…inquiries of work…

Summary: Arch-Hunter Hucien D’rGess approaches the Fel Empire for discreet work; he may learn to regret what he is offered.

[Tatooine. The Plaza in front of the Imperial Garrison. Mos Eisley]

The Quarren stopped several feet from the raised checkpoint and nodded. Resting his hands on his hips – his thumbs finding the comfortable spots between his belt and trousers – and, affecting a composed demeanor, he greeted the Imperial, “General… Pleasant day… Nice to see the streets seem quiet again.” He nodded his head toward the small group over his shoulder and added, “The Jedi seem active (more so than I would have guessed) in helping keep the order.”

General Mardunn nodded crisply in return, darting his eyes to the group in question and then back to D’rGess, “Indeed, Arch-Hunter. They are, and have always been – invaluable.” He added almost as an afterthought, “As has the Guild, of course.”

D’rGess smirked, “Of course. The Guild is at the Empire’s disposal… Which is why I attend your fair plaza now, General. As you know, the sanctions lifted by the Hutt Cartels have increased the attention of unsanctioned hunters in our franchise’s territory. I was hoping the Empire may have special work to which the Guild could devote its attention and efficiency.” He added as an affected afterthought, “The Empire, of course, has always been invaluable to the Guild.”

“I have no bounties – nothing of your caliber, anyway, Arch-Hunter. But, I may have a sensitive matter that, if accepted, will require the utmost discretion and tact. With commensurate payment.”

“You’ve piqued my interest, General,” said the Quarren, “you mustn’t stop now.”

The General didn’t. After tossing the hunter a small data chit, General Mardunn stated, “I need information on that individual.” Pointing to the data chit in the hunter’s hand he added, “More specifically I need to understand why she’s ceased certain activities against the Empire. As you can guess, one such as her does not just stop something as lucrative as boarding Imperial vessels and stealing precious supplies unless she has something more lucrative or powerful in mind.”

D’rGess nodded. It was apparent the Quarren knew who the General meant, “I see. That is rather significant. Rest assured I will handle this personally, General. I would be remiss if I neglected to indicate that a target as sensitive and powerful as this will incur the Guild’s hazard-pay rates. Risk to the individual, as you can guess, is always part of the job; but risk to the entire Guild – the incentive must be substantial enough to warrant total abandonment of sanity. Do you accept my terms?”

“I do, Arch-Hunter.”

“Then we have business. The Guild thanks you. That is, until I misstep and the wrong people catch wind of my inquiries.”

“My advice, Arch-Hunter: don’t misstep.”

“Thank you, General,” replied the Quarren; the wry grin looked uncomfortable on the non-human. “I don’t know what I would do without you.” Another afterthought, “Nasty business with her cousin. I heard she blew up an entire city block. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer planet.”

“Yes,” replied the General. He seemed to understand the hunter’s implied meaning, “I heard that as well. And I agree – I’ve never been partial to the Hutt homeworld. Let’s hope you do not misstep for all of our sakes.”

The Quarren’s eyes scanned the width and breadth of the Imperial Garrison; then the plaza in which it stood. After mentally calculating the equivalent firepower needed to level the fortress, and the resulting carnage to the local population should the deranged elder member of the Besadii Clan learn of the Empire’s inquiries and decide to take action, D’rGess said flatly, “Indeed.”

-0-

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…further divisions…

Summary: Tensions increase within the Fel Royal family – the political ramifications pose a danger to the tenuous stability of the Galactic Federation Triumvirate. General Garrion Mardunn questions his superior’s motives, and the potential danger facing the Jedi contingent should the Empress’ cousin take control.

[Tatooine. Comm-room, Imperial Garrison. Mos Eisley]

“It’s not that they are unwilling to assist, Grand General. The Jedi Order’s numbers are too few in the sector. They will be vulnerable to any political change.” General Garrion Mardunn stood stone still, but the frustration read all too clearly on his face. The small Fel-family squabble continued to divide allegiances in Imperial High Command. The General knew sooner or later a superior would ask where the Tatooine Garrison’s loyalties lay, and with dire consequences depending upon who asked and the answer given. Mardunn was not a career politician, and the ways of that world eluded him. In his inability to comprehend why an Imperial – any True Imperial – would ever question the legitimacy of Empress Siare Fel’s rule, he’d forgotten what this would mean to his current regiment’s alliance with the Jedi should Empress Siare’s cousin Relson Fel somehow gain favor with the Imperial nobility.

