Insertion into Hyllyard City had not been tricky. Despite the Yuuzhan Vong war having ravaged the place nearly five years ago, it was still showing signs of battle. Plasma scorch marks, half-demolished buildings, and a native people who looked harried, suspicious and emaciated. Clearly, supplies were sparse and Myrkr was not what one would call self-sufficient. Through the filtration mask of his helmet, Sashar could smell cheap industrial bleach covering the smell of excrement and rot.
The sewers are open, then. Lovely.
He attracted glances, but few people glanced twice. A man decked out in full mandalorian armour had that effect. He was festooned with weapons and had foregone his usual Shadesworn cloak in favour of an older, more worn grey cloak that he hadn’t worn since being Proconsul during Arcona’s nomadic times. Under that was his own beskar dented and pitted with blaster scores. He was also festooned with weapons. Over his shoulder, rattling against his bes’bev and Conk rifle was a large pack. Following the general trail of pedestrian traffic away from the shoddy excuse for a spaceport, he approached the nearest cantina and walked in. As soon as he stepped through the threshold, he sighted a sign saying no helmets. Grimacing, he took it off and walked up to the bar, spearing the bartender with a hard look.
“You have net’ra gal?” He asked, his expression a millimetre away from a glare.
The old woman glared right back and spat on the floor beside her. “Net’ra what?”
Sashar sighed. “Okay, what have you got?”
“Beer or liquor.” The urge to reach across and punch the woman in the face was quelled when he looked over her humped shoulder and realised she wasn’t lying. This place was so poor that they couldn’t buy brands or specific types of alcohol; they distilled it all locally.
Suppressing a grimace, he ordered a beer and sat down heavily at the bar, placing his helmet on the bar surface next to him. It didn’t take long for the T-visor to attract some attention. A drunken patron, emboldened by his Whipid colleague sauntered up to Sashar and leaned on the bar next to him.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve, coming here, mandie. Your lot collaborated with the Vong. They had Mando mercs helping to subjugate our world. You filth are no better than the crab-boys.”
Sashar’s hand moved ever so slowly to his holster as he turned to face his aggressor. “I’m just trying to have a drink. I’ve never been to this planet before, and for the record, the Vong hit Mandalore pretty hard too.”
“Good. I hoped they glassed your sorry, cowardly, double-crossing-“ the butt of a silenced SSK-7 Heavy Blaster Pistol pressing up against his testicles quietened him down.
“I’m bored with you now. Go away.”
There was a chorus of safeties clicking off, and Sashar looked back at the bar. The old woman who’d served him had disappeared into the back room, and most of the patrons were either making for the exit or laying down bets.
“You shoot me and you die.” He hissed in Sashar’s face, leaning close enough to smell the liquor on his breath.
Sashar’s forehead smashed into his aggressor’s nose, spraying blood all over them both. A boot came up and replaced the butt of his pistol, knocking the man off his feet with a hefty blow to the crotch. As he screamed and went down, the Mandalorian raised his pistol up at the Whipid’s face and with his free hand brought his glass up to his lips and took a long gulp.
“What’s it going to be, chunky?”
The large furred thing glared daggers at Sashar’s blood-covered face, but bent down to pick up his injured groaning partner.
“Smart man.” Sashar nodded his approval and re-holstered his weapon, then raised his voice “Can I get a cloth?” He shouted to the back room.
Deciding not to outstay his welcome, Sashar left after his ‘beer’ (though to call it that was a stretch. It was yeasty dishwater). He instead chose to stroll through the streets of the war-ravaged town and get a lay of the land. He also hoped to attract a fair bit of attention. It didn’t take long for an over-ambitious Devaronian youth to try and pickpocket him. Unfortunately, he didn’t realise that the Mandalorian had eyes in the back of his head. Literally. There were micro-cams situated at 90 degree intervals all around his helmet, even one directed straight up towards the sky. He grabbed the teenager by the horn and turned around, bearing down on him.
“Looking for something?” he ground out, the voice filter doing little to disguise the cheerful tone.
“C’mon, rodder. Tell me how I’ve found more than I was bargaining for.” He spat back, his demonic features made all the worse by the sour expression.
“Got a mouth on you. How’d you like to make some honest money?” Sashar replied, his vice-like grip not loosening.
“Do I have a choice?”
He heaved a much put-on sigh. “Okay. What?”
“First, stop trying to go for that shiv in your pocket. I’m wearing armour. Di’kut. Second, I need a place to stay. Know anywhere marginally clean where I’m not likely to get shanked?”
