, a smuggler, one of our own. Great suggestion.”

“Yeah? Well, those are just the little ones. We get a big one, we could be set for a while. We could do what we want.” Tarph barely muttered the next phrase. “Like one of the Exchange’s.” Both Odric and Ronin turned their heads sharply to Tarph, the weight of the crate between them momentarily forgotten as they turned to the kid. For his part, Tarph’s fur was rippling with anxiety.

“Are you insane, Tarph? I’ve told you before, we don’t deal with them! Not ever. Trust me, trust us you don’t want to owe them a thing. Not one thing.” Odric, as usual, just grunted an affirmation.

Tarph, however, continued to press the issue, somewhat more meekly than before. “I’m just saying we get one of those, things’d be good.” He just never lets things drop, Ronin though. It was something the kid did far too often in his opinion. Tarph went on. “Plenty of choices there, too. Politicians, Hutts, bigger debtors….” He trailed off as he raised his head, his fur-ringed face brightened by a wide grin. “There’s even one for Jedi right now.” Ronin and Odric stopped abruptly, dropping their crate hard on the conveniently nearby cargo lift.

“What was that?” Odric asked.

“Jedi. Any Jedi. That Exchange boss on Nar Shaddaa, you know the one, Goto?” Both nodded. Few who ventured into Hutt space hadn’t heard of the infamous Exchange boss. He had transformed the Smuggler’s Moon’s former insignificant regime from out of Nal Hutta’s shadow to something formidable, to be truly feared. “Yeah, he’s looking for any Jedi out there. Bounty says it doesn’t matter which, just a Jedi. Offering an unforcely sum of credits for whoever can do it.”

“Really?” Ronin asked, now as speechless as Odric. Apparently, Tarph hadn’t noticed the change in his colleagues’ demeanors.

“I know, right? Pretty crazy. I figured it’s kind of a long shot for him. When was the last time you saw a Jedi? Heard about one? I figure they’re all gone. If anyone gets them to come out, though, it’d be him. What he’d want with the Jedi, though, who knows? Good luck to Goto and all, but if I were him, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.”

Ronin and Odric exchanged a look. “You never know kid,” Ronin said, sounding more casual than he felt. “Just when you think they’re gone for good, they’ll probably pop up to cause the latest galactic-sized mess.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Tarph said with another shrug. He looked at the remaining crates as if seeing them for the first time. “Hey, you guys need help loading these?”

Ronin waved him off. “Nah, Tarph, you should head inside. Get some rest. After all, you’ll need to be up early for that fuel delivery.”

And he and Odric would need to talk.

Jun. 15th, 2007

tough

(no subject)

Hours ago...

Ronin squinted up toward the shining Bothan sun, the light and heat playing across his face.

"Drev´starn," he remarked, looking brightly at Vinalinn. "It´s been a while. Feel good to be back, V?"

Sep. 19th, 2006

skeptical, no frellin' way

Road Not Taken

Light shot through the darkness, filling his vision. Ronin squeezed his already closed eyes tighter, trying to shut the brightness out, but to no avail. With a sigh, Ronin squinted into the blinding light. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and completely make out the silhouetted Whipid standing in his doorway. Though calling it a doorway may be a bit much.

"Wakey, wakey,” Odric said with faux cheeriness. Sometimes, Ronin wished his friend hadn’t spent so much time around humanity. His head fell back onto his pillow, and Ronin felt a pounding ache on the left side of it. He seemed to be waking up with a lot of those lately.

“Odric,” he moaned resignedly, “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“0930,” Odric answered, which was good since Ronin hadn’t even been sure. He’d been meaning to put a chrono into his small bunkroom.

“I said to make sure I was up before midday,” Ronin whined.

“This is before midday.”

“Later before midday,” Ronin clarified. That smartass.

“There’s something you should see,” Odric said, taking on a slightly more neutral tone, “Keal found something on HoloNet.”

“Did he now?” Ronin asked, rubbing his head. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what it was Keal had found. As good as he had been for them, he always seemed to have trouble avoiding... distractions in his work. Especially when Ronin had him slice into the HoloNetwork.

“Yeah, he did, so get dressed. I’ll meet you in the cockpit.” Odric left. Again, Ronin found himself in darkness.

---

“So, what is it this time? What’s so important?” he asked as he leaned over Odric, who himself was seated in the co-pilot’s chair, accessing the shipboard computer.

“I wouldn’t call it important. Interesting, though, especially after what you showed me the other day.”

“'Interesting.' A lot of things in the galaxy are interesting, Odd. Not many are worth getting up early for.”

“0900 isn’t that early, Ronin.”

“It is when you have the night I did last night,” Ronin answered, irritated.

“Then maybe you should cut back on them.” Ronin gave his friend a dirty look and turned back to the computer.

“Are we going to get to this or not?”

“Just a second,” Odric said, holding a hand up, “And... play.” A holorecording appeared on the consoles flat screen, showing the broadcast logo of not HoloNet, but what appeared to be a local seal. The words Chandrilan Broadcasting Corp. appeared below the logo. Wasn’t Chandrila…?

The report, apparently uploaded in its middle, suddenly started.