“That is not the issue, General.” Grand General Thorrsen’s features were hard – even over the holo. Her voice and demeanor were to-the-point. “Should changes occur, one must to think about what’s best for the Empire and its longevity…”

Mardunn was unable to hide his revulsion. “What you’re saying would be considered treason, Grand General.” His words were a mere whisper even in the Garrison’s private comm room.

“Not to all Imperials, General. One has to be flexible during such uncertain times.” Her words, and the self-serving logic, turned his stomach. She continued, “It is not my intention, General Mardunn, to question her Highness’ authority.. But if there are changes, I will have to accept them… As do you – lest we repeat the events from one hundred years before. Had we not splintered then, would the Empire’s supremacy be in question now?”

‘Damn your logic,’ he thought. Instead, he said nothing to the floating holographic image of his superior officer.

“Silence? I see. Perhaps your principles cloud your judgment, or perhaps your self-preservation is of little value to you when no threat seems apparent. In time, General, I think you’ll see the merit of my words – perhaps even the inevitability of the true danger. Should I live that long, I will not tell you I told you so. No matter, General. Admiral Prittle has also been apprised of the situation. Now that the Besadii known as Akanii has ceased her provocation against our interests in most of Hutt space, I am certain we will have a stronger position to strengthen our outposts to weather whatever storm comes our way.”

“With all due respect, Grand General, your vision is short-sighted. Should we allow Relson to court the favor of less savory interests – namely the Sith, we will be no better than the Empire under Palpatine. There is no honor in that.”

It was Grand General Thorrsen’s turn to be disgusted. “Short sighted, General? Short-sighted is demonstrating our frailty to the galaxy. Should it see the Fel Empire as weak, we will be attacked from every corner of the known regions and ripped to shreds. We will be nothing. Even our allies will have no choice but to act upon their base impulses. How will you defend the precious honor of our Empire when it is an empire no more? First we must maintain our control, then we will have the luxury of building a kinder, gentler galaxy. One not in the hands of those who feel democracy is the right of every citizen – even those who intend to abuse it; or the ideological war-ground for the Jedi and the Sith. But a galaxy that does not question the sovereignty of a True Empire that promises – and delivers – peace and prosperity. When was the last time the Galactic Alliance consulted us on treaties it brokered? The Hutts found their dealings most favorable and now the Hutt cartels spread all over the Outer Rim without impunity. Or when was the last time the Jedi stood in the foreground to advance order rather than sit back and hide in their elitist enclaves? WE, General – WE have been the purveyors of order. WE have been the good little soldiers forced to clean up what the Alliance politicians cannot afford to do themselves. And while they condemn our approach, their corrupt dealings only make matters worse. It is up to us to stop the spiral of decadence and decay – one way or another. The people will hate us; but over time, General, they will learn to appreciate the peace our approach offers – no matter who the Empress – or Emperor – is… As will you, General. Thorrsen, out.”

-0-

…trust…

Summary: As Admiral Prittle’s interdiction fleet spreads itself too thinly throughout the sector, Fel Imperial ground forces consider the ramifications of the Hutt Council’s continued involvement in Mos Eisley.

[Tatooine. Imperial Garrison. Mos Eisley]

Lieutenant Brunson handed the datapad to General Mardunn. With a smirk he explained the Mos Eisley Law Enforcement Bureau’s position. “Chief Woldev, doesn’t believe there will be a conflict of interest if his staff presides over the Hutt’s security arrangements for this Saturday’s conclave.”

General Mardunn sighed, “The man’s an idiot. His only motivation is the sound of clinking coins.”

“Agreed. I’ve taken the liberty to arrange a small, discreet detail to keep an eye on the festivities. I heard you’ve decided to attend?”

The general exhaled a long, drawn-out breath, “It’s a matter of principle… If Prittle’s little Major Bellswaithe intends to play ball with the Hutts… it’s a more practical method of keeping tabs on the good Major.”

“You don’t like him, do you, General?”

Mardunn looked the intelligence officer up and down, “Lieutenant, it’s never a matter of like. I’ve worked with many officers I loath.. It’s a principle of respect.. of trust. I share neither with the Major… In fact, I think I may trust Chief Woldev more than I trust Major Bellswaithe. At least the Chief is predictable.”

