The drop through Nar Shaddaa's skyline was a bumpy damn ride, and trying to direct Karn where they needed to land wasn't exactly a cake walk. The Quarren did not enjoy other people telling him what to do, and was apparently enjoying asserting his freedom in new and petty ways.
Still, they managed to pull into the right landing bay after it all, skidding only a little bit as landing gear thudded against the steel as they screeched to a stop. Marissa was just happy to be back at the drop off. Well, close too anyhow. Escort Mallek back to his old friends and well she and Preef would be sitting nice and pretty for a little while, they're positions well established within the Syndicates.
Though she still had her savings away from the casino job, the extra flow from this wouldn't hurt, save her tapping into her retirement fund too early. As for Preef, well, perhaps his sister would need a little setting up now that she was back. She'd gotten a decent bit of rest on the ship, there were enough supplies on there to patch her up well and good, in the scheme of things her injuries would be just fine,
"Just one more step" she came down from the cockpit as close to beaming as one could imagine, putting a hand on Preef's shoulder as she passed to the boarding ramp "I think I preferred Cantonica" she said to him with a wry smile as she stepped off the ship, another success as far as she was concerned. Time to call this in and wash their hands of it.
It had taken a few days to get to Nar Shaddaa and that meant that eventually Geena had ran out of excuses. Turns out that Geena was in fact part of the reason the Crimson Dawn had bought Preef from the Hutts. She'd been doing odd jobs for Vivienne for about half a decade, ranging from simple surveillance to honey-traps and shakedowns of Core World business men. Two years ago she got caught running surveillance on a Coruscanti politician and because she'd witnessed something he wasn't proud of (an affair with a Chevin) he made sure Geena received the maximum sentence on the most far away and isolated prison he could think of.
Now, Preef knew she made all of it up for she didn't have her own Crimson Dawn tattoo and she kept referring to Vivienne Donatade as an uncharismatic Zabrak with dyed hair, but the more time he spent with her the more he remembered why she hadn't been able to become a surrogate parent to him. A Glitterryll-enhanced depression after one of Shaddaa's scoundrels had cheated her from a starliner ticket had made her a slave to her addictions and a bad stick-up artist to boot. Most likely she did try to con someone important and didn't get sober until a few weeks on that ship. Still, she was his sister and he didn't have the heart to press her for the truth.
As Marissa passed Preef on her way to the ramp he suddenly realized he hadn't told his sister about his ranch on Tokadana and felt guilty over not wanting to. It was just.. well, she couldn't be trusted. Harsh as it was, Preef didn't feel like reconsidering. "No kidding," he replied to his partner. On Cantonica they'd managed to rob a vault with style. This time they'd been stuck in an uncomfortable locker together for hours and had to shoot their way through dozens of FWA-operators just to rescue a Quarren that was so cruel and crazy that he ripped a human's throat out with his bare hands. Kriff... the weirdest thing was that it wasn't their worst job, either. "Still better than Kessel," he said as he followed her down the ramp.
Geena looked at them oddly, clearly somewhere in her own head as she did so and for a moment Preef was afraid she'd faint before suddenly she beamed up and was back in the present. "So, little brother-" she asked in an overly sweet voice, "-spare your sister some credits?"
Looking over at Marissa to telephatically tell her not to interfere, Preef shook his head and turned one of his pockets inside out. "Why else would we sign up for a prison break?" he didn't look Geena in the eyes and instead turned towards the ship as Mallek Karn descended the ramp, gesturing towards him as if to say he was their pot of gold, "You can lay low in the old apartment of Kholvar Varaxes, though-" the Trianii had been gone for a while now, most likely off dead somewhere since a giant cat usually doesn't stay incognito this long even if they tried. "-gotta pick the lock, though." from another pocket Preef pulled a security spike and tossed it over to his sister. "See you there, later?"
Geena nodded, "Yeah. I'll make dinner." They both knew she wouldn't. Preef guessed she'd pawn off some items from Kholvar's apartment and then get reacquainted with her spice habit.
