”Binders? Really?” Aska growled after finding herself chained to the table in the interrogation room of the local precinct. Coming to Coruscant had proven to be an oversight, a slip in judgement she would be certain to never repeat. What had begun as a coreward trip to reunite with her ally in arms was quickly deteriorating into a situation out of her control. Hailed and escorted to the spaceport by half a dozen police cruisers and abruptly ‘detained’ as soon as landing struts met duracrete, Aska knew only too well what this was going to be about. The fact that the interrogating officer also happened to be a Mon Calamaran did not bode well.
”You’re a known associate of Gareth Gin, a.k.a. the ‘White Lion’ of the Zaa Fenn. It was you two, amongst others, who managed to infiltrate Durr’s palace and proceed to execute him on live holo. These two facts alone warrant extra security precautions, I’m sure you understand,” the Investigator grunted in response as he swiped through files on his datapad. Though his eyes never met hers, she could see the fire burning behind them. Perhaps he had lost family and friends in the catastrophe?
”Well, it wasn’t live but I see your point,” the clone grumbled, leaning back in the plastic chair. ”I don’t know where Gareth is. I don’t know why he did what he did. I don’t know what he plans to do next. Anything you have to ask, the answers gonna be the same every time,” she continued.
”I struggle to believe that... The ‘Legends of Shaddaa’ you call yourselves. You know, for a time I was elated at what you two had done. I’ve lost many people to the plague and seeing Durr face justice… It was… I was glad,” as the Interrogator spoke, he continued to flip through files until finally coming to a stop and placing the datapad on the surface of the table, a projection of hundreds of ships ascending from the oceans of Mon Cala filling the space between them. ”Then Gareth did this! Those ships are carrying thousands of dead from my home! Those I’ve lost to AMS is paled in comparison to who I’ve lost at the hands of the Zaa Fenn!”
Aska pitied the man, a sullen expression crossing her face as she watched the air lifted deceased being brought up from the sea, but she wasn’t about to simply sit here and allow him to accuse her of something she had not been involved in.
”... and how is that my fault?” was all she could muster in response, soon followed by slamming fists against the table between them, knocking over the can of Emryc Energy he had brought in with him. Looking to the label, the silver eyes as piercing in print as they were in person, the clone found herself smirking slightly at seeing his face. ”I see the lawsuit is panning out,”
”Don’t play coy with me, girl! Where has Gareth hidden himself?!” he shouted, saliva spraying from his fish lips and coating both of her hands as well as flecking spots on her cheeks. Yet she remained silent, albeit disgusted, only further aggravating the Officer. Webbed fingers soon continued to wave through the hologram, the image changing with each motion. Senators condemning the act, workers of the ISCRA relaying the horrors of what they’ve seen to reporters, each channel focused on the same singular subject. Likely a scare tactic, demonstrating what was soon to come down on Gareth and his affiliates. ”Talk!” Leaning forward on her forearms while her wrists remain secured to the table, Aska placed her face as near to his as she could.
”I don’t talk to cops,” As she said the words, the clone glanced down to the holo and saw it had come to a stop on a live broadcast from the Senate building here on Coruscant. Reporters and journalists bombarding the same man whose image was plastered on the drained can at her side. The man who had openly declared war on the Zaa Fenn and was now directly in charge of ensuring Gareth came to justice. ”-but I’d talk to him,” Huffing in disbelief, the Officer pushed away from the table pacing back and forth across the room.
”The President of the ISC has far more pressing matters than interrogating a murderer,”
”Emryc has just as much on the line with your investigation as you do, probably more,” the clone teased, making a point to refer to the half Sephi by his first name. ”Besides, I’m sure he’d love to hear from me. We go way back, he and I. And it’s the only way I’m gonna talk,” Aska finished with a sly smirk.
Covax woke suddenly. His head throbbing, like he'd been hit with something. While the rest of his body felt like pins and needles. "Why does it feel like I got hit with a stun bolt?" He asked aloud with a groan. He went to sit up from the cold and apparent duracrete floor, and found it difficult to moved his arms. Moving his head to glance down, he found not only binders but shackles. The binders on his wrist laser chained to the ones he now realized were also on his ankles.