Brunson considered Mardunn’s words, “I see, Sir. I will keep my eye on Major Bellswaithe as well.”

“That would be wise, Lieutenant, for all of our sakes.”

-0-

…scatterings…

Summary: With Imperial control slipping in neighboring sectors, General Garrion Mardunn discusses his concerns at the daily intelligence briefing.

[Tatooine. Imperial Garrison. Mos Eisley]

“And what of the Hutt?” Admiral Prittle regarded the General’s executive staff then turned his attention to Naval Intelligence Office Major Bellswaithe.

“There’s talk…”

“…of course there’s talk…”

Major Bellswaithe ignored Captain Eldington’s comment. He stifled his annoyance and began again, “There’s talk, Admiral, of the demise of his Slugness, Braktah the Hutt. Nasty bit of business on Nal Hutta – from what I hear he tried to kill his aunt – Akanii – and ended up getting killed… Took a whole block with him in the explosion – although you couldn’t tell with that lot. No honor among thieves, apparently.”

Lieutenant Brunson cleared his throat before interjecting, “That’s one theory. of course. I have it on good authority Braktah’s skipped the system – laying low for a bit.”

“Yes,” retorted the Naval Intelligence officer, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. The heavy man leaned forward to counter with, “We’re all well aware of your sources – questionable as they are.. and very self-serving.”

“Enough, Major.” General Mardunn was not pleased, but calmed himself before stating his case. He first looked to Admiral Prittle before glancing down the long table at Bellswaithe and Brunson. “Regardless of Braktah’s state of existence – we have a much larger concern. Lady Akanii Besadii is very much alive, and rumors suggest she has Sith allies. Which pits her against us due to our former loose affiliation with Braktah. She wasted no time in letting us know of her displeasure – pirates linked to her organization attack our supply ships weekly.” He sighed and said, “Needless to say, our government’s impact on this galaxy has diminished in the wake of ongoing strife – the Sith continue to garner support. If that wasn’t enough: Braktah’s absence has encouraged smaller groups to muscle in on the City… and we all know the local enforcement agency is too weak, corrupt – or both – to do a blasted thing about it. We lost a fair share of our numbers during the plague. More sections of the city have turned to self-sufficiency which has only led to further isolation and mistrust. The criminal organizations prey on these communities and continue to cut swathes of control in the existing social fabric. This situation will only get worse.”

Major Bellswaithe leaned forward again, “Perhaps we are addressing the wrong issue, General. Allowing the refugees and social outcasts to form their own enclaves has stirred the pot of mistrust – not us. It is they who draw attention to themselves.. How else do you expect the miscreants of Mos Eisley to react other than their base impulses… it’s a clear case of the haves and have-nots.. or whatever the democratic socialists go on about these days. They should be taxed for their privilege.”

“Taxed? Their ‘privilege’?!” Brunson’s disgust was unmistakable.

“Oh don’t be so naïve, Lieutenant… ‘Little Amara’,” he said derisively, “and the rest of the enclaves draw from the same resources, the same utilities and infrastructure as the rest of Mos Eisley – how many complaints of violence do we hear originating from their compounds or the near-vicinity? Hmm?”

“That’s insane! The complaints originate due to violence perpetrated ‘against’ the Amara and the others! Surely you understand this, Major? Taxing the people will only make the matters worse. General – you see my point, don’t you?”

“Oh hush, Lieutenant. The General cannot intervene on your behalf all of the time.”

General Mardunn wanted to wipe the smug look off of Bellswaithe’s face. “That was uncalled for, Major…”  Mardunn regarded the Admiral’s refusal to rein the Major in as a slight. ‘A subtle show of authority – how nice,’ thought Mardunn. He couldn’t argue, however. The plague rendered the Garrison’s compliment almost inoperable. Imperial High Command had deemed it necessary to turn control of Imperial forces to the Admiral.. and the Admiral – and his little toadies – never let him forget it.   Major Bellswaithe resumed, “The point is, ‘Lieutenant’, our services are called into action regardless of who’s responsible. Our services are not free.. nor should they be taken advantage of… Once these malcontents get that through their thick skulls, will we be better able to control the population – and the public will better appreciate the Empire’s assistance. Allowing these ‘types’ to do as they please sends a very bad message to the rest of Mos Eisley. Better to quell any notion of favoritism now than later. It would also be in our best interest to court the strongest of the so-called criminal organizations… Use their services to keep the other upstarts in line.”

