Abigail sat in the co-pilot seat holding an ice-pack to a bump on her forehead. Cazran stood behind her and gave her a shoulder massage. "You'll be all right," he said to his wife. "We survived and we're in the clear."
The woman sipped from a bottle of chilled water. "I've had close calls, but that beats the record. Dear frak, Cazran, that was crazy."
"I know." He kissed the top of her head. "I'll choose a tamer case, next time. We'll hunt down lost kittens." She snorted and leaned her head back, their lips meeting.
Reigns and T-7 soon appeared at the threshold, the former red in the face and soaked in sweat. "Thrusters are back." He wiped his face on his already damp shirt. The astromech hooted cheerfully.
Cazran nodded and sat back down. His eye caught a specific flashing bulb on the console. "We gotta message. Must've missed it in the action." He pressed a button and static came from the speakers over their heads, clearing into a human voice.
"Surrender." Laser blasts rose in the background. "You want to keep that gorgeous girl safe, don't you? Surrender and give her over. I'll destroy you after, but she'll live." The three in the cockpit glanced to one another curiously. The voice of the now-deceased pilot continued, "Stop firing, idiot. Fine. Have it your way. Down you go. Your schutta can turn to space dust for all I care." Cazran deleted the message and leaned back, looking to Abigail.
The woman rolled her eyes. "Worked out great for him, didn't it?"
Reigns leaned back on the door frame and sank down to sit. "Sounds . . . familiar, doesn't it?"
"Nukk the Hutt sent him." Cazran remembered back to what the Hutt had said to him in the dance bar. "That slug connects Gaspare to both Gronwe and Irene."
Abigail set her ice-pack down on the console. "What do you mean?"
"Nukk arranges for Gaspare to meet the wives of wealthy men, for a cut of the stolen credits. This time it was Gronwe, who did something to piss off the Hutt. Poor business decisions? Doesn't matter. We have a good lead on where to find the Falleen. The case is almost closed."
"Help me find Daisy," Reigns said. "Maybe we can move fast enough to stop that piece of crap from . . . you know." T-7 gave a sympathetic sound.
"We're going to the Hutt's tower at top speeds, buddy." Cazran turned his attention to the computer and scrolled through recent data, searching for the location of the network Abigail had tried to hack earlier.
"This is a bad idea," Abi said. "We're already in the Cartel's cross-hairs. You really want to make it worse?'
- - -
Cazran sat on the base of an antenna spire at the top of a skyscraper a kilometer from Nukk's tower. A beskad sword hung sheathed at his back to a strap. At his belt were his usual Mandalorian heavy blaster and kal dagger. Abigail had landed their freighter on a pad behind and far below him.
Shrieking winds whipped at his long hair. T-7 the astromech, beside him on the slab of metal, pointed a miniature satellite dish at the enemy's domain, feeding to Cazran's ear-piece the conversations taking place all that distance away. He brought macrobinoculars to his eyes and zoomed their sights in on the floor where an elite banquet was taking place. He could see three meters forward along the edge of the window wall. A lot of shoes, heels, slacks, and dresses.
He switched to infrared and saw people as shapes filled with faint light. The further away they were from the window, the rougher their images, but he could make out finer details on those closer, such links on chain necklaces or individual teeth when someone smiled.
Aristocrats sipped at expensive wine and sampled bite-sized delicacies. They chatted about economics, children, or weather on far-away planets. He perceived their smiles as fake, their chuckles forced, their interest in others feigned. A woman played sleepy music on an electric organ. The Hutt sat on a platform at the front of the room, attended by servants who made sure he always had fresh food in reach. A Twi'lek male in a black robe would periodically break from visiting with the guests to go whisper in the Hutt's ear slit.
The confidant wished a human couple a good evening as they left through the door next to a statue fountain. He pulled out a datapad from his pocket and checked the screen, became still for a few seconds, then walked faster than ever for Nukk across the room.
"Your Highness. The detectives neutralized the pilot-assassin we sent."
Nukk groaned. "Relocate him to a panic room until further notice." The Twi'lek nodded, turned, and hurried down a hallway and out of sight.
Caz set the macrobinoculars down and took a comm out of his pocket. "Abi. He's in there. Do your thing."
T-7 beeped his well wishes.
"Sit tight." The man stood as the freighter took position next to the base of the spire. He kicked off the edge, landed on the vessel in a crouch, and grabbed the edge of a module with his cybernetic hand to brace for the trip. He raised his blaster in the other hand.
The ship flew forward. Caz let his lids fall close as air swept his face. Too soon they were at the tower. The laser cannons fired, short bursts that shattered the transparasteel. He opened his eyes and enjoyed the natural exhilaration as the ship whirled about. He heard the ramp lower, heard the elite scream and order their own to safety. Fireworks sounded. Reigns threw rigged concussive grenades among the ranks of the spoiled . . . those whose high-life had rendered them soft and weak.