Kessel was, well, certainly one they both would probably rather forget. More often than not these things brought only death or glory, Kessel and had them in fear and tears, but if nothing else it secured Preef in her mind as not only the pre-eminent partner in these questionable undertakings they found themselves on, but perhaps her closest friend as well. That she got to see and hear as much about his personal life as she did at times amazed her, still cagey about her own. There was little to hide, but she had learnt to keep quiet early on in this life.
Looking over Karns shoulder to see he and Geena talking was a sight for sore eyes. As much as there was tension there, and there certainly was, there was affection too. Hopefully the former sorted itself out,
"Come on you two, sooner we're back to Xar, sooner Xar is off ours" even with the beating his reputation had taken after that incident with the Pykes, he could still throw around his weight if he wanted to, and neither of them needed that falling on them. Marissa had spent a large portion of the flight trying to talk to Mallek, who insisted on taking piloting duties throughout. He hadn't thanked them, not yet anyhow, though somehow she didn't expect to hear it anytime soon. Whether he was unwilling to talk to someone he considered a subordinate, or he was just more of a 'talk through your blaster' kinda person, she didn't want to say. He'd kept hard to an exercise routine everyday, breakfast at exact times, sleeping to the minute. Either prison life had done a number on him or else he did not like change. She figured to stay out of his way after that. Instead she had begun looking through the Galactic Museum's contents, the thought of a visit beginning to form in her mind,
"Let's just hope that the FWA didn't know where to follow us" she muttered to herself as she began off into the eternally noisy, stinking surrounds of Nar Shaddaa.
They barely made it into the streets of Nar Shaddaa when someone wanted to know to the now trio that they had overhead Marissa; "Depends on your definition of FWA." A human man walked through the middle of the street, as if to block their passage, and his look just screamed bounty hunter. Preef wasn't unfamiliar with bounty hunters and he also wasn't unfamiliar with their creed, so the rodian stepped forward to reply with a hand on his blaster. "Isn't blasting other hunters against the code?"
The human smiled, "You're just a scoundrel," he slowly opened his jacket to reveal the badge of the Sector Rangers and suddenly more humans caught Preef's eye. All four of them had their gaze fixed on the Quarren. "Mallek Karn is coming with us."
Unbeknownst to Preef another ranger had taken the high ground and was setting up his rifle to ensure a definite end to the rodian's short criminal career. The latter was trying to come up with a witty yet defiant remark, but as always he came up short in that department. "So," he finally replied, extending his left foot sideways so he had a good footing for a shoot-out, "if you're not in the guild."
The look on the Sector Ranger's face spoke the word kriff in so many kriffing languages that he was, like most were these days, too slow to beat the rodian on the draw. None of the other rangers could interfere without the risk of shooting innocent bystanders and the rifle wasn't properly set up yet, thus they all had to watch how Preef landed a shot in the ranger's chest before the latter managed to even get the tip of his barrel out of the holster.
A group of people she’d spent a good part of her adult life trying to avoid had managed to squirrel themselves away on Nar Shaddaa of all places, after the same quarry they were. Where their jurisdiction ended technically, it carried over in practice, a dogged detective might have followed them across the Unknown Regions with no questions asked at the other end so long as the job was done.
At least they weren’t coy about their job today. And Preef wasn’t shy in response, as the blaster bolt seared into the Rangers chest, she knew they needed to move. Marissa threw herself into a side street as one of the men managed to finger his gun from its holster and fire after her, a neon sign getting zapped instead, spluttering and sparking as it crashed down into the ground behind her.
Reaching down to the holdout blaster she kept on her leg, Marissa looked out from behind her cover only to see a bolt from nowhere suddenly shoot down at Karn, shots scattering off the floor around him as he ran his bulky frame forwards and charged at one of the Rangers before them, tackling him to the ground. She couldn’t get an eye on the shooter, but the two out front were still in sight. A series of bolts shot across their position, forcing the one that had been following her to throw themselves behind the corner, a standoff amidst the chaos.
