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Manuk Gagak

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“Sometimes I think this planet is nothing but a hellhole.”
― Natasi Daala, to an unconscious Nek Bwua’tu


In the lowest levels, in the abyssal urban depths, of the ecumenopolis that was Coruscant, it was a rare thing indeed to see sunlight. For the inhabitants of the baroque and gleaming cloudcutters, skytowers and superskytowers – the latter reaching as much as two kilometers high – the sun was something taken for granted, just as were the other comforts of life. Since WeatherNet guaranteed that it never rained until dusk or later, the rich golden sunlight was simply expected, in the same way that one expected air to till one’s lungs with every breath.

The latter was the life that Manuk was born to. Or rather, one she inherited.

But hundreds of stories below the first inhabited floors of the great towers, ziggurats, and minarets, in some places actually on or under the city-planet’s surface, it was another story. Here hundreds of thousands of humans and other species lived and died, sometimes without ever catching as much as a glimpse of the fabled sky. Here the light that filtered through the omnipresent grey inversion layer was wan and pallid. The rain that reached the surface was nearly always acidic, enough so at times to etch tiny channels and grooves into ferrocarbon foundations. It was hard to believe that anything at all could survive in these dismal trenches. Yet even here life, both intelligent and otherwise, had adjusted long ago to the perpetual twilight and strictured environment.

And, oddly, it was this way of life that Manuk was being more and more often drawn to.

Down amongst the jetsam of the galaxy, a motley collection of sentients dismissed by those above simply as “the underdwellers,” who eked out lives of brutality and despair. It was merely a different kind of jungle, after all.

And where there’s a jungle, there are always those who hunt.

For now, moving quietly, she made her way from her bathroom – the size of which a family of ten would aspire to live in ‘down below’ and crossed the expanse that was the living room of her apartment. She proceeded out onto the balcony, where she stopped and stared out across Coruscant’s endless cityscape.

Traffic in the galactic capital never stopped, and she found the constant buzz and blur of shuttles speeding by soothing – or at very least a distraction. She leaned out over the railing of the balcony as far as she could, her eyes unable to pierce the darkness to make out the planet’s surface hundreds of stories below.

“Don’t jump, Mistress. I don’t want to have to clean up the mess.”

She chose not to turn her head at the sound of her protocol droid’s voice behind her.

‘He’ – for she decided it was male – stood at the threshold of the balcony door. Its rose gold plating gleaming in the light. She hadn’t re-programmed it – instead it had changed from an entirely obedient and servile droid which she inherited with the apartment – to a sarcastic and surly servant over time. She often mused it was actually programmed to keep her sane – and this was the persona that would do precisely that.

“Are you planning to go out again tonight? And if so, shall I wait up?”

Her night-time excursions were becoming more frequent. She’d experimented with alcohol and death-sticks when barely a teenager. Gambling and illegal narcotics followed. Which still did not satisfy her. In truth, she did not know what she was looking to sate, but she knew whatever she tried, it came up short.

Next came petty crime – but when you have credits, it seemed the authorities turned a blind eye to such matters. She received and paid fines and soon got bored. She contemplated serious crime – like murder – but dismissed the notion, for now. Instead she did what she was about to do – go walkabout and see what trouble she could end up in.

###

She walked through the colourful crowds that thronged the marketplace. It was a euphemistic name for an ongoing rowdy street fair. In the upper levels, it had a sector name. Down here, below the layer of smoke and fog, it was simply more of the same. While much of Coruscant’s lower levels comprised less-than-desirable real estate, some areas were loci of particular and concentrated trouble. The Southern Underground, the Factory District, The Works, the Blackpit Slums – these and other colourful names did little justice to the harsh realities of life under the perpetual smog layer that hid them from the rarefied upper levels.

She walked softly, gracefully, in a long black cloak with its hood pulled up to hide her face. Even she was not to stupid as to reveal exactly what she looked like down here. Many in the crowd accidentally bumped into her (it was never the other way around) and she neither gave nor received an apology.

