Faith IX - The Smuggler's Moon
“Damn! And I thought Vegas had too much neon.”
Faith looked around from the taxi pad at the cityscape of the so-called 'Smuggler's Moon,' - Nar Shaddaa - and tried to process the notion of Sin City on a planetary scale. A part of her wanted to smack the collective Jedi Order around for their monastic ways and teachings. If she had learned the ins and outs of gambling in this galaxy, Faith was confident that she would have been able to enjoy herself on this moon and become very wealthy very quickly.
“I don’t know what Vegas is,” Ralto said, “but the sight is a rather sore one, isn’t it?”
“There are cities like this back home,” Tal said. “They don’t quite hit this level of vice.”
“Where’s home for you?” Faith asked the Major.
“Corellia,” he answered. “It was a nice place until the Empire moved in. Now, it’s a warzone.”
“Another giant city-world?” Faith asked.
“Sort of,” Tal said. “Long ago, the government decided not to go quite the path of Coruscant and made an effort to preserve some of the planet’s natural beauty. We still make some of the best starships in the galaxy, but we like to have parks to relax in when we’re on break.”
“We’ll take it back, Tal,” Vira said. “Just like we’ll take back Balmorra.”
“Damn straight we’ll take it back!” Tal agreed.
Faith stepped ahead, trying to get out of hearing range of the two soldiers. With both the Force and her Slayer senses, however, it was no use. She didn’t begrudge them their urge to take back their homes, but despite never having settled down anywhere, Faith was feeling homesick. She’d been a wanderer, but she’d never pictured wandering away from her entire planet.
The prospect of finding Earth again was a slim one, but Faith held onto a small sliver of hope. She had once thought that optimists were just fools who were kidding themselves, and maybe Faith was one of those people now. Even if she did feel like a homesick child at times, she’d be damned if she let such thoughts make her an invalid.
“All right,” Faith sad. “Enough with the good old days. Let’s find this ruin and get the hell outta here.”
“That won’t be so simple, Faith,” Ralto said carefully as he walked up to her. “Even if we knew where on the moon the ruin is located, we’d still have to get down to it and back up here again. It’s highly unlikely we’ll find anyone who knows where to look.”
“The Hutts will know,” Tal said grimly. “One of the major crime lords will, most likely. Finding out which Hutt to talk is probably our first step. Getting a Hutt to give away a secret like that…” The major shook his head and shifted about in place. “I don’t know about this.”
“Hutts are easy to predict if you know how,” Vira said. “Spent a few weeks here before I got transferred to your squad, Tal. We were trying to convince the Cartel to break its neutrality and join the Republic. When they tried to barter with my CO to put me to work as a dancing girl, we decided that was a good time to leave.”
Faith grinned. “So, Hutts are attracted to the female body, are they?”
“Who knows what Hutts think?” Tal snorted. “I’d put money on dancing girls being there to grease up their clients. Then again, putting money on anything here is probably not such a good idea.”
“Over here,” Vira said as she gestured towards an open-air market. “This is a Hutt.”
Faith followed the Lieutenant over to a giant golden statue of a blob wearing a silly-looking hat.
“Behold!” Vira mocked. “His Magnificence, Karagga the Hutt. Leader of the Hutt Cartel, sometimes called ‘Karagga the Unyielding.’”
Up until now, Faith had had a vague mental image of a Hutt being some sort of human-like being wearing flashing neon lights and golden chains. The statue in front of her showed an entirely different image: This Hutt was nothing more than a giant, golden slug with two bulbous eyes and an overlarge mouth.
“They aren’t that big in reality,” Vira said. “Shrink this down so that maybe Tal’s head comes up to somewhere around the Hutt’s non-existent shoulders. And they aren’t made out of solid gold no matter what they believe about themselves.”
“Don’t forget the slime and the stink,” Tal added as he joined the two women. “As bad as Nar Shaddaa is, the planet it orbits is supposedly worse. They practically bathe in toxic sludge down on Nal Hutta and call it a paradise.”
“Yes, the Hutts are not the most aesthetically pleasing of species,” Ralto commented. “We might as well check in with the Republic ambassador here and see if he or she can aid us in any capacity. Such a representative will likely have access to key members of the Hutt Cartel, which is likely going to string along both Republic and Empire with promises of aid in exchange for economic boons. It is highly unlikely that the Hutts will break their neutrality.”