The fog from the stun bolts starting to lift. He remembered the holonet broadcast of Gareth. The text from his old friend shortly after. "I need your help, you smelly oaf. Meet me on Coruscant." The next moments were a little foggy. The long jump from his new place at the edge of the rim, landing at the old pad in the slums he always used when coming to the city planet. Then police swat droids. "OH!" It hit him then, as did the bright lights that suddenly came on. Revealing to the mercenary that he was laying in the shower area of one slam or another.
"Shane Covax, Enforcer for the Zaa Fenn crime family...and" "Ah...former enforcer." He interjected, struggling to get to his knees. "It doesn't matter." said the voice. Only in his dazed stated he couldn't tell which beat cop it came from, but being that one was a fish head and the other a squid head. It didn't much matter. "Nope, I suppose it doesn't"
Right on queue, sever other Mon Cala natives in jailhouse orange would suddenly appear from the shadows. "The Duty Sergeant wants to see who breaks first. You, or that lady in the jacket." said one of the heads. Hearing the lady in the jacket part, Covax smiled. "Come to Coruscant. we'll get together, have a few laughs." the merc muttered. One of the heads made something of a hand waving motion, and the convicts moved in.
“I know that, but trying to call in the damn President of the ISC himself? And can you imagine the crowds that’ll appear outside of the station in the very unlikely chance he actually shows? Can you imagine if…if.. That thing shows up?”
“Fuck that, we transfer her to The Island. They’ll get her singing.”
“This will have all kinds of eyes on it, The Island can’t afford that kind of publicity.”
The bickering back and forth continued for a while. While no one believed that Aska actually knew Emryc Thorne, they couldn’t deny that they were sitting on a valuable asset that could uncover intel on Gareth. Terrorists were usually sent to a very obscure place where laws didn’t exist. Most of them didn’t come out alive, and those that confessed lived out their days there and were erased from known media.
It wasn’t until the next day - with Aska still being stuck in that same room - that she saw any changes. Until then she had been hammered with interrogation tactics, lack of sleep and the usual good cop bad cop routine. To every Rangers’ surprise, the President actually agreed to show up. The surprise was very evident on the Ranger’s face as he walked back into the room, leading a very tall man behind him.
Emryc hunched as he entered through the doorway, dressed in a suit and filling the stale room with his pleasant and earthy cologne. He eyed Aska for a moment and waved for the Ranger to leave.
“You look like shit,” The half Sephi said simply, pulling up a chair and taking a seat. While he was in the process of quitting his cigarra habit, he still carried packs on him out of familiarity. He took out a cigarra and handed it to Aska, offering to light it for her. Emryc’s silver gaze pierced into her for a moment before he spoke.
Patience was something that every capable hunter possessed, be it both sentient and non. It was a necessary trait when one was shadowing their prey, waiting until the perfect moment to strike. Addicts, on the other hand, struggled with the concept and Aska was both hunter and addict. It had been hours since her last cigarra, perhaps even days. The room she had been contained too lacked any windows save for the one way glass that only appeared as any other white wall from her side of it, and with the lack of any chrono within the woman had no concept of how much time had passed. Fingers tapped repeatedly on the desk as she closed her eyes, doing everything in her power to distract herself from the craving for smoke within her lungs. Deep breaths followed by nothing but silence. So quiet was the interrogation chamber that if she listened carefully, the constant tick of a faulty power relay within the walls could be heard.
”One… Two… Three… Four…” The clone counted the ticks silently before letting out a heavy sigh. It wasn’t solely the ache for tabacc that she found herself trying to avoid. At some point of the duration of her captivity, the Mon Calamari had returned to inform her that they had picked up a dear friend of hers. She didn’t believe it at first, instead considering that this was simply yet another tactic to get her to talk and reveal information she did not possess. It wasn’t until she was shown the security footage of Covax laying on the floor in chains that she knew it was the truth. ”Seventy six… Seventy seven…. Seventy eight…” The Mon Cala, driven by frustration and resentment, threatened her partner. Told her that if she didn’t comply with his demands that Covax would be paid a visit by some fellow inmates with interest in what had been done on their homeworld. Still she remained silent, only offering the fish a snarky smirk and a brazen stare. Shane could handle himself.