”...made a statement today concerning his recent attack and the future of his candidacy.” The shot of the anchor changed to a close up of another man, hunched over a podium. He was quite pale and sickly, looking almost like a walking corpse rather than a living, breathing man. Ronin’s eyebrows raised.

“Wow, he looks terrible.”

“Yeah.”

”Assembled sentients of the press, I'd like to thank you...” Ronin leaned over for a closer look, his eyes focusing on one of the individuals standing behind Pacer Zaine.

“Is that...?”

“Looks like it.” Ronin laughed.

“No way. Hard to believe those two stuck together, all this time. You don’t think they’re-?”

Odric shrugged. “Maybe.”

"Huh. I didn’t think Jedi did that anymore.”

“I don’t know. I try not to understand humans when I don’t have to.”

“...elected by the honorable voters of Western Chailoa. As regards my attack itself...". At that point, Pacer appeared to falter. Ronin raised an eyebrow.

“Didn’t the reports say he was...?”

“Stable condition. Well on his way to recovery.” Ronin chuckled.

“Oh, he’s good.”

“Yep.”

“...system to quickly apphrehend these malefactors and bring them before a duly-organized court of law. This concludes my comments, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much." The video ended and Ronin sat back in the pilot’s seat, thoughtfully watching the blue, constant streaming of hyperspace. He and Odric waited for several minutes, silently. It was Ronin who finally broke the stillness.

“Well, nice to see our favorite former con man hasn’t lost his touch. Though calling him 'former' may be inaccurate.”

“Mmm,” was Odric’s reply.

“That all you have to say?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“All right then.” He chuckled, shaking his head. “Something tells me that kid’s going to fit right into politics. He certainly seems to have the skill set. You know, it could be a plus to know someone in power.”

“It could,” Odric agreed. Ronin was a little disconcerted about his friend’s sudden speechlessness, but he could probably ask him about that later. This latest development had indeed been interesting as he had promised, but Ronin had no idea what he would do with it. Hopefully, if “Candidate Pacer Zaine” ended up winning, find a way to exploit it. Either way, it was good to know. Filing it away for now, he turned to face Odric with more enthusiasm than he had felt for some time.

“Have we heard from Strawd yet?” Odric shook his head.

“No, he’s contacting us when we get in system.” Ronin nodded, turning back to watch the hyperspace corridor before them. Always the same, but always to somewhere different. Unending destinations, unending possibilities

“Great. I have a very good feeling about this.”

Sep. 5th, 2006

ashamed, mournful, sad

Down, Part 2

The drinks continued for some time, even as the bartender forced him to slow down, until Ronin realized that two hours had gone by and the rough liquor had been replaced by a larger, better tasting drink. It seemed to be one of the countless varieties of ale served on the Outer Rim, though this one had less flavor than most he had tried in his travels. He wasn’t sure how the time had gone by, only that it had, and a handful of people were now in the restaurant, two of them sitting at various points of the bar with Ronin. His hand fumbled into his pocket, feeling for the remaining credits there.

When was it he had said he would be back? It didn’t matter, he had time. Ronin stared at the bar itself, which seemed to be rocking slowly back and forth beneath him like a long, misshapen pendulum. It occurred to him that if he kept going like this, he might not make it back tonight. That was all right. Odric wasn’t about to leave without him.

Ronin was suddenly aware of a rather blaring conversation. He raised his head to look into the fluidic mess that the world had become. It was the holoscreen. The bartender had turned it on, or perhaps it had already been on when Ronin had arrived and he just hadn’t noticed. Now, though, it was irritatingly loud. It appeared to be on a news channel detailing top stories in the Core Worlds. Why anyone out here would give a flying mynock about what was happening there, Ronin didn’t know, or care for that matter. He just didn’t want to see it.

“Hey, barkeep, turn that dren off,” he slurred. The Selkath looked down at him with contempt as he swayed back and forth with the bar.

“You don’t like it, you can go drown yourself in someone else’s establishment.” He turned his back to Ronin, ignoring the man’s scowl. In a moment, however, Ronin eyes were also fixed on the screen. Most if it was dull and uninteresting: interplanetary economics, a few local riots and skirmishes, the day’s latest scientific discoveries that would undoubtedly revolutionize life as they knew it, pundits debating the Republic’s potential future (or lack thereof) with the apparent disappearance of the Jedi. All in all, it was a waste of his time, but at least it was slowing his drinking. When the headlines turned to politics, Ronin considered attempting to pass out right there at the bar. The Selkath would certainly enjoy that, he thought with a small smile.