He finally released the teenager, who looked over his shoulder, contemplating fleeing. A look at the T-visored helmet looming over him dispelled the notion.
“Well, they’d want you to stay at the spaceport-“
“Who’s ‘they’?” Sashar interrupted.
“Either the Wailing Butchers or the Red Flags. Two rival gangs. They run the place.”
“They hiring?” He asked, sensing an opportunity.
“Look, they don’t take resumes at the door. If they want something, they come to you.”
“Okay, they got any problems in town that need dealing with?”
The Devaronian grimaced. “No.”
Sashar sighed and grabbed him by the horn again, this time dragging him down an alley. He shoved the youth up against the wall and moved in close.
“Don’t lie to me. I promise you won’t get hurt. You’re more use to me alive than dead. I may even have a job lined up for you at the end of this.”
“I wanna get some work with the Red Flags. To do that, I need to make an impression. Dealing with a problem of theirs is a point in my favour, so let’s try one more time. What do they need dealing with?”
“My swoop gang.” The Devaronian sighed, defeated.
Sashar thought for a moment. “It pay well, riding around being a di’kut?”
“No.” he replied sullenly.
“Well here’s a grand. Call it a severance package. You now work for me. What’s your name?” He asked, handing the youth a high denomination credit chip.
“Well, Uh Tullis, you particularly attached to your friends in the gang?”
Tullis grinned finally, pocketing the chip. “No sir. They’ve never given me a thousand creds.”
“Well, if you wanna get more, I’m going to need to know where they usually are. Oh, and if you tip them off that I’m coming, I’ll kill you.”
“Screw ‘em. They’re round at the West Weald Cantina. There’s seven of them not including me. Led by Bickson. He’s a Feeorin.”
“Good lad.” Sashar handed him a five hundred cred chip. “And you got any recommendations on where I can stay?”
Tullis smiled and made the second chip disappear. “You can stay at my place. It’s not far from the West Weald.”
“How hospitable of you. Here’s my frequency. Call me in an hour. I’ll have more work for you.”
The West Weald was a dive. It used to be a fast food restaurant, but had obviously been remodelled into a bar following the Yuuzhan Vong war. Outside were numerous swoop bikes, all parked in a row. Two young humans stood near the door, smoking.
“Hey, Abraxas, check this out.” The girl said, nodding her head towards Sashar.
Worryingly, neither seemed particularly perturbed by the fact that he was wearing a full suit of heavy armour and was armed to take down Walkers, never mind drunk swoop bikers.
“Looks to me like our mandie got lost.” The male replied, pulling a length of spiked chain from its hanging point behind his belt.
“Look, this isn’t very fair.” Sashar began, stopping just outside of range of that chain.
“What, because there’s two of us and one of you?” The female asked.
“Yeah. I’ll give you a few minutes to go get some friends.”
Abraxas’s face darkened, and he charged, swinging his makeshift flail around at Sashar’s head. His left arm came up and let the gauntlet soak up the impact damage, but the chain also curled around his forearm. The elder yanked, hard, causing the male to stumble. He fell forward-
Right into a knee blow to the temple. He dropped to the floor unconscious, with his chain coiling on top of him.
“Seriously. I don’t mind waiting.” He said evenly, as if he hadn’t just floored her friend.
She hesitated. Sashar hadn’t even drawn a weapon.
She bolted inside.
The Mandalorian grinned tightly to himself and prepared for what was about to come. It didn’t take long. She returned with a Gamorrean, Rodian twins, a dark-skinned human and the Feeorin ringleader.
The Feeorin took one look at Sashar, snorted, and gestured lazily with a long machete. The Gamorrean and two humans charged the Mandalorian.
He smiled tightly behind his helmet and drew the T-6. It was aimed and firing before the huge green-skinned porcine figure had time to take three paces, the titanic thunder-clap of the weapon taking half his face off. He shifted aim to the girl’s arm and shot it off, then popped the weapon up and smacked the Korunnai in the side of the head just as he came within range. He landed atop the already unconscious Abraxas.
A whine of Swoop engines snapped his head round. The rodian twins sped towards him, both firing with semi-automatic IR-5 intimidator pistols. Sashar dove laterally, his free hand going to his left calf. A sharp black-bladed shortsword with the barest blue tinge on the blade was strapped to his boot. The blade itself was maybe 30 centimeters long, both sides sharpened, and the point especially deadly. He drew it and flung it in one fluid motion. The shortsword carved circles in the air until it landed, stabbing deep into it’s target’s chest. He dropped off the bike with a gargle, the force of the impact easily propelling him a good fifteen meters back. His twin brother cried out in dismay.