Innocent bystanders freaked the kriff out all around them. That is, they didn't do it without also recognizing Preef and Marissa as members of the Syndicates Collective and their opponents as Sector Rangers. Nar Shaddaa was probably the worst moon to start a public shoot-out as a ranger. Still, they did it and it was cocky as hell. Preef had to admire that.
While there were originally four rangers before Preef shot the first, the panic by the crowd did make it hard for the rodian to track the remaining three until he saw Mallek Karn tackled one and break its neck rather unceremoniously. That left two who quickly dispersed behind cover after Marissa's suppressing fire probably saved Preef's life. To the latter's surprise the Quarren dashed towards the nearest shop and jumped over the counter of the.. the noodle shop.. before barking at the rodian in no uncertain terms. "There's another shooter!" More perceptive than the rodian, Mallek had also registered the odd bolt from the shooter that couldn't have been the two on the same floor than them.
Suddenly realizing the gravity of his position in the open, Preef dashed to the opposite side of the street and hid in an alcove between two shops. The three of them were pretty spread out now and all of them scouring the open levels above for that mysterious third shooter. Preef hated snipers.
And so this little holdup became something a whole lot more dangerous.
With them all split up it would be harder to keep them all locked down, but harder for them to do the same back at the Rangers. Rarely seen this deep into Syndicate territory, she couldn’t help but confirm Mallek’s importance with it. Say they survived all this, it was another hefty deed to attribute to their names, names which were becoming increasingly well known. Which, she presumed, meant better pay checks, and less jobs that involved sliding around in the mud and filth, scrambling for their lives, and bigger cuts if they did have to.
But, as she noted to herself, that was assuming they got out. And as cocky as she was becoming, she wasn’t quite over the fear of death yet, which in this business was a good thing.
Looking over from her position, she spotted Preef in the alley across. Karn has moved forwards, out of sight. If the muscle bound meathead got himself shot there’d be no day in the limelight for them. She didn’t dare call out to Preef though, give away their positions. Instead, she eyed him, moving her arm to get his attention. When she did, she mimed something that she prayed Preef interpreted as ‘you climb up something and spot them, I’ll keep their attention down here’
Holding her blaster tight, she waited for him to confirm before firing off at all.
Preef looked at Marissa and his face betrayed his emotions. He had a face of "well, go kriff yourself, Marissa", because there wasn't a chance in Hutta he was going to climb up to higher ground when there was a sniper out there and two other rangers who, according to the numerous movies about them, were generally a much better shot than gunslinger scoundrels were. Now, he was Preef "kriffing" Callo and he knew he could blast fools faster than.. well, faster than something really fast, but he wasn't so stupid as to risk his life on Marissa's suppressing fire.
Instead, Preef just stood there, hiding, and mulling his options until a bolt struck rather close to his left and he spotted an easy to climb drain pipe going up right at his side. "Ah kriff," he sighed and holstered his blaster to free up his right hand, "If I die I'm going to kill her."
Catching Marissa's attention, Preef exaggerated an affirmative nod before angling his body and putting his left hand on the drain pipe. That sniper could have him dead in seconds, regardless of how well suppressed those other two rangers were, but they didn't really have a choice but to do something radical. It was just too bad that Preef was the one to risk his butt.
Then he went. One hand above the other and his feet against the durasteel wall trying to get some grip and push his body up quicker than only his hands could manage. Look at his right as he did so he spotted the sniper and the worst part was that the sniper also spotted him, but it was too late to go back down and he had to press on. It was at this point that Mallek, who might just have been aware of what was about to happen, jumped from cover and started running towards an innocent bystander that had been cowering in a corner a mere ten feet from his hiding spot. The action triggered the rangers on the ground, but unable to stop him due to Marissa's suppressing fire they notified the sniper... and that was what saved Preef's life.