“They don’t have to join the Republic,” Faith said shortly. “All we need is to find this ruin. Let’s do this.”
A quick visit to an information kiosk – along with a fifty-credit fee – directed Faith and her companions to the upper level of the Promenade, where they hoped to find the Republic Ambassador to Nar Shaddaa. The droid at the kiosk had also provided them – for another thirty credits each – earpiece translators so that they would be able to understand the many denizens of the moon who spoke Huttese instead of Basic.
Faith let Master Ralto lead the way to the office. He was the senior Jedi of the two of them, and the Nautolan knew how to talk to people without rubbing them the wrong way. She wasn’t entirely sure if he had what it would take to deal with a Hutt. From what Faith had heard, Hutts thought of themselves as supreme, and what a human would call insincere flattery was considered proper respect due to a Hutt.
A clerk bowed respectfully and admitted the group to Ambassador Averdon’s office. Ralto politely thanked the clerk and led Faith and the two soldiers into a spacious chamber with a desk in the center of the room. Standing over it was a grey-haired human who had to be Ambassador Averdon.
Looming over the Ambassador was something that screamed ‘demon’ to Faith’s more arcane senses. Her eyes and nose told her that the thing was little more than a gigantic turd. Then it blinked and took a breath, and Faith realized that the enormous, stench-producing blob was in fact a Hutt.
“Master Jedi,” the human man said politely. “Welcome to Nar Shaddaa. I’m Ambassador Averdon, and this is Bareesh Fenn’ak Torill. He’s been one of our most valuable allies on Nar Shaddaa.”
“Ambassador Averdon, Mr. Bareesh, it is an honor to make your acquaintance. I am Jedi Master Ralto Nalarn, at your service.”
“Please, simply call me ‘Bareesh.’ Human terms of gender hold no meaning for Hutts,” the blob said in a booming voice that Faith’s earpiece translated into Basic.
Ralto nodded courteously. “As you wish, Bareesh. If I might get straight to business, the Republic and the Jedi Order are seeking an ancient ruin that we believe to be somewhere here on Nar Shaddaa. We would like your help in finding it.”
“I’m afraid the geography of the moon is not my area of expertise,” Averdon said apologetically.
“Information is always available for the right price,” Bareesh said ominously. “Knowledge has always been the most valuable commodity for sale in the history of the Hutts. To show my good will to the Republic, I will aid you in whatever way I can, unless your search endangers Hutt enterprises.”
“You honor me with your graciousness, Bareesh,” Ralto said, and Faith noticed he slipped into a bow to add to the proper amount of lavish ‘respect’ to the Hutt. “Alas, the ruin we are seeking predates your people’s known presence on Nar Shaddaa. We believe that this place will be located somewhere near or on the surface. Do records of such architecture still exist?”
“The surface?!” Averdon exclaimed. “Master Jedi, I must press upon you the dangers you face if you attempt to venture so far down into the bowels of Nar Shaddaa.”
Ralto turned his head to face the Ambassador. “I appreciate your concern, but we are all aware of the risks involved. The Jedi believe, however, that it is crucial to the safety of the galaxy that we find that ruin.”
Bareesh waved a tiny arm in what might have been a dismissive gesture. “The Republic likes to inflate all of its needs as vital to the safety of the galaxy. What makes this thing you seek any different?”
Faith sensed that Ralto was not quite sure how to respond to the Hutt’s question, and he was shifting on his feet almost imperceptibly.
“What do you know about the Jedi, Bareesh?” Faith asked. “What’s your general impression of them?”
Bareesh shifted his massive body to look at Faith. “The Jedi are renowned as warriors without equal,” the Hutt said. “They are reflective and pacifistic, but are quick to take up arms when they feel something in the air that others are blind to, save for the Sith. They do nothing without reason.”