She reached her intended destination a few minutes later – a small cantina in the far corner of the market that offered drinks, dancers, and gambling. It’s reputation said it catered to the seedier elements of Coruscant society: black-market smugglers; thugs and bounty hunters; stim and spice dealers. As a result, the clientele was predominantly a mix of species with unsavoury galactic reputations. Scattered among the Rodians, Chevin, and Kubaz were a handful of humans.

Manuk took a seat and ordered two beers. She chose a small table in the far corner of the cantina, her back to the wall. She kept her hood up and scanned the room. A scantily clad Twi’lek dancer was giving one of the patrons a private performance as he sipped on a green-tinged drink. Sliding past that table, she saw the usual mix of scum and villainy and wondered how long it would take before someone approached her.

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Alyse TiVarnus

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So this was it, the supposed Jewel of the Core worlds, seat of the historical epicentre of democracy and civilisation for the wider galaxy? For all the wonders that the ecumenopolis supposedly had, with the towering shards of duracrete and glass that reached out beyond the clouds, the countless trillions of credits poured into the architectural marvels that littered the upper levels of the planet spanning City over the centuries - Coruscant was disappointing to say the least. Through the eyes of the blonde Sith as she traversed through the various levels, she could see little more of the world other than a festering cesspool of corruption and dismay. Having now spent the best part of the last few days on Coruscant, the young guardian was starting to learn and appreciate just how the Dark lord of the Sith was able to manoeuvre himself into the seat of Emperor unnoticed by the ever vigilant Jedi Order, just by reading the sensations of the Force that resonated throughout the central seat of galactic power.

Beneath the glossy veneer of the upper levels, lay a rotten festering core that lay not much more than a kilometre below the upper streets. The Force was rife with the cold oppressing air of the darkside, bubbling away from the countless millions that resided in the lower levels suffering from disease, malnutrition and pretty much everything else that could be wrong with society. The bitter irony it seemed to the Guardian was that for countless Millennia the Jedi who once sat in pristine marble halls of the Grand Temple, clearly had turned a blind eye to the very suffering that they were literally sitting atop of.

As to why the young Sith had ventured from the very outermost reaches of civilisation to the centre of the Galaxy, little reason was known. Hailing from a back water world such as Bakura there was little need for the long winded series of jumps between along the almost never ending Hyperspace trade corridors, even for someone in her position of being a junior within the Bakuran government - the galactic senate, well it's current incarnation of it had long since been re-sited off world. From a political stand point there was no reasoning for her to be here, the answer lay within an more intangible sphere - as if there was a sensation within the Force that had pulled her interests to the ecumenopolis, yet for the particular reason that was yet to make itself clear. Ever was the joy of the Force's will, it would drag you halfway across the kriffing Galaxy without the faintest hint of a clue as to the reason why.

Still here she was walking through the smog filled streets of the undercity, noticeably sticking out like a sore thumb against the dingy backdrop of the locals, clothed in a combination of black trousers, red jumper and a black leather jacket, that in comparison to the attire worm by the residents of this level did little to conceal the fact that she was clearly an off worlder and seemingly lost - coupled with her slight and petite build just screamed out easy pickings to the more unscrupulous of the locals. Not that that had escaped Alyse's attention, she could sense that eyes were watching her movements and sizing her up as an easy mark - though whether it was arrogance or confidence in her own abilities, she thought little of the stares and hushed whispers being cast in her direction.

Opting in part to satiate her thirst and longing to find a moment of rest from walking through the market streets, the blonde Sith elected to enter the closest cantina, figuring that even perhaps by doing so the less opportunistic of would be assailants would lose interest in their potential mark. A light momentary expression of discomfort crossed the blonde's alabaster features as she stepped into the Cantina, the acrid smell of stale smoke and alcohol lingering in the air, barely masking the stench of some of the more... unsanitary of patrons. Taking a deep breath, Alyse mustered the Force through her - focusing on her perceptions through the Force rather than her normal senses that were currently being bombarded with the ambience of the cantina. Driving herself deeper into the cantina, the blonde approached the bar, her chestnut eyes fixing on the service droid that swung round from a suspended railing towards her before requesting through a static laced voice what her order was. "Rancor's Breath" Alyse spoke out simply towards the droid before tossing over a credit chip in payment and leaning against the counter, keeping a wary gaze out of the corner of her eye for whomever may had followed her into the cantina.
 