Not taking the time to line up a good shot at the rodian, the sniper moved his attention to his eight o'clock and at a downwards angle of roughly 60 degrees. He was too late to line up a good shot at the Quarren, too, having the bystander in his sights instead as they were being used as a shield by the scrupulous Mallek. Meanwhile Preef managed to reach a first floor balcony and took cover there.
If Marissa owed Preef a drink for what happened back on the prison ship, she owed him the whole kriffing bar now. And while she had the credits squirreled away from the heist still that she could probably by him one. Not that she really thought he'd want it, he'd told her about Takodana, whatever was set up there sounded about as content as anyone could ask for. And far more content than most in this line of work were ever allowed to end up having in their lives. Certainly more than she as expecting to anyhow. Why that was, well, she had never really put in the time to reflect upon it, but somehow she didn't see herself in mucky boots out on some backwater, she'd never really been one to slow down.
Still, as Preef gave the affirmative and shuffled up the pipe, she dropped round the corner and fired off as many bolts as she could, her finger pulling on the trigger as fast as it would let her. The accuracy, she accepted, would not be great, but the barrage hopefully kept the Rangers in their hiding holes.
Mallek clearly had other plans though, plans that kept the cops on the move. Preef made it to his place just as her pistol felt like it was going to burn her hands off, damn near overheating with all the shots it had been firing. Marissa shook her hands out furiously to cool them. The rangers had other business now, all eyes on the Quarren, which gave her a chance to duck out from her position, and hugging the buildings she threw herself forward and behind a street food truck, the scent of which was near overwhelming. Nar Shaddaa had always been a place for the exotic.
But she had put herself below the sniper now, tucked against the wall he wouldn't be able to shoot her at this angle. And with Karn over the opposite side she doubted they'd seen her move at this point anyhow. They had a chance now, but pulling it off was another thing entirely.
By peeking over the balcony cover at the scene below, Preef was able to discern Marissa's movements and while their position sure was improving.. their timing wasn't. "Kriffing rangers," Mallek barked and without any warning decided to snap the innocent hostage's neck. "No!" one of the two rangers on the ground yelled, "You monster!" they wanted nothing more to shoot Mallek down, but the latter was cleverer than he looked and held the dead hostage up like a shield.
If there was ever a better moment... well, Preef would probably regret jumping on this one, but hell, the statistics were good to a rodian of barely enough intellect to add five and... I'm trailing off...
"Marissa, now!" the rodian shouted as he rose up from behind his cover and opened fire on the sniper. His first two shots went wide, but with the sniper initially focused on Mallek he didn't have the time to return fire before Preef's third shot hit him in the throat and he gurgled himself off the roof and smacked on the durasteel street.
Marissa was keeping her head low as Mallek did his devilish business with the hostage. She had to accept that by now in her life she had ended many of others. And that still wasn't to a point where she could call herself a gunslinger in any sense. But she wasn't one to go quite so far, even if the people she worked for obviously would. Part of her would have to work out what she'd be doing if she ever moved up in this business. And she fully intended to move up.
That meant when Preef called out, she jumped up just as if she were as brave as her companions. Or as foolish.
But it seemed to work. As she fired off bolts at the two gunners, she saw the sniper crash to the ground, and with the two Rangers before her in the open, her own shots hit home too. A blazing scorch tore open the first, while the other shot clean through the second, dropping to the ground with thuds.
Looking over to the hostage that had shielded Karn, Marissa quickly turned away again, not wanting to see the damage any longer,
"Preef?!" she called out above, her mind jumping to her friend, wanting some confirmation on his safety. She could tell Mallek thought little of the whole scenario, walking over to look at the rangers bodies and hurling a bit of phlegm from his tentacled maw. She was glad, all that time ago, she had seen fit to partner with Preef, and not a criminal like him,
"I've never been held up quite like that" she was trying to think if there might be more of them, how they'd followed, how they knew. They'd probably find out soon enough.
