This was something a bit outside my normal or "comfortable" writing style.
“He no look like a Captain,” the larger Gotal said around a mouthful of root.
“He Captain. Destroyer Captain that one,” the smaller Gotal replied.
The two Gotal hunters had been ‘watching’ the rakish human in the electromagnetic spectrum particular to their species for some time now in the hazy cantina. What didn’t necessarily come through in EM, were the finer details of the aging human. While his features were still striking, he seemed to carry a weight about him that made him appear past his prime. This human had lived his ‘good years’.
With his back to the wall, Banon watched the Gotals watching him. Since they didn’t expect him to be aware of their presence, he observed them a bit more casually than he might otherwise. While good hunters, Gotals could be somewhat overconfident in their natural abilities and forget that prey could easily become predator.
His back was sore from the uncomfortable booth, but he dared not adjust his body too much. He didn’t want to spook them. Banon was naturally curious as to their interest in him. Lucrative business arrangements and death-marks were often similar in appearance prior to the point of no return. Now there was a phrase he had not heard in some time. Briefly, he could hear the wail of bridge klaxons in his mind and the rending of starship hull. He shook the thought loose and focused again on the Gotals.
The surprisingly talented band, for this part of the rim, struck up a tune with renewed vigor. Banon used the crescendo to mask the sound of him popping the thumb-break on the holstered DX-2. The brutally efficient disruptor could fetch him a death sentence in any number of systems, but not this one. After all, a man wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the law. Especially not with what would come back from his background check.
Moving into the latter part of the evening, the cantina began to come fully alive. Patrons strutted and mingled enjoying the atmosphere and the company of those in good spirits. Banon tried to feign frivolity and ordered drinks and generally appeared unconcerned, at least, no more concerned than any other lone human in this quarter of town. To be too indifferent to one’s surroundings was the mark of someone either very stupid, or very powerful. The former tended to be the case rather than the latter.
The Gotals continued to chat among themselves and appear disinterested in all but their conversation. Obviously intending to wait for Banon to leave, they would pursue their quarry to a more suiting location. And that was precisely what he was: quarry. If this had been a business arrangement, they would have approached him by now. These two were going to kill him at best, and at worst…they would keep him alive. Nothing frightened Banon like coming face-to-face with his past. It was out there, always. The ghosts never left his side. Those that survived what he had done in his service, or their families, lived now only for his death.
The wash of memories came back though he commanded them not to. Often overcome with emotion at the recall, Banon could no more hold them back than he could hold back the sun from rising. On days of lesser composure, the sting would water his eyes and rim them red. There was no forgiveness for his actions. No amnesty. There was simply the pain of existence or the sentence of death. He often wondered which was worse.
The Gotals he noticed were moving, apparently ready to oblige him on his pondering. Given the chance, they would certainly clarify for him which fate was worse. Or take him to someone who would. The price on his head was nearing the five million credit mark. That would make him a pseudo-celebrity and the most wanted man in the system.
A particularly large species, this pair happened to be specimens. The ‘short’ one was over two meters. The horns of the larger one nearly scraped the cantina ceiling. Shorty moved toward him while the big one parted the crowded floor of the bar like a tank. Banon reasoned it was not completely outside the realm of possibility that they would simply kill him right here, in front of everyone. It was not as common a thing as it once was, but neither was he a common death-marked man. The graying man had no time for those thoughts, nor their pain. Survival beckoned him once more.
“Come outside, human,” the Gotal ordered.
“I like it in here.” Banon watched the unarmed Gotal before him carefully as well as scanned his peripheral vision for its partner. The fact the monster was unarmed meant little considering it had the physical strength to pull his head off like the pop-top of a compressed beverage. He had lost the big one somehow. That was not good.
“We talk. Outside,” Shorty motioned with his head though he did not take his eyes off Banon.
This would be the shortest game of holochess Banon had ever played. “No.” He let a small round orb drop from his sleeve and hit the floor. It rolled a meter into the crowded cantina floor and exploded.
The flash-bang device deafened and terrified the patrons. The Gotals were merely stunned, but it was the time Banon needed, not the effect. A brilliant orange flash erupted from underneath his table vaporizing the edge and continuing upward into Shorty’s high-thoracic region. The fine placement of the shot was a credit to Banon’s skill with the weapon but it hardly mattered. The orange fire consumed the Gotal like a flesh-eating bacteria. The creature’s horrific scream was suddenly stifled as the energy wave ate through its face and skull. In another moment, only ash stained the floor to mark its passing.
The enormous Gotal howled in rage. It hadn’t occurred to Banon that Shorty had been his mate, but the pain was evident in the other beast’s rage. Banon was up and moving now having flipped the table out of his way. Ironically, the monstrous Gotal was armed and armed well.
The Golan FC-1 flechette launcher began spewing a torrent of tiny darts in Banon’s general direction. Patrons were cut down in droves before the ‘herd’ could wend its way to the exits and escape the hail of micro-darts. Banon had gotten low and stayed that way. He might have served his time in the Navy, but there was something to be said for the ground-pounder’s intimate knowledge of terrain.
The supersonic darts continued to bury themselves in anything and anyone in their path. The effect of the weapon was catastrophic, hence its illegality in nearly every system, except this one. Banon smiled despite the death that rent the air. To those accustomed to chaos, brutal death, and the surreal, a certain detachment developed that allowed for the most humorous of thoughts to slip into the madhouse, as well as the most painful. Memory flashed behind his eyes and for an instant, the death here became the death of the Empire as he had witnessed it above Endor.
“Clear us of that blasted superlaser,” cried Captain Forcam Banon, Commander of the Imperial Star Destroyer Vehement.