Manuk Gagak

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Manuk had no idea what brought her to the lower levels – not really. Not specifically. Yes, she came here in the hope of something – anything – that would relive the monotony of staring out of her apartment balcony at the same vista day after day after day.

No, it was more that that. In many ways it seemed counter-intuitive, which is why she dismissed it initially, But, as she sat here and glanced around, the thought came unbidden into her head again. Here was a maelstrom of emotions. Anger, greed, suffering, envy. She couldn’t sense them precisely, but somehow, she knew they were here, almost as if they were an aroma she could inhale. But it was more than that. In a strange way, these negative emotions made her feel stronger. Could she explain it? Absolutely not, but as an introvert gained power through isolation and an extrovert drew strength from crowds, she seemed to somehow feed off of the negative energy of these people. Not that she could channel it, that would be impossible, but she felt it none the less.

She’d even researched it – but the results were inconclusive at best and far-fetched at worst. So, she sat here - not attempting to make sense of it, but to drink it in.

Which prompted her to take a swig of one of the bottles of beer. At home she preferred something altogether classier – Daruvvian champagne was her tipple of choice – but for this locale, the local ale would suffice.

Which was when her attention was drawn to the newcomer. Manuk was something of an oddity here – but she knew enough to keep her head down, her face covered and her gait humble. Most if the patrons were down and out, and the few that exuded swagger had blasters that could back up their claim. What Manuk could now see fitted none of the stereotypes she’d come to expect from cantina’s like these. The young blonde decided she was either rich and stupid – or had back-up. The former happened from time to time, bored socialites visiting to see how the other half lived. Fewer than that percentage ever made it back to the upper levels.

Carefully Manuk scoured the room. Who looked as though they were watching the woman’s back? As she wondered, she saw the man toting what had to be the biggest blaster in the joint dismiss his Twi’lek dancer and saunter over to the newcomer. Maybe he thought she was entertainment?

Maybe she was?

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Alyse TiVarnus

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Quietly the lone blonde rested against the counter of the bar, her gaze shifting away from her cursory glances over her shoulder and onto the what seemed to be after further scrutiny a rather run down and barely functional service droid. The sound of glass shattering on the floor beneath it as it its mandible arms failed to grasp the glass for the drink she had ordered for the second time - at least its sub routines were intact enough to acknowledge that the drink had hit the deck. A slight sigh of exasperation passed the blonde's lips, lowering her head down a little in resignation and frustration. Opting now to take a moment and reach out with the Force, partly to center and focus herself but mostly to read the general mood in the room.

Like she had felt as she traversed the streets and as she had entered the bar, the Force was rife in the corrupting taint of the dark side; anger, lust and general debauchery carried in the currents that flowed around her - yet there was something else,relatively close by, there was a ripple in the Force that carried itself much stronger than the ambient flow of the life forms around her. A Force user that from what she could feel was lacking in training and control, the ebbs and currents that fell from its origin were presenting themselves as a flaring star - a spark of pure potential.

A light smile crossed Alyse's lips at the sensation, as elusive as the reasoning was, it was now clear that she had found what the Force had brought her across the galaxy from Bakura to Corsucant for. Someone that she could mold and train so that they could achieve their full potential - yet the question was, who was that person to be?

Breaking out of her thoughts, as the sound of glassware connecting with the counter top touched upon her ears. Looking up to find that the service droid had eventually managed to compensate for its failing servos and delivered her drink, a crimson liquid that gave off a slight illuminescant glow covered by a layer of a white haze that hung closely to the liquid. The scent from the beverage was noticiably strong, and intoxicating enough just by the smell. Slowly moving her hand to take the glass into her possession, only to stop in her advance as a large leathery hand clamped itself on top of her wrist. "That looks a little bit too strong for you to handle" a rather gravelly and laboured voice rang out from behind her, accompanied by the sensation of heavy breathing against the back of her neck - sending a shudder of repulsion down her spine.