“Damn straight,” Faith said. “Everything the Jedi do has a reason to it. They like to think before they act, and they don’t like to give out straight answers when a cryptic one will do. What we’re looking for here: It predates the Jedi. It’s old and powerful and dangerous. We found something like it on Taris, and that led us here. I’ve dealt with old things before, and a good rule is that the older something is, the more powerful it is. We’re here, and we’re offering to deal with what could be a serious disruption in your nice, comfy lives up here. Point us towards it, and we’ll take care of it so that you can keep on living the Hutt high life. Besides, if you help us, I’m sure the Republic would find some way to show its gratitude.”
Bareesh narrowed his giant, bulbous eyes before erupting into laughter. It was a booming ‘ho-ho-ho’ sound that reminded Faith of a demonic Santa Claus. A moment of thought reminded her that Santa Claus actually was real, and a demon to boot.
“You are a most unusual Jedi,” Bareesh said with what might have been amusement. “You are bold and daring. I like you, Jedi.”
“The name’s Faith,” she said with a smirk.
Bareesh laughed some more. “Well, Jedi Faith, if it is information you seek, then the Chronicle will hold the answer. It is a computer that holds the collective history and knowledge of Nar Shaddaa. Getting access to it, however, will be your challenge.”
Faith wasn’t buying it. “So, any old Hutt can go to this computer and learn anything he wants about any other Hutt? Doesn’t seem all that smart to me.”
Bareesh waved a dismissive hand. “The Cartel regulates what is permitted into the Chronicle. Personal and financial information for the Hutt Clans is protected and not accessible. Other organizations with enough influence can petition the Cartel to keep their secrets out of the Chronicle as well. Your Republic and the Empire both pay well to keep their operations out of sight.”
Ralto chose this moment to step back in. “Could you not allow us access to this Chronicle, Bareesh?”
“I cannot,” the Hutt said. “It is not under my domain, but that of the entire Hutt Cartel. In theory, anyone may ask anything of the Chronicle. In practice, each question asked of it is a costly endeavor.”
“We have credits,” Ralto offered.
Bareesh just rumbled a sound that had no Basic translation. “The Chronicle has always required a special brand of currency. In the past, the payment has been slaves or else exotic goods and services that are no longer relevant. The nature of the payment has varied over the years, but it has always been favorable to Hutts. The Chronicle currently accepts a more generic currency.”
Ralto nodded patiently. “Tell us what we must do, and we will strive to make it happen.”
“This is fucking ridiculous!”
“I hear you, Faith,” Vira agreed. “The scheme reeks of Hutt, all right.”
Tal swore as they walked along the Promenade. “Who do they think they’re kidding? It’s not a currency if you can’t exchange it for credits. Ridiculous.”
Ralto sighed patiently and tried to keep up with the angry strides of his fellows. “I wish it were not the case, but it seems that if we want to gain access to this Chronicle, we will need to obtain some-“
“Fake money,” Faith spat. “Since when does anyone pay real money just to get this ‘special’ money?” She snorted. “Do they think we’re stupid?”
“No, but we are desperate,” Tal said gently.
“It is a most unfair system, we all agree,” Ralto said calmly. “The reality, however, is that if we want to proceed further, we will need to procure some of these ‘Cartel Coins.’”
“Fake money,” Faith corrected.
“Yeah, well, there’s gotta be somebody who’ll pay fake money for something,” Vira said. “These are Hutts: Their survival instinct is money-based. We just need one who is willing to cough up the stuff for a job or something.”
“Maybe the information kiosk will have something,” Tal said.
“Maybe,” Faith agreed, pulling out her credit chit. “Here, this one’s on me.”
The droid at the kiosk – after being paid a fifty credit fee – accessed a list of all Hutt Cartel job listings on Nar Shaddaa that paid Cartel Coins. Ralto sprung for the ten credit fee to have the information downloaded onto a datapad that they could take with them.
“So, how much of this fake money do we need again?” Tal asked.
“We need 330 coins for one question,” Vira said. “Why they had to go with such an odd number, I don’t know.”
“It is probably the Hutts attempting to keep such services exclusive to themselves by making the process too frustrating for other species,” Ralto reasoned.
“Hello!” Faith said with a smirk. “Lookie here! I think I found the answer to our problem.”
Ralto took the pad from Faith and read the part she had highlighted. “You can’t be serious, Faith!”
“Sure, I can,” the Slayer countered. “I fit the criteria, and this Hutt only needs me for the one day, and it pays… How much does it pay again?”