”Four hundred and thirty one… Four hundred and thirty two… Four hundred and…” the clone continued to count as she laid her head on her restrained forearms. She’d lost count a few times at this point and needed to start over, or succumb to her hunger and start screaming across the room for a smoke. That would only prove their methods were working, however, so Aska persisted on counting the ticks from the wall.
As the door slid open and the familiar scent of Emryc’s cologne (it was a hard one to forget) filled the room, Aska jolted upright in time to watch as the man ducked through the doorway. Stunned, the woman sat there silently for a moment as the President of the ISC slid himself into the seat across from her. It was such a long shot with no guarantee that he’d answer her request and yet here he was.
”And you look pretty good for a man who’s people have recently suffered genocide,” the clone retorted jokingly with a tired smirk. ”Long time no see, big man,” As the cigarra was offered, pupils undoubtedly dilated as she hurriedly leaned in and took the tabacc with her lips before drawing in the flame Emryc followed with. Within seconds, her head was put into a slight spin from the effects of the plant but finally she could feel the pangs of withdrawal retreat. As the Ranger left the room, glancing back at the pair in disbelief as he was leaving whilst mouthing the words ‘I still can’t believe it’, Aska quickly shot him a wink as the door slid shut.
Emryc had always only known Aska as a ‘dance manager’, or at least that was what he had been told. His intuitiveness was nothing to scoff at and perhaps he had known the truth about her career path all along but the cat was out of the bag after the execution of Durr. It was likely the only reason he had come at all but while she didn’t know why, she felt she could trust him.
”I keep them at an arm's length. They’re not the usual people I like to work with but credits and crowns are what keep me fed and watered,” she answered, quickly glancing to the camera in the corner of the room. The red light flashed on and off, indicating they were still being recorded and observed by the men and women beyond. Taking another draw from the cigarra between her lips, she pushed the camera out of her mind. It didn’t much matter if they listened at this point. ”Though after the bullshit Gareth pulled on Mon Cala, I’ve decided it was time for he and I to cross paths again. He’s what brought me and my partner here, after all. Hey, you haven't heard anything about another Zaa Fenn associate here, have you?”
The first thug lunged in boot first, intending to take off the Covax's head. The merc leaned, and caught the ankle with the chain between the cuffs. Then jumped upward, flipping the Mon Calan on his back. The next one caught the human in the left ribs and he grabbed the squid face round the collar. Head butting his nose, stunning the alien, and perhaps breaking his nose. A hip toss, and the thug joined his friend on the cold floor.
"That all you..." Covax spat, cut short by the stabbing shock of a stun stick "Fuuu,,,,aahhh." Screaming as he fell back to his knees. Then came that thug again, and his boot, and a few more boots and kicks.
He woke some time later. Body feeling like he'd at least given the two prison thugs a good workout. They didn't kill him though. A painful surprise. Covax didn't blame them, in fact he could symbolize. Having your loved ones taken from you in such a horrific way. The feeling of having your heart ripped from your chest, gutting your soul. Replaced only by misery, and emptiness. That void is slowly filled with hate an anger. That anger is a monster, a sarlacc feeding first on pain, then revenge, and when that's not enough it hungers for anything to fill the void. Yeah, Covax knew that feeling well.
A door slid open, giving way to yet another law man. This one a little different somehow, walking in with a kind of pride, or perhaps arrogance. "What ever you're selling, Ranger, I'm not buying." the merc groaned. "Stand up, and come with me." requested the man.
"So soon." Covax replied, slowly standing with a groan of pain. "Where to this time, the hole? No no wait, The Island, hey does that mean I get to see one of those knights that ganked your HQ a while back?" That did it. The Ranger pulled back, cocked, but paused. "If this were any other day....but someone is eager to meet you scumbag." He said, then took him by the collar and shoved him down the hall.