Once the instinctual shudder had passed, a sinister grin curled on the edge of her lips, her mind plunging itself into the twisted energies of the Darkside, coercing them to flow through her to be commanded at her will. The currents of the Force that surrounded her suddenly grew cold with an icy chill, enough to make even the most blind to the Force to react as if wild animals sensing an oncoming storm - the audible din of the bar falling silent. If only for the briefest moments, before the sound of a pained welp emanated out from the stocky muscle headed man.

The sight of the young petite looking stranger standing over the man hunching over in pain as the blonde Sith tightly held the offending wrist in an increasing vice like grip, the sound of bones cracking under the abnormal stengh of the young woman's grasp audible over the still silence. Alyse did nothing more than to look down upon the man with cold piercing eyes as she watched him writhe in pain for a few moments longer. "Touch me again, and you'll loose more than the use of your hand" Alyse spoke simply her words carried not with a tone of anger or malevolence, but of an stern sharp one. With a sudden lurch her grasp of the offending and now broken hand was released sending the man stumbling back a few steps as he attempted to recoup his ballance, the blonde's chestnut hued gaze coldly staring at the man whilst she reached for the ordered glass of Rancors breath before swiftly necking the contents and turning her back away to the onlookers and back to the service droid. "Another" Alyse instructed as she set down another credit chip beside the empty gkass, hoping at least the next round she would get to enjoy without drama.
 
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Manuk Gagak

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In a planet of an estimated one trillion inhabitants, she always felt alone.

Always.

Even her droid could not be considered a companion. For all that he had done for her and the scrapes he’d bandaged her up after, she could not care if she never saw the machine again. For that was all he was to her…a tool. To be used and discarded when it no longer served a useful purpose.

Today was no exception, except there promised to be an intriguing floor show. Nothing excited the locals like violence – unless you counted naked flesh. And who knew, maybe this encounter might generate both?

Most eyes were on the odd couple at the bar. Manuk was aware that bets were already going down. Not on the outcome per se, but how long it would take for the brute to do whatever he wanted to do with the young woman.

Manuk was logical. The odds were infinite that there would be any outcome other than the man getting whatever he wanted out of the situation. So why was she expecting the woman to endure? Futhermore, why was she rooting for the woman to prevail?

Manuk felt the energy in the room rise – so much so that it was almost palpable. And then it shifted. The how and the why she could not explain, any more than she could say how or why she knew. But she knew. It was if someone had opened a door and a vacuum beyond had sucked all of the energy out of the room. Yet this made zero sense. And what made even less sense was the feeling she had that the woman was the open door. It was as if she was the vacuum, the magnet – whatever analogy worked best. And her logical brain was allowed to get in on the act again as it surmised that all that energy was being taken for a reason.

So, unlike every other patron in the bar, she was not at all surprised at what developed.

But, unlike every other person there, the display did not scare her as such. Not in the way that made the others avert their eyes, for fear they might be next.

For Manuk did not seek avoidance but knowledge. One word kept running around her head like a Kath hound on heat. Finally, she could contain it no longer and, staring right at the woman, she lowered her hood – not caring that her face was now revealed – and uttered a single word…

"How?”

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Alyse TiVarnus

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The excitement and also sense of dread within the cantina seemed to have passed, as the muscular brute retreated back to his corner cradling his shattered wrist and hand, the ambient din slowly growing back to it's previous state, only with more muttered whispering about what had just taken place. The blonde stranger payed the other patrons little heed as she instead watched the service droid, seemingly un-phased by all that had taken place pour out the young Sith's replacement drink, before successfully serving it to the blonde without dropping it.

As Alyse was about to bring the glass up to her lip to take a sip from the potent alcoholic drink, before she was cut short by the approach of younger blonde female - questioning her rather succinctly. A light smirk curled at the edge of the Sith's lips, lingering for a brief moment before she took a sip from the drink, slowly savouring the smokey bitter taste as it washed over her pallet. A satisfied gasp escaping her lips as she sat the glass back down onto the counter. "Have you ever heard of the saying looks can be deceiving?" she continued as a light teasing smile curled at the edge of her lips, her chestnut hued gaze shifting over to regard the younger blonde fully, panning up and down, paying particular attention to the hooded cloak that had been drawn back - a curious thought crossed the Sith's mind as she wondered why would someone down in this level would look to conceal themselves, was she in hiding or was she like the Sith, not one of the immediate residents of this level?