The man rose, turned, and ran. His bound covered the distance from ship to carpeted floor. The screams changed to pathetic moans. Security appeared at the corridor; two shoulder to shoulder, stepping over bodies. Caz aimed and fired. He wanted as a pilot. He was a man out of place and time. The war was long over, everywhere except here and now. He blasted man after man. Headshots. They fell backwards dead.
The ship hovered in place a few meters outside. Abigail played her real life holo-game of shooting down exterior security droids. Reigns fired an automatic from the opened cargo bay, covering Cazran.
Pawns swarmed from two entrances, too clumped together. Caz switched a setting on his pistol, shot a frag over the heads of said pawns at one entrance. The sphere bounced off the ceiling, off the wall, landed in their middle.
The Hutt gurgled threats and obscenities. Caz replaced his blaster on his belt, and extracted his sword from its casing. He slashed a second wide, slobbering slit under the first. Guts spilled.
The man entered a corridor at a run, pausing for a second to slap a sticky-det on the wall. He pressed his ear-piece. "Direct me to the target's last known location, T-7." Ten seconds later there was a loud bang and the passage was blocked. T-7, a kilometer away, hacked the tower's systems and uploaded the lock codes to Cazran's cybernetic eye. He stalked the halls and invaded rooms, punching codes into consoles to allow him entrance into locked-down sections. His optical implant overlayed a glowing trail on the floor.
He encountered more security personel. When they were out of arm's reach, he weaved in and out of cover behind objects in the area, such as containers or furniture, eventually rushing his enemy and cutting them down. Sometimes there were two or three foes together, at which point he stayed put and pick them off with his blaster until only one remained.
Soon the portal to his destination swooshed open, Caz holding his blaster in both hands, arms extended out in front of him. Several distinct facts hit him at once. Two dozen naked and half-naked women bustled about, trying to get dressed. They stopped and stared a moment after he appeared. The widest bed he had ever seen was set against one wall, while wardrobes lined the opposite. There was a plateful of what looked to be wedding rings on an elevated plate beside the door. Place smelled of perfume and sweat. Sex.
"Where's the Falleen?" He pointed the blaster at a dark-complected woman in an exotic dancer's bikini and shawls.
"Protect our master," said a barely-legal girl with curly blond hair, dressed in panties and jingling bracelets.
Most females murmured in agreement.
"Give him time to escape." One with a shaved head wriggled her fingers ending in sharpened nails. In fact --- he noticed they all had those dangerous-looking claws.
Caz flicked the stun switch with his gun and started shooting at women. He needed into that room to search for the secret passage out. It was apparently off the grid, and T-7's help ended here. He hit one after the other but their numbers were too much and they moved fast. Banshee-like wails filled his ears. He backed a couple steps into the hall when two engaged his either side, slashing his arm and face. A third pushed his blaster down. He jerked his arm free and punched that third girl in the head. She whimpered and went down. But a fourth thudded onto his front, gripping him with her limbs while head-butting him. Pain spread from his nose. He felt his body going numb. He went to his knees, fell over. Someone pulled his weapon away. Their nails had to be coated in neuro-toxin. Doubtful that it was deadly, for the safety the harem itself.
"Get back, girls, I found a blaster." Their weight left him. He could think lucidly, but his body was losing mobility. He tried to move his legs to find them dead. His last hope was his cybernetic arm, its movements determined mostly by impulses in his central nervous system. Even when his muscles became stunned, he could manage some motion, albeit sluggish. He reached for the last grenade in his pouch.
A blaster bolt hit him on the chest, fluctuating the Arkanian energy shields. He felt a vague impact, but luckily the toxin numbed the worst. He unclipped the pouch. More bolts hit him, increasing his pain, pushing his shields toward a malfunction that would mean his death.
He raised his arm several inches, pressed the activator on the spherical weapon, and used the strength and lingering dexterity in his hand and fingers to throw the device toward the woman firing the blaster. The concussive grenade made a great 'poof' noise, bodies hit the floor, and everything went silent. Light consumed his vision, his ears rang, and his mind spun.
A few minutes later of trying to move, he sat up to immediately feel dizzy and neauseous. Wicked hang-over. He went to all-fours, bent his leg and set one foot flat, tried to stand. He toppled. A voice said in his ear, "Cazran. Cazran?"
"Yeah, I'm here. Fill me in."
"You sound groggy. What's up?"
"Light poison. Wearing off. Sup with you?"
"Lizard's in a parking garage. I'm suppressing him, but Reigns picked up a transmission. They called in reinforcements. Hurry."