Emryc smelled the cigarra and had to bite back the desire to smoke one for himself. He had the habit for many years now, and it was still a work in progress. He reached down and popped a gum into his mouth to curb the oral fixation. He always respected Aska because she was a self made woman. He didn’t know her to play any particular sides but her own, and in many ways it reminded him of himself. There were few people in the galaxy like that who actually made it to prominence, and she certainly had.
The half Sephi didn’t need to follow her gaze to know she was looking at the camera. With his gaze still on her, he raised a hand and did a specific wave. Moments later, the camera switched off. Emryc shrugged, “Perks of being a galactic President, I suppose.”
Emryc had been briefed on the other prisoner, though he didn’t know the extent of his involvement.
“I haven’t met that one yet. You’d have both been sent to the Island if it weren’t Aska Ryun requesting a visit,” He leaned back in his seat, giving her a wink, “Do you know if Gareth has taken a hold of Zaa Fenn’s operations fully yet?”
A moment later, the door opened to reveal a Ranger.
“Sir, the second prisoner is ready for you in room B.”
“Send him in here too.”
“Do I look like I have all day for this?”
Moments later, Covax would be led into the same room. Emryc regarded the man in silence before jutting his chin for him to take a seat next to Aska. He leaned slightly forward in his seat.
“You want Gareth,” He looked at Aska, “I want information. I know about the Lower Five, but I want to know where any HQs are. I heard rumors about some cantina, but no proof yet. You give me what I like, I can get you the resources you need,” His gaze flicked over to Covax, “And a new identity if needed because Zaa Fenn affiliation means a massive target on your ass.”
As the light to the camera stopped blinking, Aska felt at least a small degree of relief knowing that what was said in this room wouldn’t be heard by those beyond its walls. For the first time since her detainment, the clone chuckled softly as she began to imagine what was being said by those who were no longer able to listen in. Yet at the mention of the Island, how nearly they had been transferred to the maximum security facility, a knot formed in the woman’s stomach.
”Never thought I’d see the day where my name actually saved my sorry ass rather than tossing it in the coals,” she replied as she took another long draw on her cigarra, taking extra caution to keep the smoke from Thorne after witnessing him electing a piece of gum rather than a smoke of his own. ”I gotta say, it’s been kinda nice,” she added with a smirk.
”I’m not sure. After Preef died, I kept my distance while the dust settled. The last thing I wanted was to be caught up in some criminal civil war. But if I had to guess,” Taking one final draw from the cigarra, Aska leaned forward to bring her mouth near her hands restrained to the table and plucked the filter from her lips before butting the burning embers out on the table surface as she exhaled. ”I’d play it safe and assume he has. There are other major players, few that I’ve personally met, but he has to have some serious leverage within their ranks if he’s able to pull off something like that and not get shot out of an airlock for insubordination,”
Seeing Covax walked through the door in shackles was a relief though she was surprised to see him as secure as he was. Then again, if she knew anything about Shane it was that he likely put up far more of a struggle during his arrest than was necessary.
”Look at us, together again,” the clone jeered at her partner as he sat down to her side but quickly turned her attention back to Emryc once he addressed her directly. His question was one she had the answer too but was better left to the newest addition to the party. Unlike herself, Covax had actually been a part of the Zaa Fenn and would know what sort of operations took place within Quick Draw. She was familiar enough with the place but her knowledge had to be minute in comparison to his, or she at least hoped as much. ”You can trust him and he needs to know he can trust us. Tell him what you know,"
Covax let himself be shoved before starting to walk as the Ranger then led him down the hall. A short pause before the man with the badge looked both irritated and confused at the same time. The towering mercenary was supposed to be on a one way ride to the end of the galaxy. And both men knew it.
The Ranger opened the door and nodded his head in the direction to enter. Covax did so, turning the door and was suddenly dumbstruck as he locked eyes with the President of the ISC. A chill ran down his spine then, as the last time he met a galactic power player the Empress nearly tosses him out of a airlock.