Letting the thought slip for a moment, Alyse retrieved her glass of Rancor's Breath and took another sip, her eyes closing as she reached into the Force to probe and measure the younger female who had approached her. It seemed that the earlier spark she had felt within this cantina, had been drawn in towards her like a moth to the flame - how fortunate that was. Slowly Alyse's eyes opened as she set the glass back down on the counter top, fixing in on the purple hues of the young stranger. "I suspect however you may already know the answer" the Sith resumed, casting her an inquisitive look. "I'm sure if you reach into your thoughts and that strange sensation in your gut, it will make sense" Alyse added, before she focused her mind on the Force once more to channel the energies of the Force through her, drawing in on the lingering air of the Darkside that had seeped into the foundations of Coruscant's lower levels from the millennia of suffering that had been imposed on the less fortunate of the populate.

Whilst she had not disillusions that her words, were beyond a doubt cryptic and quite nonsensical. The young Sith wanted to test whether this young stranger had yet grown to be aware of her own gifts, or had even drew upon the Force herself, going by the initial questioning however, Alyse had her suspicions that active awareness of the Force for what it was and is might be lacking, and that she was bordering on her awakening to the Force. Then again her suspicions may be mistaken, but either way she was curious to hear just what the stranger had to say to offer an insight into just what she knew of the Force and the Darkside - as she had clearly been drawn towards it by the Sith's earlier display.
 

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As Manuk walked towards the woman, oblivious of the fact that all eyes were now on her, she considered just how calm the newcomer was. Manuk only came here with her semi-disguise and was on edge the whole time. Not that this was an uncomfortable feeling – in fact she got a thrill from what she assumed was an adrenaline rush.

Yet those observing the young blonde’s walk from the table to the bar might assume she was all poise and confidence – but nothing could be further from the truth. Her bearing was due to her upbringing and dancing prowess. Her lack of fear was due to her laser-like focus on the woman she was approaching.

Yet, despite seeing what had just happened to the man, Manuk did not fear for her own safety. Not because she was fearless, nor due to any faith in her own abilities. But rather her thirst for knowledge overrode all such thoughts and emotions right now. She was a junkie looking for a fix – and the drug was knowledge. Not information – she’d read plenty of that – but what lay beyond the theories, concepts and hearsay. What she’d glimpsed on the news and researched on the public portals and the not-so-legitimate sites.

The woman spoke and Manuk wondered if she was being toyed with. Not in the bone-crushing way the meathead had – but in her mind. Or maybe, just maybe…

Manuk bit her tongue – figuratively. She had many thoughts and ideas but wanted to present them in a way that belied the babbling diatribe her brain wanted to share right now.

“You’re no Jedi,” she said confidently, and paused for a split-second to see if she would be challenged on the assertion. “But what you did defies physics. Which means some other force is at pay. Which means…”

Manuk closed her eyes and did as she was told. She felt power. And the power was linked to her emotions. No…the emotions of those around her…kind of. And this woman! It was as if the people around her, with their raw emotions on display were somehow warm to the touch. But this woman…she was white-hot.

“You’re a Sith,” she said. It was not said as a question, but as a statement. And her voice was raised barely above a whisper. “But that tells me why, or maybe what. But not how.” She paused again.

“Can you teach me. I am young. I will learn.”

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Alyse TiVarnus

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A bemused expression crossed the blonde Sith's features, holding it for a few moments before a light chortle escaped her lips in reaction to the declaration that she was no Jedi but infact a Sith - it was amusing just how that the classification of Force users was so binary. Yet whilst there was truth in how Manuk had concluded that she was no Jedi, Alyse was far too deep in the energies of the Darkside to even remotely pass for a Jedi - but as a Sith? It would be the closest approximation, she shared some of the ideals and view points of the Order, but the blonde liked to consider herself removed from the sterotype of the more barbaric of those within the Order that relished in the senseless slaughter just to satiate their connection to the darkside.