The rangers dropped and by the time Preef had climbed down the drainpipe and rejoined Marissa and Mallek the usual crowd had returned to the street. Streetkids were quick to loot the rangers of both blasters, badges and credits and while a four year old girl was crying next to the body of the woman whose neck Mallek had snapped, no one really seemed to pay any mind to the trio.
Nar Shaddaa was weird like that.
"and that on Shaddaa of all places," the rodian replied, looking from Marissa to the Quarren, "They must want you really bad." Mallek didn't reply and instead moved his head to indicate he wanted to continue their stroll to the drop-off point. Said point was a safehouse, just a small apartment about three more blocks away, where the latest holo-transmission had said there would be dancers, spice and a new suit waiting for him. Kriff, Preef had never really aspired to become a 'high-up syndicate man' but then Mallek got his dancers visiting him at his place, free of charge, free spice, free drinks and free suits in the latest fashions. Meanwhile the dancers at one of the seediest places on the moon still refused Preef's company despite offering triple their usual rate...
Holstering his blaster with a sigh, the rodian tried to expell it from his mind and tried to keep an eye on their surroundings while he stepped in line with Marissa. "Wanna grab some noodles once we're done?" @Nightfall
Preef's mention of noodles made her think, how long had it been since the pair had eaten properly? They'd been running and gunning since Junkfort Station it wasn't as if they'd had time to sit down to a meal. There had been some bites aboard the Alliance ship, always stocked to high heaven they were, that the four of them aboard hadn't starved. But the reminder made her remember that she needed that and a drink, and soon,
"More than anything right now" she smiled in reply. She looked about at the scene that was left in the street. She tried not to pay any mind to it, and neither did anyone else. Rangers were hardly welcome types here, hardly within their own 'authority' to be acting this far in the Outer Rim, and Nar Shaddaa wasn't exactly a sunny backwater that wouldn't notice either.
Still, it put into perspective what they'd done. They'd wanted Mallek locked away, badly. And here they were walking him back to a safehouse. The comparative safety of Shaddaa was a strange place to be,
"There's a fine Verpine run establishment near Star Cluster Casino I've yet to try" she was running through her mind for some of the finer places in this sector. If they were going to eat they were going to do it properly "And this one's on me" she threw Preef a smile, one that hopefully said that she meant to make a few things this outing up to him,
It didn't take too long to arrive at the safehouse, the door to the apartment block looked after by a pair of rather conspicuous Cereans sporting Black Sun regalia. If Mallek was listening to their conversation, he didn't show it,
"Time to finish the deal, hey?"
Verpines creeped Preef the kriff out, but if they had shine and a holonet port he guessed it'd be fine. Heck, Preef and Marissa didn't really hang much between jobs, so even if she had proposed to have a spoiled soda in the lowest level's sewer, the rodian would probably have agreed to join her. "I heard Verpines have these extra thin noodles," he began as the Cereans came into view, "they're supposed to be really sweet. Curious, isn't it?"
The two Cereans clearly recognized the Quarren, no doubt from a hologram-likeness supplied by the local lieutenant, and snapped to attention as if they were some odd military group and the Quarren was their commander. "Mr Karn-" one of them quickly said before realizing who accompanied him, "-Ms Hesse-" his eyes then fell on Preef, who contrary to his two companions wasn't a member of the Black Sun and the Cerean thus didn't really seem to recognize him... Preef, disillusioned by the fact he wasn't a high-up member of the syndicate, flashed his Crimson Dawn tattoo, "Preef Callo."
The name at least seemed to mean something to the Cereans as both nodded and finally made way for the trio to enter the safehouse. Mallek Karn grinned and entered without really acknowledging the Cereans, but as Marissa moved to enter she was stopped by one of the guards. "Your credits are on the table." They didn't tell Preef the same thing, which meant that Marissa's superiors hadn't really cared how many she'd have brought on board to split her reward with. It told Preef that Marissa had a lot of confidence in him, though, and planted a lasting smile on his features.