The silver eyed fox jutted his chin toward the chair next to Aska, and the merc moved before he even thought. Shuffling over to the chair and blooping down. Then looking over at only living person in the galaxy he thought of as not only a friend, but family. He smiled, "How is it you always look like you won at the sabacc table, and I'm always looking like hammered shit."
The merc's smile faded however as Emryc Thorne addressed him. His jaw set and teeth started to grind a little. Willingly or not, his best friend had put him in a spot. Or perhaps he did it to himself when he accepted Preef's offer just before the green skinned fool decided to die.
Covax looked to Aska and then back to Thorne, and sighed. "Not only a new ID, but enough credits to retire on my own moon." It wasn't that unreasonable. Because after this little meeting he would likely have a different target on his back. He waited for the half Sephi to agree and then gave his nod of thanks.
"Zaa Fenn is led by some Queen pin, but I've never met her. Fuck, other than Preef and Gareth I don't know that anyone has, she's a ghost. When I was there it was all Preef, and blind lion was his number two. But it seemed like thing were slipping. I think that's why he asked for Aska and I." he said giving his friend a nod.
"After Preef, the family was anything but. Suddenly small time players were now ring leaders. Gareth is no different. Kinda like the Empire, one Lord guy vanishes and six more pop up." He said completely unaware of just who it was he was talking to. He got up then and moved to the camera on the wall. Pulling the wires clean out of the recorder. Then returned to his chair. "The place you're looking for is on Coruscant, level 1215. The Quick Draw Cantina."
Emryc quietly chewed on his cigarra gum, observing both of them. He was intrigued by the man’s intel, and it justified the very cocky demands he made up front. As usual, the half Sephi’s face was devoid of expression, silver eyes always piercing and calculating. They made one feel as if Emryc slowly peeled away layers until they were down to their naked core. There was a moment of silence after the male finished. Emryc didn’t look up as he walked over to take out the camera wires.
“Queen pin?” He asked, legitimately curious. He had only ever known it to be Preef. That there was someone even above him was news to Emryc. The half Sephi was silent for a few more moments, contemplating the intel of the Quick Draw Cantina. That was also new information, but one he wouldn’t act on just yet.
The half Sephi leaned back in his seat, getting cozy again. He looked between Aska and the man, quietly chewing his gum and surveying them.
“All right,” He said after a while, “You want to go after Gareth. Tell me what you need. You go whack this guy, Zaa Fenn is burned,” He paused for a moment, “Or option two. You whack this guy and this Queen pin, take over as new management, rebrand it, and I sell the story that Zaa Fenn is finished. And you work for me. Conditions are that I have you by the pussy and balls. So none of this surprise mass genocide bullshit and none of it traces back to me. Upside is that you pull in more cash than you’ll ever know what to do with and have a network that spans the galaxy. With my connections the entire operation will get bigger than it ever was before. But there’s an opportunity to do this right. To focus on getting a monopoly on lucrative assets and business ventures instead of taking a shit in Mon Cala’s waters. You get me dirty money, I clean it.”
Emryc crossed his arms over his chest and looked at them, “And your records get wiped clean. So think about it,” He eyed them both, “Or yes, there is option one, where you just take out this Gareth fucker and then I have to see it through that Zaa Fenn burns to the ground,” He shrugged.
Covax sat a moment, at first a blank but someone irritated expression over his face. While the half Sephi's silver gaze burned holes into him. It left the human feeling suddenly uneasy. There was a coldness there in those eyes, like looking into the void and the void looking back. For some reason it reminded the merc of the moment he sat in front of the Empress. The recollection gave him a sudden chill.
"Supposedly" he said with a shrug as Thorne finally asked a question. The look returned then, and Covax had to look to Aska with a questioning glare. The question of course being "What the fuck dude?"
As the half Sephi finally opened his mouth though, Covax returned his eyes to the silver tongued, silver eyed, devil. The normally imposing looking human now failing to his expression of total and utter shock and confusion. Because he did indeed have them both by the short hairs, and Covax had walked right into it.
