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WHILE EN route to Bothawui, I poured over the information that Jabba had supplied. Dash Rendar was the son of a wealthy family. He had attended the Imperial Academy on Carida until his brother had an unfortunate accident and crashed a ship into the Emperor’s private museum. The outraged and eternally grumpy Emperor annexed all of the family’s holdings and exiled the Rendar family from Coruscant. Dash was banished from the Imperial Academy. He had since become a more than capable smuggler and part-time mercenary. It is said that he is an expert shot with a blaster pistol and could fly circles around a star destroyer and not take a hit. It occurred to me rather quickly that Dash was so far out of my league that I couldn’t even see him. I’m nowhere near as skilled as Dash allegedly is. Not yet, anyhow.
Dash could be found, according to the information Jabba provided, piloting a CEC YT-2400 dubbed the Outrider. As indicated by the datapad, the Outrider was heavily modified and was almost as fast as the Millennium Falcon. So not only is Dash a superior pilot, he also pilots a superior vessel. This bounty just kept getting better, I thought bitterly. I was beginning to regret accepting this assignment.
We emerged from hyperspace in the midst of the Both system, streaking toward the infamous planet Bothawui, home of the famed Bothan Spynet. Bothawui is a terrestrial planet marked with lush, emerald continents and vast, sapphire oceans. Bothawui’s continents featured peaks and valleys sprinkled amid plains lush with grain farms. There also a handful of cosmopolitan areas, such as Drev’starn, Bothawui’s capital.
I received clearance to land from the Drev’starn Docking Authority.
“What can you tell about this place?” I asked Staphon.
“Not much, young man,” Staphon answered, “the only Imperial presence to speak of on Bothawui is an embassy located in the capital city of Drev‘starn. All major organizations in the galaxy pretty much have an unwritten agreement to let Bothawui be a neutral ground. The Empire has spies here; so do the Rebellion, the Corporate Sector, the Hutts, and even Black Sun has a nest of spies here. Other than that, all I can tell you is that it’s the home of the famed Bothan Spynet.”
I rolled my eyes at the ridiculous obviousness of Staphon’s statement. “Well, I kinda knew the Bothan Spynet would be here, wise guy. Thanks for the hot tip.”
My sometimes idiotic friend shrugged his shoulders. “You asked. I answered.”
“If I wanted rather obvious information, I’d have brought along a 3PO unit instead of you. Do you know anything useful to me?” I demanded.
“Doubt it. I’ve never been here before either,” Staphon clarified.
“Ugh. Strap in. We’re about to land.”
I turned my attention back to piloting my vessel. I don’t like going into any situation without information, but I didn’t appear to have a choice in the matter.
I skillfully, if I do say so myself, piloted the Titan into docking bay 231-B, as I had been directed. After the ship had touched down, I killed power to the engines and turned to Staphon. “You coming?”
“What possible help could I be?” Staphon said, holding up his hands in a helpless manner. “I’m a smuggler, not a bounty hunter, baby.”
“Nice cowardly turn of a phrase.” With that, I exited the cockpit and proceeded to Muehlenkha’s quarters.
“Hey, we landed,” I told my Noghri friend. “You ready to go?”
“I’m sorry, Afcuyo Fraden, I cannot,” Muehlenkha solemnly admitted.
Perplexed, I asked, “How are you going to honor your life debt if you’re not with me?” I realized in hindsight that wasn’t the most altruistic question I could have asked.
Roughly a standard year ago, I had helped Muehlenkha out in a scrap that erupted at the Orange Lady. We hadn’t met before that day, but I wasn’t a fan of unfair fights, or thugs who picked on other people just because they thought they were hard. Both occurred that particular night when a group of three Rodians decided they wanted to bully Muehlenkha. Muehlenkha, disguised as a Jawa, was doing his best to avoid confrontation, but when the Rodian thugs started pulling their blasters, I found myself pulling mine as well. Muehlenkha did most of the work himself breaking one Rodians wrist, and ripping the other’s throat out with his claws. I mowed the other down with my blaster. We fled when the hefty Herglic bouncer began to pursue us.
Muehlenkha later pledged an honor-debt to me. Muehlenkha explained that among his people, the Noghri, such a practice was common. The honor-debt would not be fulfilled until Muehlenkha had deemed that he had performed an act, or acts, which were equal to or greater than what I had done for him.
I, seeing only an opportunity at the time, accepted. I was eager to have a partner as lethal as Muehlenkha in a scrap. I had also convinced Muehlenkha to train me in the Noghri fighting style: Stava. For the past year, in between hunting bounties and the occasional smuggling run with Staphon, we trained together. I had proved to be an apt apprentice, which surprised both of us, though I could never use Stava as effectively as a Noghri could, lacking claws such as I was.