Sashar was up on one knee and firing before the sole remaining rodian could look back round. His fingers and one of the handlebars were blown off with one shot, and the bike spun out of control into a parked landspeeder, exploding spectacularly.
Then Bickson came at him, bellowing a challenge. His swoops’ steering vanes had been sharpened to a razor edge, and he wielded a T-6 Identical to the Mandalorian’s. Sashar merely stood up and to one side, letting the swoop pass him by, and made a wild grab at the blue head-tails trailing after him. His fist closed on one and he yanked the ringleader backwards off his bike. Sashar planted a foot on the non-human’s neck, raised his blaster and shot him in the face just as the Feeorin’s swwop exploded against the bar wall. The mandalorian picked up the Feeorin’s T-6, then retrieved his shortsword from the Rodian’s chest and turned to look about the scene.
There was nobody watching him, no pedestrians fleeing the scene, and no distant sirens either. Hyllyard city must’ve been used to that level of violence. There was, however, a holocam above the West Weald’s entrance.
Satisfied that he’d made enough of a spectacle, he turned about and stalked away in no particular hurry; now was a waiting game.
He arrived at Tullis’s squalid apartment just before dark. The Mandalorian didn’t bother knocking; he simply sliced the door controls with ho tools other than his helmet and walked in. The Devaronian jumped up and scrabbled for a knife, but Sashar stopped him with a gesture.
“Udesii, it’s me.”
“How’d you get in?” he asked, sitting back down.
“I’m good like that.” The Mando looked around, grimacing at what he saw. It was messy, small, cramped and hadn’t seen a decent clean in a long, long time. “This is not a nice place you’ve got here, Tullis. Never yearned for more?”
“Hey, I make the best of what I’ve got. You said you had work for me?”
Sashar pulled off his helmet and sat down next to the Devaronian. “Yeah. I need you to clear off for a while and go to the West Weald. Make sure people know it was a mandalorian who ghosted them.”
“Sure. What’s your name?”
Sashar grinned, his brown contact lenses sparkling in the artificial light. “Stoker.”
Tullis nodded and left, eager to impress his new boss. ‘Stoker’ searched the apartment swiftly, and when he was sure there were no listening devices or eavesdroppers, settled down at the wall terminal. He had some slicing to do.
Tullis returned late that evening, bloodied.
“What happened?” Sashar asked, rising to help the Devaronian sit down.
“Red Flag wanted information. I told ‘em you were looking for work, and that you’d dealt with Bickson’s crew to show them what you could do. They want to meet tomorrow.”
“Good work. Rest up, we have a big day tomorrow.”
Mutely, Tullis held his hand out, palm up. Sighing, Sashar reached into his belt pouch and handed the youth two thousand-credit chips.
The next morning, the pair headed for the West Weald. Evidence of the fight remained, however the bodies and anything valuable had already been scavenged. Inside, the place was as unsavoury as any bar Sashar had been in, and he frequented dives. Tullis led him over to a pair of nondescript humans sitting in a corner booth.
“This is Stoker. He’s-“
“Get lost, Tullis.” One said tersely. Tullis practically vanished.
Sashar sat down silently, resting his heavy Concussion rifle on the table between them.
“I hear you’re interested in some work.” One said carefully, a little put off by ‘Stoker’s’ silence.
Sashar nodded slowly, his helmet’s t-visor the only point they seemed comfortable to focus on.
“We appreciate you taking care of Bickson, by the way. Saves us the trouble.” The other carefully supplied.
Sashar remained silent.
“So, uh, there’s a warehouse company that aren’t paying us protection anymore. They say they’re working with the Wailing Butchers. We want you to persuade them that it’s in their best interests to work with us again.”
“You mind any property damage?” he asked, speaking for the first time.
“No. they have seven warehouses. They can afford to lose one.”
“What’s the name of the company?”
“Blue Box Hosting.”
Sashar stood up and slung the rifle over his shoulder. “You can contact them within the hour. They’ll be more amiable.”
He didn’t wait for a response and stalked out, brining up a local map on his helmet. It wasn’t hard to find the warehouse district. Tullis was waiting for him outside.
“So what happened?” he asked, lighting up a cigarette.