“Thank you” Marissa replied to the guard simply. This return wasn’t a celebration, it was the end of a job, and in the presence of other Black Sun she tried to remain professional. She had a reputation to uphold of course, but equally that seemed to be the culture of the organisation anyhow. The jobs were sent out, the jobs returned, completed or not. The superiors weren’t typically in the habit of whimsy. Mallek was testament to that, half a dozen words between the ship and here, but he threw himself into the fights and helped them get out. A professional, no more or less. She could understand why trusted him to watch his back.
Though the apartment might have looked dreary and run down from the outside, it was clearly a place the Sun had invested some credits in. Walls were reinforced with metal, cameras lined the roof. And from the lower floor they were in now, they could hear the echo of music from upstairs, the sound of voices. No doubt the Quarren’s promised rewards.
A hovering black probe droid greeted them,
“Mr Karn, your return is welcomed by all true members of the Black Sun, and for my own mechanical self it is an honour to be within your presence. I can inform you that you are expected upstairs to recie-“ It’s voice was tiny and pompous, and Karn had clearly encountered it before, rolling his eyes and slapping it away before ascending the stairs to the upper floor. If the droid had expected any other greeting it didn’t show it,
“And Ms Hesse, a delight. I am AC-90, foremost servant of the great Xar, and welcome your person into the fold” the droids whirring eye whipped round to her as it spoke, focusing in like camera lens,
“You and your companion, step this way please, and receive your reward, and of course the gratitude of the great Xar” AC was certainly something, she had to give it that. Stepping over to the table, their reward was laid out on the table before them. Casting her eyes over the credits, and landing on Preef she spoke up,
“50/50” she paused for a moment, breathing in the success. Even half was quite the bounty, and it represented more. The job was a test, and they’d both succeeded. Marissa stretches out her hand to Preef,
"Gratitude of the Great Xar," Preef could barely keep it together. Xar hadn't been so great when he commanded the attack on Kessel. But sure, he was a crimelord and someone like him had to he sure that mere scoundrels like Preef and Marissa remained in awe of his power and wealth. After all, if your own scoundrels didn't think you could ruin them anymore...
It was Marissa's generosity that finally revealed the rodian's smile, "Fifty-fifty? That's a generous split, boss-" he stopped and nodded as Marissa said that last word and asked a question Preef didn't even need to think about, "-partners. Yes I like that."
They'd been through hell and back together four times now, on three different planets and now even in deep space. Not many scoundrels ever had a partnership that was both this succesful and spanning so many jobs. Preef did wonder how they'd call them.. on the bounty posters that is.. 'the Hesse Gang'? or maybe 'Preef Callo and the human'? Ugh, in the Core it would most likely be 'Marissa Hesse and the frog'. Kriffing human xenophobes.
Preef had been pondering this while he took his share of the credits and put it all away in his pockets (luckily they used large credit chips), but when he had filled them he was quick to make it clear he'd rather be over at the noodle shop. "Right, so noodles then. Partner?"
Filling her pockets, Marissa smiled to herself widely. The pay was good, and Preef’s own little chuckle at Xar’s expense was one she could sympathise with easily. He was slipping, even the little guys like the two of them could recognise it. Whether someone else stepped in while he was weak remained to be seen. Marissa had her own plans of course, though whether the pair of them were quite ready for it was another question.
Today though was a good day. And it wasn’t quite over yet,
“The sooner the better” she smiled back at Preef, the chits rattling in her pocket. Moving to the door she looked back up the stairs at the rear, catching Karns eye. He looked her over once as he passed the door, pausing. He gave a nod to them, the closest to a thank you they were going to get she imagined. Perhaps it would pay off for them in future,
“Sweet noodles though, not sure what that’s going to be like...” she chatted back to Preef as they left the building. It was time to settle in to a well earned reward,
And think on yet another scheme for their little partnership to turn their eye toward next.