As time progressed I found I thought of Muehlenkha more and more as a friend, and not a means to an end. I genuinely cared for Muehlenkha, and hoped that he felt the same.
“I have not been entirely forthcoming with you,” Muehlenkha began, “about my situation. My race is known only to the Emperor, Lord Vader, and a few other highly placed Imperial officials. The Noghri serve the Empire as secret assassins. Our world is undiscovered. Only the Emperor and Lord Vader know of its existence.”
I was shocked upon hearing this information. I was also thoroughly confused as to where this story might be heading, and by the Imperial intrigue, but hoped it didn’t show on my face. I just nodded supportively and allowed Muehlenkha to continue.
“The Noghri are indebted to Lord Vader and his master for their service to my people. Our world was ravaged by a battle in space many years ago. Lord Vader provided my people with the means to repair our world and make it hospitable once more, or so I thought.”
As I finally saw where this might be heading, I interrupted the somber Noghri with a query, “They tricked you, didn’t they?”
“Indeed. I had discovered that my people are being duped by the Empire.” Muehlenkha took a deep breath, and continued, “I was injured on my last mission. While I lay in my bed in the medical ward, a couple of Imperial officers who believed me unconscious spoke about it. Somehow, they have rigged the ecology of my home world, Honoghr, so that nothing would grow again even though the decon droids toil endlessly.”
I still found his circumstances to be somewhat ambiguous, so I attempted to gain some clarity. “So you’re afraid if you’re seen, they’ll capture you?”
“No. What I fear is if I’m seen, or the Empire finds out that I’ve deserted, they will punish my people. I’ve have no qualms about being seen on Nar Shaddaa. The citizens there wouldn’t know the value of turning me in. There are no Imperials. On Bothawui, however…”
I finally understood. “I understand. Look, just stay here. If I get in a tight spot, I’ll flick on my comlink. Keep yours on and with you in case I need back up. But, just a quick question.” I hoped my question wouldn’t upset him, but I was extremely curious to know the answer. “If you know that your people are being tricked, why haven’t you gone home to tell them?”
Muehlenkha inhaled deeply and slowly released a burdensome breath before answering. “The Emperor and Lord Vader are treated as deities by my people. They are seen as saviors of our planet. I cannot accuse them without proof. I, however, haven’t the slightest clue where to even begin searching for this proof.”
I absently nodded my head while he explained that to me. It all made sense in an odd sort of way. “Okay, well hang tight here. Hopefully our trip here will be nothing more than me asking a question and receiving an answer.”
“Thank you for understanding, Afcuyo Fraden. You honor me.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Eh, don’t worry about it. I doubt Rendar is still here anyway. But hopefully I can find out where he went.”
I disembarked from the ship, then the docking facility. I had no idea where to even begin looking for the Intergalactic Trade Mission, but I was able to find a taxi driver who knew how to get there. I arrived at the Intergalactic Trade Mission without incident.
The Intergalactic Trade Mission was an onyx skyscraper cloaked almost entirely with tenebrous windows. I quite liked the design. It matched my mission and personality perfectly.
Many affluent-looking business-sentients were streaming in and out of the entrance when I disembarked from my taxi. What a businessman would want with a couple of rebels was well beyond my comprehension.
An obstacle presented itself when I tried to enter the building. There was a disgruntled Bothan security officer on guard at the door and he wanted to see a pass. I very obviously didn’t have one so it was time for a little Corellian ingenuity. Or is bribery considered political ingenuity?
“Does this work for a pass?” I asked, producing fifty credits and slapping it into his hand.
“I don‘t know,” the surly Bothan replied, scratching his head. “It kinda looks like a pass, but it could be counterfeit.”
Everyone has a price. I sighed and slapped another fifty credits into the Bothan’s hands.
“Ah. That’s it,” the gruff guard said with an arrogant smile. “Pass accepted. Enjoy your visit citizen.”
“Thank you,” I said bitingly. Greedy groundpounder.
I spotted an information droid after having traveled a few steps from the covetous security guard. I astutely recognized it to be an information droid because it was marked with a sign that read: Information. There’s not much I can’t deduce. It’s a talent.
I traversed the room to where the droid stood. “Do you know where I might find Koth Melan?” I asked.
The droid regarded me with a blank expression. I assume that’s the only way a droid can regard someone. “Level sixteen, number seven,” the droid answered in a detached, mechanical voice.
Armed now with some idea where I could find Melan, I headed toward the turbolifts.
Once inside, I hit the appropriate button to get to level 16, which coincidentally had a 1 and a 6 on it. Again, I’m very clever. What happened once I arrived on level 16, however, didn’t leave me feeling very clever. In fact, it very nearly caused me to soil myself.