- - -
Cazran threw back a pillow and found a tiny red button on the bed head board. He pressed it, and the back of wardrobe opened into a passageway.
Bleeding gashes decorated the man's face and arms. The injuries were, by his reckoning, shallow.
He stumbled out into a parking garage. Thick stone pillars held up its ceiling and one side was opened to the night sky outside. Speeders lined the spots by the door. He heard cannons and blasters firing floors above him.
He ran up a flight of stairs, across a duracrete stretch, then up more steps. Sweat dribbled down his face. Muscles in his legs ached. His head swam. But he pushed on up the steps and into the next garage. The lot must have stretched for half a klick to his right. Ahead of him, its width opened to the city. Wind wailed through the industrial vacancy, carrying stenches of pollution. Speeder traffic flowed, signs flashed, and thousands of windows twinkled. . . far away. Closer, security droids fired lasers at his ship, which corkscrewed, dove, and rose. Caz reached into his pocket and opened a case of stimulants. He placed the tip of an adrenaline ejector to his leg and pressed the top. A slight sting. He watched his wife pilot the ship as the chemicals flooded his veins. Once every few seconds it returned fire, and once every few tries it hit a droid.
"Abigail. I'm at your floor. Where's the Falleen?"
"Baby, tell me where you are. I can pick you up."
"Where's the Falleen?"
"Somewhere around you, I think. Lost him in the shadows. You sure you wanna ---"
"Get out of here, Abi. I'll call you when I'm done."
"Caz, you're being stupid. You're a man against ---"
The engines flared and the freighter zoomed off toward greater civilization. The Mandalorian walked through beams of light and shafts of darkness cast by pillars, his senses heightened and alert, his sword held out in front of him in both hands. The wind died down.
Fabric wooshed behind him, something scraped the floor. Cazran rotated and went after the source. Faint sounds came and faded. Pause, listen, move. Again. He stepped within blade's reach of the railing at the edge and glimpsed a silheoutte of a ridged cranium, top-knotted hair, and smoke-like robes. And so the hunt went until the man, while keeping still, sensed a slight mass disrupting air flow to his side.
He rushed at the Falleen and, upon beholding the dark shape of his body, swung downward.
Gaspare blocked with one end of his vibro double-blade, pushed the beskad a few inches to the side, and thrust for Cazran's face.
The man moved his head out of the way, feeling the edge slice his cheek. He tilted his blade inward, thus keeping the staff on the outside of his body, then raced along the vibro's length and slashed at Gaspare's chin.
The reptile twirled his weapon so that he held it horizontally in front of him and brought it up, contacting the sharp edge of the beskad and slowing its progress.
Cazran spun his blade rightside up and stabbed forward, under the staff. Gaspare at the same instance pushed the vibro into the human's collar bone. Caz felt his blade stab into cartiledge right before he stumbled backward.
The two dueled across the garage, equally giving and taking minor damage. But damage that gradually added up to major. They bled as they slashed, dodged, stabbed, or parried. They scraped their weapons on surfaces that caused sparks to burn their clothing. Caz felt the adrenaline running its course as the intense minutes flashed by.
Eventually he chopped the staff in half.
His target flung both pieces at Caz, then turned and ran.
Caz swept both of them aside and gave chase along the railing. Damn. This alien was fast. Where was he even going? He lunged, tackled him.
Gaspare had already started rolling around so he would land on his back. They hit the floor together.
The Mandalorian, holding the sword in one hand, stabbed down at the Falleen's throat. Gaspare managed to cross both his forearms over himself and hold the worst of the attack at bay, though the tip dug a few centimeters into his neck.
Cazran pushed down. He registered the resistance strengthen, pushing his offending arm up a few inches, then give way. A sharp object sliced Caz's wrist. The sting momentarily surprised him. He spotted a blade from a bracelet on his opponent's wrist.
Gaspare stabbed him in his organic eye.
The detective growled harshly as blood gushed from the socket. He grabbed the hand at his face, pulled it out, and pinned it to the hard floor beside them. But his cybernetic arm was free. He reached down. Gaspare pushed back. The servomotors were stronger. Caz took hold of the first thing he could, which so happened to be the Falleen's jaw.
"Do you know the feeling?" The man underneath groaned, allowing his muscles to slacken. "Their pupils dilate, their cheeks redden, their smiles are slow-forming and honest. They laugh at your every joke, however obvious."
Caz loosened his grip a bit.
"They search for excuses to touch you. First by teasing slaps on your arm due to something risque you claimed, then they rove their fingertips from elbow to hand, or move their foot up your leg under the table. Tantalizing creatures, aren't they? Human women."
Cazran felt his mind fogging. Worse than the pollution in the skies of Nar Shaddaa. He felt his grip loosen even more as he began to question himself. Why was he truly attacking this exotic creature? This person. What right did a lowly Mandalorian have to soil biological art?