“Aye, sir,” the Conn answered, madly inputting commands to the helm in order to clear the Vehement from Palpatine’s laser that threatened to burn the shields from their backs.
Klaxons wailed as the ship scrambled to maneuver amid the haze of fighters and turbo-laser blasts. There had already been reports of ships colliding in the chaos and now the Emperor’s lack of patience threatened to burn them from space if he didn’t get his ship out of the way.
The mighty warship shuddered and crew members were tossed about the bridge. Red emergency lighting came on in place of the normally austere white light characterizing most compartments of the Imperial dreadnought. Recovering himself, Banon demanded the ship’s status.
“Another blast from the Deathstar, sir!”
In the Emperor’s haste to flaunt the supremacy of his new super-weapon, he simply didn’t take into consideration the proximity of his own fleet to the horrifying wonder, or didn’t care. The energy displacement alone was enough to burn starship hull to slag were it too near. This was the lesson Vehement was now being taught.
“Port shields gone, Captain.” Came another report.
“Relay our position to the station’s commander,” ordered his executive officer.
“They have our position, they simply do not care,” Banon said to himself as much as anyone while straightening his tunic. So confident was Palpatine in his grand scheme that he was willing to sacrifice any pawn in his elaborate game. Banon was as much a pawn as was the Vehement, as were all who served aboard her.
The massive wedge-shaped ship was diving now for black space, clear of the engagement. Port shields down, the scorched side of the ship began trailing fire in space.
“Decks thirty through fifty-two decompressed!”
“Seal them!” Another explosion rocked the Star Destroyer. “Seal them all, damn it,” Banon shouted over the cacophony.
A prowling Mon Calamari Cruiser had caught the scent of Vehement’s blood in the water. Coming about, Defiance began targeting critical ship systems on the wounded Star Destroyer, hammering her with massive bolts of coherent light.
“Damage report!? All functional batteries return fire! Ion control, target the weapon systems along her dorsal spine!” Banon issued a torrent of orders to those of his bridge crew not dead or dying. With a mere callous stroke of his will, Palpatine had condemned them all to uncertain fate. Cold sweat drenched his back as he realized he had done no different in his service to the Empire.
“We’re losing her, sir,” the XO screamed, his collar stained crimson from a wound he was unaware of. More explosions sounded as Defiance mercilessly tore into the Vehement’s exposed flank like a starved howlrunner.
Thirty-seven thousand crew. He had to give the order. Banon met his XO’s eyes and clapped the lad on the shoulder. “Abandon ship.”
Automated systems were initiated to run the ship as personnel began flooding to the lifeboats. Banon remained on the bridge directing the skeleton crew charged with overseeing the evacuation. So it ended like this, he thought. His crimes were unanswerable and this was as fitting a sentence as any a tribunal could issue. Life pods poured from the dying ship trailing like metal viscera behind it. He watched as the Sanctuary Moon loomed closer beyond the triangular viewports.
“Get to your pods,” he gently ordered the last of the bridge crew.
Defiance pursued him. The evacuation was nearly complete. He needed but a few more minutes until the status indicator told him all remaining crew were away. Banon recoiled as the massive Mon Cal ship was suddenly vaporized by the superlaser. In the next instant, he was alone. Evacuation complete.
Banon watched the stream of pods home in for the safety of the station itself as Vehement dove hard for the forest moon. He sunk back in his chair content in the knowledge that his last moment’s actions were to the good of his crew and their mission. The Emperor be damned.
As if by invocation, in what Banon thought were the final moments of his life, he realized that it was he who was damned. The Rebel fleet was breaking off the main engagement driving hard away from the Deathstar. His mouth went slack as the monitor showed a small group of Rebel fighters burst from the station’s superstructure followed by a gout of flame.
As his crew’s convoy of lifeboats poured into the station’s welcoming docking bay, the Deathstar exploded. His grief was met with nothing but the certainty that he would soon join them. The mighty Vehement plummeted through Endor’s atmosphere burning its hull to molten slag. Banon wished for not one more second of his existence and closed his eyes.
He opened his eyes. The FC-1 had finally run dry forcing the Gotal to change magazines. Banon hurled himself toward better cover as the assassin brought the weapon to his shoulder again and began filling the air with whistling death. Several of the flechettes found their mark and buried themselves in his exposed ankle. Biting back the pain, Banon shielded his eyes and used the DX-2 to burn through the bar’s counter he had been sheltering behind.
The devastating lance of energy ate through the ironwood bar top in less than a second and flared past the Gotal’s head causing him to interrupt the suppressive fire. Banon painfully gained both his feet from behind the bar and leveled his disruptor at the Gotal’s chest. Before the monster could recover Banon crushed the trigger back and watched nothing happen. The powerful pistol had consumed a full energy cell in order to burn through the table and bar.
The Gotal realized his fortune and made what passed for a smile of triumph. He leveled the flechette launcher at Banon who merely stood his ground. There was no where to run. There never really had been.
A wickedly carved blade suddenly appeared below the Gotal’s jaw having been driven straight through the back of its neck. Banon didn’t know who was more surprised: himself, or the Gotal. He watched as its life was snuffed out and the monster dropped to the floor. A wet schlick sound was all that could be heard in the formerly raucous cantina as the Gotal slid off the blade. Banon’s eyes were fixated on the knife which was as ghastly a thing as he had ever seen. Its owner was a close second.
The figure before him was nightmarish. Though not as large as the dead Gotal, it was still much larger than he and devilishly proportioned. Where the Gotal had two horns, this beast wore a crown of them. Banon couldn’t recall ever seeing anything like him. Its glowing white eyes seemed to see through him, past him, past the lies, past the pain and the doubt. Somehow this thing knew him as even he did not know himself.
“Banon,” he said awaiting judgment.
No judgment came.
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