Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Business as Unusual

"These three Trandoshan walk into a bar..."

Unfortunately, Maya reminded herself as she watched them cross the threshold, the other half of that joke was always, "It doesn't survive." Known for being belligerent, hostile, and outright violent for little or no reason, Trandoshans were some of the worse customers on all of Tattooine. Not only did they tend to assume everything existed for their personal gratification, they took great pleasure in breaking things.

And people.

It was the lunch rush, a time when her bar was already packed nearly to capacity. She silently prayed to the Maker that she had three empty seats somewhere in here. If she didn't, there'd be three empty soon enough. Maya didn't relish the thought of what this scaly trio would do to make that happen.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Vaaro slip into the side room. Good; he'd seen them too. The side closet was where Maya kept the bar's stockpile of weapons. Even now, as they'd worked out months ago for just such an occasion, Vaaro was getting a stunner grenade ready and loading a fresh energy clip into the biggest gun they had with a stun setting. Trandos were notoriously hard to put down but a carbine burst of neural energy could say "good night" to just about anything.

Just as she'd feared, the three reptilians had found a table and it was was already occupied. Two human moisture farmers, representative of the bulk of her customers, looked up at the Trandoshans and stayed seated. They were tired, hungry, and in no mood to be pushed around by the likes of this triad.

One of the humans fingered a ring on his right hand, a gesture Maya found rather odd. Staring at the bit of steel jewelry, she hissed in a quick breath. "Scarlet Wake," she muttered quietly. This was not going to end well.

The Scarlet Wake was an extremist group led by an unknown magnate from off-world. Maya suspected the faction was based on Coruscant but there'd never been any proof of that. One of the most violent of the humanocentric hate groups, the Scarlet Wake had been gaining support here on Tattooine for a few years now. Farmers and merchants, tired of Tusken raids and frequent crimes committed by non-humans, could only be pushed so far before they started looking for ways to push back.

The Scarlet Wake was, for many, exactly what hard times called for - intolerance and force.

The Trandoshans seemed ignorant to all this. All they knew and all they needed to know was that these two scrawny humans weren't moving out of "their" seats. Maya watched as the Trando in the back of the trio clenched one scaled fist and extended the other hand, making an obvious threat with his viciously sharp-looking claws. The other two bared their fangs and snarls, a gesture of challenge and irritation.

The humans continued to sit their ground but behind them, several others did stand. But not to vacate their seats; no, several of her patrons were moving to back up the two farmers and face down the newcomers. These Trandoshans weren't regulars and they weren't here for anything but a fight. Just this one, Maya wished her customers wouldn't be so accommodating.

The lizardman pointing with his claws rasped in broken Basic, "We sit here or we only ones able to sit when this all done." His meaning was obvious, made all the more so as his two companions flexed their fingers and fully extended their own talons.

The farmer with the ring barked out a harsh laugh. "Hah! Three scaleheads against six o' Mos Espa's finest? We'll make boots out of you, snakeys!"

She groaned inwardly. Most Trandoshans only knew a limited smattering of Galactic Basic but each and every one of them seemed to have an intuitive understanding of when they were being insulted. The one in the back growled something she couldn't make out and before anyone, even Vaaro in the closet doorway, could react, it all went wrong.

The Trandoshan nearest to the ringwearer lashed out almost faster than the eye could see and where his claws passed, an arc of red followed. The farmer went down in a gurgle of blood, his throat open in three gushing lines. Shock registered on the numb faces of the five remaining humans. Even the Trandoshans seemed surprised, though Maya bitterly expected they were really just caught in momentary death-lust over the sight of so much crimson.

Vaaro was the first to recover, bless him. He popped the catch off his stunner and heaved it at that side of the bar. With luck, it would catch the Trandoshans from behind and get all three in its blast radius. If not, even taking down one would make the fight to come easier. Maya ducked under the bar to get her hold-outs. They weren't much but in tandem they could pack quite a punch.

Unfortunately, Vaaro's luck wasn't with him today. The leader of the Trandos saw the hurtling granade and smacked it back at Vaaro with a snarl and a swat of his thick, scaled palm. The ovoid flew over the bar, over Maya's kneeling body, and landed in the closet a meter from the surprised Rodian. The resulting flare caught him full in the side, sending him crashing down out of the room in an unconscious heap.

Maya stood up, saw her partner twitching on the floor wreathed in ionic energy, and sighed. This day was definitely headed to Nal Hutta in a handbasket. Over the slumped form of the still gasping farmer, battle had been joined. The humans had their own claws in the form of vibroknives, broken bottles, and powered tools. The clash was a vicious one, but she could already see who was going to win.

For all their bravado, her customers were just farmers and technicians with far more guts than soldiering skill. If she didn't want to be mopping those guts off her floor in an hour, she'd have to intervene. Closing her eyes, she drew on the other training the Rebellion had given her.

Much as she hated to do this, she was a damn fine shot. A light blaster in each hand, she took quick aim and started squeezing off stun blots as fast as she could pull their triggers. This kind of shooting was easy, really; she didn't particularly care what she hit. If she stunned a patron, his dropping prone would make it that much harder for the Trandoshans to hit him. Of course, her patrons weren't her intended targets.

It took four shots to drop the left Trandoshan, the one that had ripped open the Scarlet's throat. She planted each of those shots center mass in a flurry of gun play, each bright beam more than enough to get the other two Trandos' attention. That worked too; it distracted the brutal thugs.