Vira snagged the pad from Ralto. “It pays 1040 Cartel-“
Faith cleared her throat and smirked.
Vira’s smile matched Faith’s. “It pays 1040 fake credits.”
Tal shook his head. “Why can’t you just call it what it is?”
“We are,” Faith said. “As for why you’re gonna put up with it, it’s because you like us so much.”
Major Cortland snorted. “Right. So, let me see that pad. What’re you up to, Faith?”
Ralto sighed and handed Tal the datapad.
Taking the pad, Tal read over the highlighted section. “Well, that would be simple if it works. But Hutts are sneaky, and there’s probably something they’re not advertising.”
“Probably,” Faith admitted. “But it’s an opportunity, and I don’t want to waste it. Now, you can help me out, or you can get out of my way, but you’re not going to stop me.”
“Leave it alone, both of you,” Vira warned. “I know that look. Faith’s wearing her ‘I’ve made up my mind no matter what’ look, and nothing you do is going to sway her.”
Faith chuckled. “Heh. I’ve got my own resolve face now. Awesome! I’m gonna need to do a bit of shopping before I go and apply for the job. Meet you by the big golden statue in half an hour?”
Ralto looked like he might protest, but just hung his head and waved Faith away.
Faith smiled and took off towards the nearby cantina, stopping only to laugh when she heard Vira start to throw a fit once the red-haired soldier saw what Faith had in mind.
This was going to be fun.
Dral Trord, Majordomo to His Magnificence, Kalubo the Hutt, was feeling quite enormously grateful towards the brown-haired human girl who had come to him looking for work. Dral had been looking for quite awhile to find suitable entertainment for his Master, lest Kalubo decide that the poor Nikto would make a better spectacle.
Kalubo was wealthy, and he loved to display his wealth to all who would come to see it. Being a logic-driven Nikto, Dral did not understand the ways of Hutts, but he knew that Kalubo’s tastes bent just a bit towards the sadistic. The poor human girl didn’t know what she was in for, but she was just what Dral Trord needed to save his own hide.
She’d had companions with her who had wanted to accompany her to Kalubo’s palace. They were obviously new to Nar Shaddaa since they had thought that a Jedi and two Republic soldiers would be allowed to enter His Magnificence’s estate while armed.
Even now, Dral wasn’t sure why he’d let the Jedi and the two soldiers in. He vaguely remembered the Jedi waving his hand as he presented a very reasonable argument. After all, what harm could they possibly do when Kalubo’s guards permeated the palace?
The band was just now finishing its opening number in the open air on the roof of the skyscraper. It was quite impossible to have a proper Hutt palace on Nar Shaddaa, but with Kalubo’s wealth, the upper levels of this particular building had been structured to suit his needs.
As the crowd of sycophants and supplicants applauded the musicians, Dral looked around for the entertainment he had hired. She stood behind him in a black hooded robe that covered her entire body.
“What are you doing?” he hissed at her. “You’re supposed to be-“
“Easy, hun,” the girl said as she brought a soft, fleshy hand to his spiked cheek. “I plan to tease ‘em a bit. You’re paying for the best, aren’t you?”
In fact, the high price tag for an evening entertainer was to attract someone who would ignore the high mortality rate that entertaining Kalubo the Hutt tended to entail. Even so, she did have his thoughts wandering away from his Master, which was quite an accomplishment given that Dral didn’t usually go for humans.
“Just be sure to back up that claim,” he said as he stepped out in the middle of the open-air chamber.
“Ladies, gentlebeings, assorted sentients,” he announced to the crowd. “His Magnificence, Kalubo the Hutt, welcomes you to his palace for an evening of entertainment and wonder. My Master is proud to present, for your pleasure and enjoyment, a view of the best that human flesh has to offer!” Inwardly, he wondered if the girl’s name was truly her own or just a stage name, but he would play it for all it was worth.
“I give you, sentient beings, a lady of wonder, the Mistress Faith!”
Dral Trord retreated as the girl walked onto the stage in her black robe. She looked more like a Sith Lord than an entertainer. Was that why he’d called her ‘Mistress?’ That hadn’t been part of the script.