“You’re making an awful mistake, Major…”

“Enough, Lieutenant.” Admiral Prittle mimicked Mardunn’s previous tone. “I’ll take it under advisement. The Major has a point – one of which I will discuss with the Regional Governor. Dismissed.”

Moments later, after the Admiral and his ‘intelligence’ officer departed the Garrison, Lieutenant Brunson approached General Mardunn. “You know he’s wrong.”

Mardunn nodded, “I do. He, however, has the support of High Command. The Governor is not a fan of the Admiral… some bad blood from before his promotion. I’ll need to address his worship once he’s heard the mental drivel of the Admiral’s pet. I think he’ll see the benefit in a private audience and a direct comm to High Command.”

“You don’t seem convinced.”

“I’m not. Power has a way of overlooking insanity. I have no idea whether the Governor will favor the merits of a cohesive public supporting the Empire and its allies, or… the obedience of a people broken and divided.”

Brunson nodded, “I know which one I opt for, General.”

“As do it, Lieutenant.”

-0-

…the toll…

Summary: Imperial General Garrion Mardunn apprises his Navy counterpart in the recent disasters to plague Tatooine.

[Tatooine. Imperial Garrison. Mos Eisley]

General Mardunn nodded at the image of the Navy officer, “Affirmative, Admiral Prittle. The dead of Beta and Omega squads have been accounted for – their remains were incinerated. That leaves a few scattered patrols and technicians left on the M.I.A. list.”

“I don’t envy you, General. Notifying their families won’t be easy.”

“No, it won’t. Although I cannot make light on the tragedy – the major concern now is dealing with the City. The aftershocks are intermittent, but deadly. The Jedi have been instrumental in finding survivors in the rubble, but the majority of those saved do not trust us or the Jedi – not after the rumors, anyway.  Convincing the public the Empire had nothing to do with the contagion is an uphill battle. The damage is already done. Imperial Intelligence and the Imperial Knight insist the Sith had a hand in this. Too well organized for pirates and our stores and supply caches remained mainly untouched. I think this is more a situation of destabilizing our hold in the region.”

“Yes, I have read the briefings as well, General. Unfortunately, all of our crews are dealing with the damage from the electro-magnetic pulse. Our experts are in disagreement. Commander Jeft is adamant it came from the planet, but your Major Tellen states she has proof the pulse originated from Tatoo Prime.. Could both be correct?”

Mardunn shook his head, “I have no idea, Admiral. Seems too far fetched. Our Jedi allies have not been able to pinpoint the source, and Master Karne insists the Sith are involved. Who am I to argue?”

“Indeed. Very well, General; if there is nothing further…”

“There’s not..”

“Then I shall resume this conversation at Oh-three-hundred. Admiral Prittle, out.”

General Mardunn nodded at the fading projection. The Garrison’s death toll was overwhelming; but, there was no sense in thinking about that now… he still had to apprise the Regional Governor and the senator of the public toll. Once the immediate danger was dealt with, he could mourn the loss of those who served and died in faithful service to the Empire. He owed them that much.

-0-

 

…indebted…

Summary: Antiquities Dealer ‘Emm’ Cardiff learns about the Hutt Council tariff the hard way; and what form of payment Braktah the Hutt expects in return.

[Tatooine. Spaceport docking berth 17. Mos Eisley]

“My Ship?! You’ve got to be kidding me!” Emm couldn’t believe her ears; nor how quickly the Hutt’s minions locked down the docking bay once she landed. Ten minutes later she learned everything she thought was hers wasn’t.

“Kidding you?” Replied Braktah the Hutt. “Oh, no, Lady Cardiff. Not in the slightest. The Hutt Council controls commerce in the outer-lying systems. Tatoo is one such system. Your ship was transporting goods through Hutt controlled space.. The Hutt Council is therefore due its percentage of your profits. Unfortunately, you’ve alleged you cannot pay said tariff. Which means Clan Besadii needs to exact payment another way. You are not singled out, human.. This is merely business.”

“Merely business? What kind of business is… I have a buyer for these goods.. These goods aren’t even mine! I cannot pay you with what I don’t have…”

Braktah leaned forward menacingly, interjecting his point, “Which is precisely why I am taking the one thing you stated you do possess – your ship.”