“In a recap of our top story, the Chandrila senatorial race turned violent today when a leading candidate was the victim of what appears to be a random attack...” Ronin couldn’t help but chuckle. And they said smuggling was a disreputable profession. “...attending a rally in Emita when he was attacked by a light skinned human male. Planetary authorities are still searching for the assailant, whom they believe is still at large on the planet. Candidate Zaine suffered at least one serious stab wound....” Ronin almost burst out laughing. A knife. He wondered what self-respecting assassin-thug would choose a knife over a blaster. “...and was rushed to a nearby medical facility. Reports indicate he is now in stable condition.” The too-perfectly made up woman paused for a beat before continuing on to the next story, but Ronin had finished listening or laughing. Now, he stared at the screen with his mouth agape, the name and image burned into his head. He could not have seen that correctly. It had to be the alcohol. They had shown a picture of the candidate, the stab victim, the intended target of today’s assassination attempt. A picture of a man Ronin recognized, from years before. Older now, but the same arrogant, confident, and undoubtedly still devious face. Ronin shook his head, trying to clear his vision. Under the man’s picture had been his amusing but memorable name: Pacer Zaine. Maybe this would be a long day after all.
ashamed, mournful, sad

Down, Part 1

Ronin opened his eyes and stared groggily at the old, crumbling ceiling over his head. He was lying in a bed, stiffer and lumpier than usually preferred. For a moment, Ronin was not certain how or why he had ended up here nor why his head was pounding. Feeling less constrained than he normally did, Ronin took a look under the rumpled sheet. Typical, he thought resignedly. It certainly explained why he was sleeping in such a large bed.

As he lied and waited for the headache to pass, the memories came back to him. Another conquest, she would have told him when she saw him, but she had left years ago, before their great success and their greater fall. Here tonight, gone tomorrow. This one, at least, hadn’t cost him any credits. Not many, at least, which was good as Ronin seemed to have fewer to spend every day.

Groaning, Ronin sat up and pushed himself out of bed, grabbing for his clothes nearby on the floor. Every muscle and joint seemed to ache with stiffness. There was something he would never get used to, even as it seemed to get steadily worse as time passed. He was too young to already feel this old. Ignoring the dull pain, Ronin dressed: pants, shirt, socks, boots, and finally the jacket, each item with its own distinctive smell. Together, it was all rather pungent, but he could tolerate it until he could find a new set of clothing.

He made for the refresher, flicking on the bright, sterile light, momentarily blinding him. His eyes adjusted to find a rather appalling individual staring back at him. Not long ago, the pale, aged, lifeless man looking back with his eyes would have startled him. Now, however, it was an all too familiar sight.

The chilly water on his face helped bring Ronin out of his haze, but which unfortunately gave him a clearer view of his grey-flecked hair and three-day-old beard. With a frown, he turned from the mirror and left the room, trying to walk the stiffness off as he headed for the nearby lift. In moments, he reached the ground floor and veered right toward his intended destination. He soon stood in front of the hotel’s small combination bar and restaurant. Unsurprisingly, the place was all but empty, even more so than it had been last night, what the bartender had pitifully called their “high time”. Yawning, Ronin made his way to the bar and sat heavily on one of the stools. The bartender, a tall Selkath, looked up from the glass he had been cleaning and greeted him with a nod.

“Good morning,” he said in screeching Basic. Ronin replied by pointing to a tall, clear bottle behind the bartender.

“I’ll take a couple of those.” He pulled a few spare credits out of his pocket and tossed them onto the bar. The bartender eyed the credits with surprise.

“Starting a little early today, aren't we?” he asked as he reached for the bottle and two small glasses. Ronin’s eyes flashed to the nearby wall chrono. An hour before the planet’s midday.

“It’s going to be a long day,” Ronin said, and left it at that. Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t, Ronin didn’t really know. He was never sure of anything these days.

For a moment, Ronin stared at the dark, pink liquid that the bartender had poured. In a pair of quick movements, he downed both glasses, grunting and contorting his lips as the prickly, almost foul liquid tore its way through his esophagus. Ronin lowered his head to keep it down and pointed to the glasses, his request clear. The bartender obediently refilled both shots.

Aug. 29th, 2006

puzzled, explaining

Hitch

Ronin sighed as he leaned back in the driver’s seat of his borrowed landspeeder. The meeting hadn’t gone quite as well as he had planned. Hempric’s buyer, a large Aqualish named Gorlo had not been pleased about the late arrival of his delivery.

“I’ll let you make up for it,” he had said in rough Basic. Good thing, too, as Ronin had never bothered to learn the Aqualish language of the same name. “Take this shipment to its drop point. If Mandalorians are happy, we’ll all be happy.” Ronin hadn’t liked it. The drop point was much closer to the battle’s supposed location than he desired to be and if the Mandos decided that they weren’t happy.....

Aug. 6th, 2006

skeptical, no frellin' way

Spectating

Ronin watched silently at the battle raging far away. This part of the moon was thus far untouched, and much of the native population was still more or less going about its business. Many, like them, were watching the show. Ronin looked down from the ledge he and his shipmates had found to Hempric’s shop, now several stories beneath them. The Rodian was still down there, doing who knew what.

Aug. 1st, 2006

tough

On the Sidelines

Ronin led Vinalinn and Tuloo through one of Nar Shaddaa’s numerous alleyways. He imagined if Y’Toub’s star was shining through the thick cloud coverage, he would be baking. As it was, the day’s humidity had him covered in perspiration, and it was doing quite a job on Vina’s fur. He was looking forward to getting back to Jinto’s apartment. Several meters behind them, Odric waited in the street, leaning against their provided speeder and giving any curious onlookers less than friendly looks.

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tough

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