Deciding simply to watch, Dral saw the girl look across the audience before walking carefully along the edge of the stage. Her robe parted just enough to allow peeks of bare skin to peek out as she walked. Well-muscled legs teased the audience as she turned her back to them.
A few sentients began to boo and jeer, and Dral thought that he might truly die tonight. Then the girl lowered her hood and looked over her shoulder, teasing the audience with her makeup-heavy eyes and lips.
Faith took hold of a pole and raised one bent, bare leg. Leaning back, the girl let her robe fall to the ground, revealing her for the beauty that she truly was. Most guests did not object to full nudity, but for those few who did, the girl still had a fashionable gold bikini covering her genitalia. Ornamental sandals and wristbands made her look all the more exotic.
Now the crowd was happy, and they applauded her as she danced to whatever tune the musicians decided to play. She was a master of improvisation, her body flowing as if she was one with the music.
Dral wanted her, even though she was a human. Squishy she might be, she was full of heat and positively exuded much sexual energy. Dral was reminded of just how unsatisfactory his own sex life had been for the past few months.
Kalubo sat on his massive throne and bellowed his approval, egging the crowd on further. The moment was near.
Faith was gyrating against the pole, tantalizing the crowd with her languid body movements. She wrapped her legs around the poll and leaned back, her torso hanging upside down as the various sentients in the crowd went wild.
And now came the part of his job that Dral hated. As the Faith girl lowered herself off the pole, Kalubo hit a button on his throne, and the floor beneath the dancing girl’s feet gave way.
She had quick reflexes, he would give her that. Kalubo had known that some species possessed great lower body strength with which to leap and jump, and so he activated the suction mechanisms that drew Faith down into the pit below.
After re-sealing itself, the floor that Faith had been dancing on flickered into transparency as the audience closed in to watch the real entertainment.
Now was usually the part where the hapless dancing girl realized the magnitude of her folly, and the panic began to set in. Soon enough, all hope would fade.
Instead, the girl smirked and looked up, straight at Kalubo. “When I get out of here, you and I are gonna renegotiate just how much you owe me.”
Kalubo merely laughed at the gall of the girl, but Dral sensed a ferocity about her that most dancing girls – most people in general – just did not possess.
Dral Trord vowed that if he survived the next few days, he would strive to find a more forgiving patron, even if the job did pay less.
Faith swore under her breath for being so stupid. Of course there was going to be a catch to the job. There was always a catch. It had been fun showing off her body for a little bit; the Jedi weren’t too big with the fun-having, so it had been nice to goof around. She wished that whoever had designed the bikini she was wearing had put something softer inside to cushion her skin. Gold might be fashionable, but it also chafed a bit.
Now, however, the bright neon of Nar Shaddaa’s skyline had been replaced with a dank, smelly pit full of ripped clothes, discarded weapons in various states of disrepair, and a number of bones in varying shapes and sizes. Above her, the roof of her chamber had turned transparent, presumably to allow the audience to watch Faith get mauled to death by whatever was waiting down here.
A large metal door opposite Faith held some creature behind it, if the growling and stomping sounds were to be believed. Reaching out with the Force, Faith could sense that whatever was behind the door was very large, very strong, and very hungry.
As the door began to open, parting into three sections, Faith got the distinct impression that the creature on the other side could sense her probing it through the Force. It seemed to have one word on its mind: Prey.
Faith did not flinch from the creature’s thoughts and stood her ground. She steadied her body and steeled her mind the same way she went demon-hunting back home. She’d faced down the Beast and lived to tell the tale, so Faith was fairly confident that she could handle whatever this creature was.
The gigantic doors finally opened enough to allow the monstrous creature to walk through. It was at least ten meters tall, probably more, and it walked on two legs, grasped with two clawed arms, and roared with one very large mouth with lots of large, sharp teeth.
Faith thought she heard someone above her whisper the word ‘rancor,’ and she had a name for the creature. She made ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice, staring down the monster without blinking as the crowd above her went wild.
The rancor stepped forward, causing the floor beneath Faith’s feet to shake. She did not let it affect her, and she kept eye contact with the creature. “You may be one mean mother,” Faith whispered, “but I’m meaner.”