"Psychologists toil years away trying to understand what is going on in their brains," Gaspare continued. "Women flaunt their mystique in front of men, teasing, pulling back, over and again. You can have them, you can own them, or so you think until they laugh and leave you cold. The power of femininity drives men to suicide by legions, but we men come back for more. Oh, your race will always replicate. But mankind shall blunder ever in the evolutionary murk until it can comprehend the woman." He started wriggling his pinned hand free. "For she --- the female --- is the most important of the two sexes."
A female voice, puncuated by sobs, sounded in his ear. "You're getting yourself killed, aren't you? Damn it. Talk to me." Abigail. Sweet girl.
Gaspare's knife hand came loose.
Cazran squeezed the Falleen's jaw with all his strength.
Most everything after that was a confused blur. He remembered ripping away the wrist knife, and Gaspare slithering out from under him. And he recalled the piercing pain throughout his body, the streams of his own blood creating a puddle where he sat on his knees, expecting death to claim him at any moment. Every sound reached him from a great distance as shadows crept from the edges of his vision to its cracked center. But there was one bright spot: he saw his wife leaning over him.
His dreams manifested as memories of Cleonara. They were both children on Dxun, a moon of Onderaan. She playfully splashed him while they swam in a calm river. He caught fish for her in his bare hands, she squeeled in delight. The siblings hunted in the thick of moist forests, armed with primitive spears, dressed in loin cloths. She scraped her slender arms on rocks or jagged branches, crying for him to doctor her. He spread herbal salve on her cuts, told her to act like a big girl.
And then they were adults. War phased into existence around him. Cleo, armored, her eyes gone hard, told him the Republic was encroaching on the base. She faded and reappeared further away. He ran after her. Bolts littered the air in front of him, striking his armor. His sister kept distancing herself. Boiling smoke obscured his vision, burning flesh invaded his nostrils, and he heard a chorus cry, "Die with honor!"
- - -
Cazran opened his eyelid and stared at a ceiling. The other eye was covered by something. He groaned as he turned his head either way to find he lay on sectioned bed with handles at both sides, his torso raised about forty-five degrees. At first he was a stranger to himself in a strange room. His identity and whereabouts returned to him incrementally as he glanced to a medical table, a screen on the wall displaying his vitals, and clothes bunched in a corner by the portal. Dread and realization crawled into his mind. Maybe he would be better off if he forgot everything about his life and started over again. Those memories in the form of feverish nightmares seemed foreign right now, and some part of him deep inside said that they should stay as such.
A stunning woman entered the cramped infirmary, dressed in a white tank-top, shorts that reached her knees, and sandals. She had a pleasingly curved figure. Fit, with a bit of meat on her bones. Narrow waist, wide hips, handfuls of breasts. Pale eyes and a liberal sprinkling of freckles. She saw him awake and beamed, pronounced canines silently promising that she would bite into anything that would dare try to harm her partner. Abigail Wudruf. The young female stepped for him and set a hand on his. "Morning, captain. How you feeling?"
"Like crap," he scoffed. "Is this all a dream?"
She smiled and leaned down, kissing his forehead. "Your eye. I'm sorry."
He rubbed the temple next to his blind eye. "Don't be. The other one was my choice, a long time ago. No regrets. But here, I just got sloppy."
Abi sat on the edge of the bed and gazed down at him sympathetically. "Just relax. We'll get your eye fixed up soon."
He shook his head. "No. It's not mine anymore. He stole it, like a warrior. I'm using my one good eye to look forward to repaying the favor."
She kneeded her forehead before nodding in resignation. "All right, big man, but we should think about burning sky here pretty soon. You toppled Nukk the Hutt's empire, and a lot of his partners are going to be looking to put us out of business." She tilted her head and clicked her tongue, looking to the ceiling. "That is, after Lachlen pays us."
"We'll disappear for a few weeks," Caz said. "Nukk and Gaspare ran a cuckolding ring. Whether those were the wives of Nukk's enemies or allies, doesn't matter. The Cartel will want to distance themselves."
"Yeah, well," Abi admitted. "Turns out those were the wives of his business partners. He used Gaspare to blackmail them into doing what he wanted, or punishing them when they stepped outta line."
Caz raised a brow. "How long have I been out?"
"What became of our would-be prisoner, by the way?"
"He's working in the engine room. Nobody knows what happened to Daisy." That news made him more grateful that he had Abigail still by his side.
He pulled her into a long, wet, passionate kiss. Lust invigorated him. His wife had saved his life, nursed him back to health, and ran the ship during his recovery.
She straddled him. He stripped her, she stripped him. They frakked hard and loud. . . an act that energized greater than any manufactured stimulant.