“They gave me a job. Petty thug stuff. Might be dangerous, so you’d better head back to keep your head down. I’ll be in touch. If you wanna earn some extra cash, have a sniff around town and find out how much attention I’ve been getting. Keep me abreast of what’s going on.”
“Get lost, di’kut.”
It was the first time Sashar missed the Force. Myrkr’s native fauna included a creature called the Ysalamiri, which naturally created a force-repelling ‘bubble’ a few meters in diameter. Since they were parasitic lizards that attached themselves to the trees in the extensive forests, it meant that practically the entire planet was a Force dead-zone. Sashar was no stranger to the Force. He was in fact classified as an ‘Elder’ amongst his brethren in the Dark Brotherhood and had developed a wide array of near-unique Force abilities. However, he’d been brought up Mandalorian. He’d known how to disassemble, clean and reassemble a Blaster Rifle by the time he could walk and his martial skills were probably more substantial than his Force-based ones.
”Still, it’d be useful to sense how many hostiles are in there.” he thought to himself as he approached the Warehouse office. He kicked open the door and drew his bes’bev, pointing at the secretarial droid who threw up its arms in distress at the sight of the Mandalorian. Two weequays who’d been expecting him, jumped up from their seat on the sofa, each wielding a stun baton. They came at the armoured behind. The heavy metal instrument parried their initial two strikes, then slammed into one’s ribcage, sending him flying back. The other got a punch in the face, flooring him.
“I’d like to speak to the manager, please.” Sashar said, turning back to the protocol droid.
He didn’t have a wait long. An aging, paunchy human male came out, blaster in hand. Disgusted, the mandalorian crossed over the room, swng the bes’bev at the weapon and sent it skittering across the floor. He grabbed the human by the neck and slammed him up against the wall.
“I’m Stoker. I work for the Red Flags. You think you’re leaving us?” He said, his faceplate all but touching the manager’s nose.
“Y-you can’t intimidate us! Do you have any idea what the Wailing Butchers will do to me?!”
Sashar brought his head back, then delivered a perfect Keldabe Kiss. The Manager dropped to the floor, his nose bleeding.
“Get up.” He shouted, then grabbed the manager by the throat once more. As soon as he was vertical, he threw him at the exit and watched with some satisfaction as the fat man crashed into the doors. The Mandalorian stalked after him and dragged him outside. He yanked his LJ-50 Concussion from its resting place over his back, took aim at the nearest warehouse, and pulled the trigger. The first bolt smashed into the side of the wall, sending masonry flying. As soon as the weapon was charged again, he fired, then again. By the third bolt, the structure was close to collapsing. He squeezed off a final shot and the building collapsed down with thunderous rancor.
The manager whimpered. “There are other companies in Hyllyard we can go to, but we came to you and you insulted us. We won’t let the Wailing Butchers do this to you, but insults have to be met in kind. Sign back over to us or I’ll knock down your entire livelihood, then I’ll nail you to that droid in there by your shabla nuts. Am I being fairly clear?”
Sashar punched him in the face, knocking him to the floor.
“Yes! Yes! Fine! We’ll pay protection again!” He wailed, crying.
“Good lad. We’ll be in touch.” Sashar actually helped the man up and walked him back into the office, then exited the compound. Waiting for him were the two humans.
“I’m Aso. This is Fitz. We’re two Lieutenants to General Yun, head of the Red Flag pirates. He wants to meet you. We’re authorised to tell you he wants to offer you a permanent contract. We need an enforcer such as yourself.”
“About time. When and where?”
“Tonight, at Landing Bay 56. 2200 hours. We’ll take you to our facility. Bring your effects, as you’ll be with us for a while.”
“Thanks.” Was all Sashar said and headed off, his destination was Tullis’s apartment.
Tullis was there, drinking a beer when Sashar walked back in.
“Have fun?” He asked, not looking up from the small flatscreen balanced against the wall opposite him.
“Sure. They gave me a job. I’ll be in touch. Keep yourself out of trouble, kid. Now get outta here, I gotta make a call.”
Tullis glared, but went in the ‘fresher. A moment later, Sashar heard the sound of running water; he was having a shower.
He tapped in a well-remembered frequency and was rewarded with hearing his half-brother’s voice a moment later, bleary and semi-conscious.
“It’s Sashar. I’ve infiltrated the Red Flags, but it’s going to take longer than I thought. I’m going to have to be here a few weeks to gain their trust. Requesting it be covered as an S-class infiltration.”
“Fine. Whatever. Contact me when….I dunno. When you think it’s right.”
“Roger that. Sleep tight, vod’ika.”