Emm involuntarily stepped back and bumped into the Weequay lackey – and his blaster – behind her. Meekly she replied,”But it’s all I have.. All of my work. Everything I’ve collected. All of my possessions are on that ship. I need my ship.”

Braktah calmed himself and lent against the ramp’s pylon, “Clan Besadii is not without its mercy, human. Perhaps we can come to some arrangement… To settle your tab, as it were.”

“What do you mean?” Emm crossed her arms; she wasn’t entirely sure she’d want to hear his arrangement.

“It is very simple, human. Your cargo has significant worth. I could sell it off for you, surely… at a reasonable commission..”

“How dare you! That’s my livelihood. You have no idea what you’re doing!” She felt the tightening grip of the Weequay’s hand on her shoulder and tried to pull away.

“Calm yourself, Cardiff.. I know this. Which is why I would prefer you work for me.. until you’ve paid your tariff amount in full. Once that is settled, I will return your ship and all of your possessions.”

“What? That’s it? You want me to work for you? As what?”

“A negotiator.”

“A… negotiator? I. I’ve never negotiated for Hutts.”

“I would suppose it is very similar to what you do now, Cardiff, just with different buyers and sellers.”

“Yes, but… I work for me. I understand the market and my clientele. I understand MY bottom line. I don’t know the first thing about working for Hutts or their Hutt friends.”

“Then you’d better start learning. I hope you are a quick study, Cardiff.” Braktah held up a hand to prevent her from interrupting; this was supplemented by the Weequay squeezing Emm’s shoulder harder for emphasis. “Your tenure in Clan Besadii will be either long or short – it depends upon you and your ability to get me what I want. Fail this directive and I will retain your ship and its cargo indefinitely. Succeed, and you will be that much closer to your goal. At the end of every week, we shall discuss your success and your remaining time within the Clan.”

A look of horror washed over her face, “What if I fail?”

“Let’s not think like that, Cardiff. It sullies our business. Think positively. And if that fails you.. Think that you need to do a good job or die trying.”

-0-

…troubling times…

Summary: Fel Imperial forces learn the latest news from Nar Shaddaa – specifically, the call for retaliation against the Jedi by those who control the Smuggler’s Moon.

[Tatooine. Communications room, Imperial Garrison. Mos Eisley]

Admiral Prittle concluded his conversation with a subordinate before turning back to face the holo-recorder, “We’ve received news from Nar Shaddaa, General Mardunn. No doubt your inside man has already informed you?”

“We’ve not heard from Lieutenant Brunson – nor his Hutt informant – in days, Admiral,” replied Mardunn. “Major Danners, however, apprised me of the moon’s declaration, and the implication for allies in the Jedi Order. The holo-news feeds have not helped matters – their ‘experts’ have decided to increase viewership by spreading hateful editorials. Fortunately, the local news agencies realize it would be bad form to rally against the Empire and its allies here in Mos Eisley.”

“This, of course, is inevitable whenever the Sith manage to crawl out from under whatever rock served as refuge for the last few decades,” added Prittle.

General Mardunn nodded, “Indeed. Between the attacks against the city, and the Hutt Council tariffs, Mos Eisley is on edge. Our patrols pull double-shifts – the City’s assets are secure for the time being. We continue to hear rumors of disturbances in the desert wastes between Mos Eisley and the Free-City of Anchorhead, but we cannot devote additional men to address these reports. Braktah the Hutt claims he cannot divert resources to assist us now that he has ‘a duty’ to the Hutt Council – whatever that is… ”

“Watch him, General. I’ve seen these types before. They turn on a credit faster than you can blink. The only reason he still graciously acknowledges the Empire is because his aunt wants him dead… I wouldn’t be surprised if the slug attempts to ‘off’ Lady Akanii himself. It seems to be the only tactical move to free up several headaches in one shot.. But an awfully risky gambit. Something for which Braktah excels. He issued a communication stating the Empire would also fall under the provisions of the tariffs. This Hutt has no issue biting the hand that feeds.. He seems to forget the Empire’s hand also swats back.”

Mardunn replied, “I will keep an eye on him, Admiral.”

“Please do.. For your sake, and that of Lieutenant Brunson. Admiral Prittle, out.”

-0-