But the semantics of Jedi and Sith aside, what did catch the blonde off guard was the all so sudden appeal for her to train the young woman in the ways of the Force, not as much as the young Jedi Padawan Brahe had done, imploring her to teach him on how to temper the darkside. All of which did make her start to wonder, has the stigma of the Sith and the actions of the Galactic empire, the First and Final orders all at the helms of Darth Sidious been so readily forgotten all of a sudden? Figuring that if anyone came to that conclusion a century back she would have mercilessly been hunted down. How times change it seems.

Pursing her lips in thought for a moment ,the blonde guardian reached back down for her glass and took another sip of the beverage. Mulling over the situation that was being presented to her, the young blonde female imploring her to teach her of the Force. Whilst there was the untamed spark of Force potential, she could sense that there was a growing darkness - whether it was from Manuk's own projection of her thoughts and emotions into the Force, or perhaps more likely the effect that the lower levels of Coruscant has had on the young woman, gradually seeping into her core.

Finishing off the remainder of her beverage, Alyse set the glass down on the counter, before giving the young stranger another look over, her eyes narrowing in thought for a further moment. "Age is of no consequence, only your willingness to learn" the Sith spoke, offering a wry smile at the edge of her lips. "I will mentor you, but i shall warn you that this path is not for the faint of heart" she cautioned, before directing her attention to the surrounding cantina, feeling the subtle change in the atmospherics and mood. "You will be tested, and you will find yourself confronting parts of you that will make you question who you truly are" Alyse added before ensuring that she had everything to hand, something was telling her that perhaps it would be time to vacate the cantina.

"Come with me" Alyse spoke, loosing the soft cautionary tone and replacing it with that of stern instruction. before pushing herself away from the bar and leading Manuk towards the entrance of the Cantina. Taking a brief moment to assess her bearings as soon as she crossed the threshold, before leading the young woman back through the streets - hoping to get ahead of any retaliation that had been simmering from the dented ego of the muscle head, as well as to get to the more private confines of her ship so they could discuss the topic freely without the risk of being overheard.
 

Manuk Gagak

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Manuk was transfixed. Not in any other way than she saw in front of her what she hoped – desperately – was the answer to her many questions. Moreover, the solution to her future happiness. Her eyes narrowed at the woman’s chuckle, and she wondered if she’d made a huge mistake or that she was being made fun of. But her usual reaction – to lash out verbally or physically – she kept in check…for now.

The pause that followed felt an eternity and this time Manuk literally bit her lip as her paper-thin patience barely held.

Aware she hadn’t breathed since she spoke, she exhaled nosily and took a deep breath. The next words were music to Manuk’s ears and she would have gladly danced to them. ‘She said she would mentor me. Which means she can mentor me.’

“I will not lie. I have displayed a short attention span of late. But that is because the trappings of what society says it desirable bores me. I can buy anything I want. But when credits mean nothing, what they can purchase becomes equally worthless.”

Manuk unclipped her cloak and revealed a simple, elegant and no doubt highly expensive leather body suit underneath. She then performed a series of highly technical and complicated ballet moves – even in her boots. Picking up her cloak and re-attaching it, she added, “But if I put my mind to it, I can achieve. Pain and hard work and sacrifice brought me to that level of skill. I know it won’t be the same, but I wanted you to know I am dedicated. Her eyes flashed as she spoke and she felt more alive than she’d ever done – even under the influence of the most expensive champagne in the galaxy.

“The truth is, I do not know who I am and so will relish the journey – regardless of the outcome.”

Nodding she fell into step with the woman, albeit slightly behind. Regardless of her arrogance, she understood the teacher-learner relationship and respect was integral to that in her experience.

A moment later, they’d left a cantina so quiet, you could hear a pin drop – or more accurately the sound of a glass hitting the floor as the droid failed to collect the woman’s finished drink from the bar.

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