"Fuck!" expressing just how truly fucked he was. "Either way, we're going to need some fire power." the words leaving his mouth as he looked over at Aska. Agreeing without Agreeing. "Not sure who's still loyal after this, could be a few, could be be more. So some heavy hitters of our own would be nice." He sighed. "Also the Cantina is well protected on the holonet. Some of the best slicers in the underworld. Probably burning data as we sit here. However, thinking ahead. I have records of my own, datacards of files and operations. Thought I might need it if this day ever came." He finished, glaring at Aska.
While Aska had hoped that Covax would have had more to offer Emryc than the name and location of the cantina, something she could have done herself, it seemed it was enough. The President indeed had no inkling of where Quick Draw was or who it was controlled by. What came as a shock to her, however, was hearing that Preef had never been the one at the top. A ghost, he had called her. A Queen Pin. A woman pulling strings from the shadows. The Zaa Fenn had more layers than she had anticipated but it shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock. They were a criminal enterprise, after all. They didn’t reach their elevations of power by being fools, though it seemed Gareth was intent on bringing it all down.
What Emryc said next is what came as a surprise. She had come to Coruscant to secure supplies and information but what was offered was far more than she could have ever anticipated. ISC backing for this op would undoubtedly give her the edge required to pull it off. Gareth captured, credits in her account, another notch in her belt. She couldn’t ask for anything more. That is, until it was explicitly offered.
”You’re serious, aren’t you?” Aska stammered, jaw agape as she wrestled with the reality of Emryc’s proposition. This was far more than she anticipated, more than she could ever realistically plan for. Though Emryc was a man made from nothing, a man with vision and ambition. It made sense that he looked to the bigger picture, though it was certainly far more corrupt than she believed him capable. ”I knew I fucking liked this guy,” she mused silently.
”So then we have everything we possibly need from inside already,” the clone continued once Shane relayed he had copies of sensitive data. Probably best she didn’t know how he acquired it. The longer the idea settled in her mind, the more alluring it became. Her bank accounts swelling to unprecedented levels, luxury accommodations anywhere in the galaxy she went, maybe even her own oasis in the outer rim. The possibilities were endless… ”Slicers, mercs and muscle… The place is a fortress then?” the clone asked Covax directly but soon turned back to Emryc before waiting for a response. ”The manpower inside the building is easy enough. With some fresh gear and supplies, maybe a few extra hired hands, Shane and I could make easy work of them. The slicers are what worry me…”
With the intel already secured and a potential squad at the ready, all they needed was to secure the gear and a counter to whatever cyber defences Quick Draw has in place. Get in, slice into the computer systems and locate both Gareth and this mystery woman and make their moves on each respectively. It all sounded too easy, which meant it probably would be near impossible. Still, Aska’s greed had always been her biggest motivator. ”I’m in,”
Emryc listened as they both agreed. They were even getting a bit excited about this, especially considering they would have resources they didn’t have before. The half Sephi gave them a blank stare before they spoke.
“You will have what you need, but let me be clear about something,” His baritone rang low, ice seeping into his words to match his gaze, “You work for me. If you pull this off, I will decide the direction on how to expand the enterprise. I decide how the credits are funneled. But only you two will know I am involved. To everyone else the buck stops at you. For your efforts, you will have access to resources to the best slicers and droids in the galaxy, along with any weapons or vehicles you require.”
The half Sephi was a great business partner, but he wasn’t a charity. He would have assurances that they wouldn't cut him out the moment they had the outcome they liked.
“Trust me when I say that I’m aware of your individual…vulnerabilities and exactly who they are,” He looked from Aska to Covax and then back, “But I trust I will never have to act on them.”
The ghost of a smirk began to appear on his face as he eyed them both, “And if you choose to try and fuck me over..”
It was then that the cigarra from Aska’s fingers abruptly flew across them and was caught between Emryc’s fingers. He took a long drag, letting that sweet, intoxicating smoke fill his lungs. He exhaled a cloud of smoke towards them as he gazed at them, the room suddenly feeling exceptionally cold as goosebumps would line their skin. His voice would then echo not out loud, but from deep within the confines of their minds.
“...I will know.”
Externally, the smirk remained on his face as he gave them a wink before giving a breezy goodbye as he strode from the room.