Faith waited for the creature to lunge at her, but it stayed still. Was it waiting for her to make the first move? Predators didn’t yield to their prey like this. Faith was confused, but then the creature’s beady eyes blinked, and Faith knew that all of her predatory prowess was being projected through the Force, and this rancor was attuned to the Force somehow and was picking up on her inner Slayer.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Faith said in an attempt at menace. “You know who’s the bigger bad down here, don’t you?”
The creature positively whimpered, and Faith stepped forward as a series of confused images flitted across the periphery of her mind.
The rancor had been warm inside of an egg for a time, and then it had been taken by men with whips and chains. They had starved it for months on end, only to erupt in obvious glee when they tossed a pittance of fresh meat its way. It had grown slowly, but it had grown, and then the meals became more frequent, but they had consisted of only a single bag of flesh every few days for years.
The rancor had primal urges to run and hunt down fleeing prey. The cage it was in was too small, and it longed for plains and forests so that it could run and leap like it was born to do. It was a predator denied both its hunting grounds and its prey, and now it was being cowed by a small wisp of a thing that exuded power far greater than its own.
Faith knew what demons felt like. She had fought so many evil creatures in her time that she would swear she had a sixth sense for evil. This was no such animal, however. The rancor was just a predator, like Faith herself, caught in an alien place so far from home.
“I wish I could help you, Clifford,” Faith said softly, remembering the children’s books about a big red dog when she was young. “I wish I could help, but I got places to be. I’m strong, but I’m not strong enough to get you back home.”
The rancor sulked with a low groan and settled down into a crouch on the ground.
Faith walked over to the hulking monster and stroked it with one hand. “You got dealt a shitty hand, buddy. Life sucks sometimes, but you’ll survive. As for those guys with the whips and the chains… You may think they own you, but show a little backbone and you’ll see that they’re just as crunchy and yummy as anything else you could hope for. Trust me.”
A groaning sigh escaped the rancor’s enormous mouth, but it did not move.
“Ladies, gentlebeings, assorted sentients!” the spiky-skinned MC said over the speakers, “let’s have a hand for Mistress Faith, the Rancor-Tamer!”
Maybe the crowd had come looking to sate its bloodlust, but the site of a tame rancor at the hands of what must look like a desperate dancing girl must have been rare enough to get a loud chorus of applause.
A human-sized door opened at one end of the chamber, and Faith looked once more at the rancor before heading for the exit.
An obese green-skinned Twi’lek man held a whip in his hand and passed Faith as she walked out of the beast pit. “Give him hell, buddy,” Faith whispered, letting the Force carry her words back to the rancor.
A small lift took Faith back up to the open air roof, where the cheers of the crowd grew louder as Faith sensed the rancor freeing itself from one of its tormentors in the only way a true predator could.
Faith felt a small amount of regret for the beast-handler, but the wanton cruelty of everyone in Kalubo’s palace, the lust for spilled blood… Faith decided that it would be best if she got away from these people as soon as possible.
Ralto, Tal, and Vira stood by a desk in a covered passage leading away from the main entertainment. At the desk sat a female Nautolan, and Faith smiled as she sauntered over to collect her payment.
Faith couldn’t wait to get back home and tell this story. Buffy was never going to believe this!
Welcome to Jeopardy! Tonight's first answer is 'nothing.' / "What do I own?" / Correct! Specifically...
Nar Shaddaa: not mine
Nal Hutta: not mine
Corellia: not mine
Balmorra: not mine
Karagga the Unyielding: not mine
Bareesh Fenn'ak Torill: not mine
Ambassador Averdon: not mine
Kalubo the Hutt: original
Dral Trord: original
Nikto: not mine
Hutts: not mine
Rancor: not mine
Ralto Nalarn: original
Tal Cortland: original
Vira Septus: original
Faith Lehane: Seriously? You really have to ask? Unfortunately, not mine
Cartel Coins: not mine at all - it is The Old Republic's in-game currency that is obtained by spending real money
Thank you all for your support of this story! This is all for you guys and gals!
You are walking through the darkness of the dungeon when you are confronted with a Muse! She demands that you leave a review! That, or roll a will save.
Special Thanks to Sithspit for beta-reading this chapter. You are a life saver, my friend.
Thanks again for reading, everyone! I hope you enjoy this chapter. ^_^