Her patrons made good use of the moment's pause as the reptilians turned their focus to her. Maya was already reorienting on the leader of the Trandoshans when her regulars introduced his compatriot to the business end of a battleboard table. She winced as its holographic display exploded in a shower of sparks; that was one expensive club! Still, she couldn't argue with results. The Trandoshan went down in an electrically sizzled, unconscious heap.

The sole reptile left hissed viciously and leaped the distance between his defeated comrades and the bar where she was crouched. The alien's powerful legs cleared the gap easily, allowing him to jump completely over her next spray of blaster bolts and land on the bar top above her. Staring down, he had murder in his eyes.

Even as her patrons rushed forward to try and intercept, the trained killer reached down and grabbed her wrists. Squeezing with inexorable strength, he forced her to drop her blasters. Crying out in pain, she couldn't resist his mass or his might as he lifted her off the ground towards her own, fang-rimmed maw...

Then, for the second time, she heard a ragged voice murmur the word, "Don't."

The voice was quiet, yet somehow managed to force everyone in the bar to freeze in their tracks. Even the other patrons, the ones that were streaming out the exit, locked up as a single word stopped them cold.

The Trandoshan blinked, milky lenses flicking over its reflective eyes, and then recovered. Roaring in fury, it threw Maya to the ground behind the bar and jumped straight at the stranger in the doorway to the bar's back room. Its claws bared, its mouth wide, the Trandoshan was obviously meaning to swoop in for the kill!

Two of her best patrons, a mushroom tender named Vaak and a junk dealer/smuggler who went by the alias Cranker, climbed over the bar to try and help her. Maya had to struggle past their concerned arms to helplessly watch the grisly fate her patient was about to meet. When a Trandoshan became enraged, even Wookiees were hard pressed to withstand their assaults.

Only this one wasn't raging any more. In fact, it wasn't doing much of anything. The Trandoshan was hovering in mid air, wind whipping around it so quickly its clothing was beginning to shred. The air in the bar suddenly felt charged, as if a thunderstorm were about to erupt indoors. Clutching at nothing, the Trandoshan bully howling in impotent anger, kicking and lashing helplessly as its clothes began to smolder from the passage of dozens of tiny lightning arcs all over its body.

"We should get to safety!" Vaak whispered as he helped Maya stand.

Cranker took another look at the storm-wracked Trandoshan and shook his head. "Where in the Core would you consider safe? Naboo?"

Before the indignant mushroomer could respond, the Trandoshan started moving again. And then stopped moving entirely. The reptilian alien flew backwards over the bar, over the knocked over tables, and into the far wall of the cantina. The impact crater was nearly a foot deep, more than enough to hold the alien's crushed body in place long after life had rattled out of its pulped lungs.

Then, as if paralyzed, those remaining in the bar watched the black-eyed stranger walk slowly from the doorway over to the bubbling farmer lying in a pool of his own blood. The Scarlet Waker was still barely alive, holding onto life by the thinnest of threads. The bandage and blanket-clad stranger knelt at his side, put one hand on his rent throat, and closed his midnight eyes.

For a long moment, nothing happened. The room was still that a few of the cantina's patrons found the wherewithal to move again. Cranker hopped the bar again and made Vaaro comfortable. Maya noted quietly and with some amusement that the Rodian would be in foul mood when he awoke. Still, he'd likely have only gotten himself hurt or killed if the stunner hadn't taken him down.

It was Vaak who spoke first. "S-s-sir?" He was addressing the stranger, though the latter's lack of response made his attempt useless. The man was deep in concentration, the bones of his hand where he held the farmer's throat visible through his pale skin as if they were emitting some sort of light.

Magalo Jackt, another patron of hers, said what everyone in the bar was thinking. "Jedi." The only thing of Magalo bigger than his appetite was his mouth; in this case, Maya was willing to forgive the statement. It wasn't like she could hide the stranger or his gifts after this.

Then the farmer coughed a gobbet of blood and groaned against the kneeling man's leg. "Wha... what happened?"

"You were dying." The man's voice was barely a whisper, sounding much like the Waker's own harsh, damaged breathing. He would survive, thanks to this stranger, but his throat would likely never heal fully.

The Scarlet Wake farmer didn't seem to care about that right now. Clapping a grateful hand on the stranger's shoulder, he got up and looked around the bar. He only needed one second of seeing Maya's furious expression to decide it was time to go. "Let's go, boys. Happy Hour's over." Then he grabbed his sun hat, nodded in thanks to the unresponsive wanderer once again, and vacated her cantina immediately.

Now that the stranger was alone in the middle of the bar floor, Maya could not resist going to him any longer. "Sir, are you all right?" She grabbed another sheet from behind the counter and moved to his side. "That had be very drai..."

Even as she spoke, he was swooning. The man's black eyes closed again as he fell backwards. Both she and Vaak were there, catching him and easing him down onto the new blanket. He was already unconscious again, looking even paler than before.

"Thank you, Vaak. Please help me get him back into bed?"

The old mushroom farmer nodded and lifted the stranger all by himself. "Just lead the way, Maymay. I'll carry 'im as far as ya need me ta."

Maya closed the bar for the afternoon and let everyone go without paying their tabs. She'd need time to sort this out. Time to clean up the damage. Time to call the port authorities to pick up the two unconscious Trandos. Time to pry the dead one off the wall.

And time to figure out what she was going to do with her dangerous, half-dead "guest"...




3 comments:

Zay said...

I could'a swore you said it was going to stop raining on Jeht? ;)

Erisraven said...

Yeah, yeah, Jeht's gotta have his quotient of pain before he can get back up. I blame the Holocron. :)

Tarek said...

It did stop raining on Jeht... he's on Tatooine. :)