Upon exiting the turbolift the adventurers walked through another set of stanchions and past two more stormtroopers guarding the exit. The outpour of passengers from ground level flooded past a long line of new arrivals waiting for their turbolift ride to the surface. The traffic of human and non-human species throughout the main concourse flowed at different speeds and different directions, much like the ebb and flow of a river. To each side of the primary path passengers waited seated in the cramped departure portal. In every direction behind each portal enormous trans-galactic passenger liners could be seen through large translucent view ports. The view behind the starships reached into infinity while many of the stars not normally visible from Coruscant‘s surface were exposed as brilliant points of light. Starships of every size and distance were moving to and from other nearby starports above the thin atmosphere of the drab planet below. Large blast doors at each portal led to long boarding ramps connected to the starliners. In every direction pilots and attendants walked to and from their ships. Some were headed home after a long trip. Others were just arriving for their flights. “The guide says the café should be right at the end of this concourse.” Fern said not looking up from her datapad as she almost walked into a pair of twi’lek females.
The Starlit café was dark but nicely decorated. It got its name from the large skylights in the ceiling which through some trick of technology amplified the natural starlight into useable illumination for its patrons. Lamps were placed upon dark wooden tables made from Oro trees, native to Alderaan, nestled into cozy booths made from dark blue leather. From eight wooden columns hung vine-like plants from exotic destinations offworld. A T-13 bartender droid used its multiple arms to simultaneously wash and dry glasses, probably left over from the previous night’s happy hour. In the far back corner of the venue the large view port was shaped like the characteristic cockpit glass known to be found in tie-fighters. In the same corner sat a droid operated sabaac table and some gambling machines. Before heading to the gaming tables in the back Nolann stopped at the droid bartender to pick up a glass of Dark Helmut brew. Dax and Fern went to a table to wait on their contact.
After several successful games of luck against the house Nolann returned to the table of his bored companions “Has our contact shown yet?”
“Nope, whoever it is supposed to be, they are an hour and a half past showtime,” Dax stretched his back into the seat cushion. At that time an attractive blue skinned Twi’lek woman dressed in a dark brown leather headdress appeared. Matching her traditional leki adornment was her thick leather pilots’ jacket over a dark blue tank-top. Her black pants decorated with a single yellow stripe on the seam, was stuffed into high black leather boots. She took a high chair closest to the booth where Nolann, Fern, and Dax sat in their orange jumpsuits given them by Ortho.
“I’ll have a dark side daiquiri,” The beautiful woman said to the bartender droid as she reached into her pocket then slid four imperial credits across the glossy tabletop. In a quick series of motions the T-13 bartender droid had filled and served the cold drink in less than thirty seconds.
Her pose was pensive yet still aware of her surroundings. Her hands wrapped firmly around the frosted glass betrayed her expectation. Nolann noticed that she didn’t drink, and so made his move.
“Bartender?” Nolann raised a finger to the mechanical server “A dianoga tea over here please.” He said loudly in Duros. It wasn’t common that Nolann spoke in his native tongue. Droids or others of his kind were typically the only beings who could understand him. He still remembered to emphasize “dianoga tea” in basic. That plus the orange jumpsuits, he figured, should be enough evidence that he and his friends were here to complete the Twi’lek’s job. That is, if she was the contact. In seconds the droid bartender handed the drink to a small floating T- 14 server droid. The small cylindrical droid was basically comprised of a repulsorlift unit on its ventral side, an intelligence unit housed in a small dome-like head, and four extendable arms that held a small circular serving tray over its “head.” It hummed happily as it quickly floated across the room to place the drink into Nolann’s outstretched hand.
The blue-skinned Twi’lek girl wasted no time. No sooner had the drink arrived at the table than she greeted the orange-clad trio, leaving her untouched drink at the bar.
“How is the dianoga tea?” she asked as she stepped up to the table.
“I like its dark stains upon my lips.” Nolann replied evenly in basic. Dax scoffed at the exchange not suppressing his mirth at the silliness of the code-language. Fern shoved a hard elbow into Dax’s side. Wincing at the pain Dax gave Fern a dirty look, who this time took her turn to smile. The woman sat next to Nolann and pulled a small cloth envelope from the folds of her jacket, handing it to Fern under the table.
Almost as fast as she had sat she rose again and turned to the three adventurers “May the force be with you,” and with that she left the bar. A strange sentiment thought Fern. The force be with you echoed in her head.
The decision was simple. First they needed to find a secretive place that they could view the items in the purple envelope. It was nearly 10:00 when Fern, Nolann, and Dax left the Starlit Café walking at a brisk walk. The passage back to the surface wasn’t nearly as treacherous as the voyage onto the skyhook. In theory all Imperial security screening posts throughout the Galaxy held the same standards for safety. Spaceliners were supposedly protected from the introduction of weapons and dangerous individuals into the interstellar spacelanes. As imperial bureaucratic logic went, skyhooks were completely sterile, so planet-bound traffic was never thoroughly inspected, only incoming passengers from the surface. The only scrutiny of planet-bound passengers came from drug enforcement droids, DEDs, also known as “dead” droids, placed in the turbolift carriages themselves. Built into the walls of the turbolift pods, these mechanical intelligences had powerful olfactory circuitry. This sophisticated technology could accurately detect the residues of illegal drugs down to one micron in size. They could also determine what drugs were being used, and which individual was carrying. For those ignorant and unfortunate souls who attempted to smuggle narcotics, a squad of imperial soldiers would be waiting to arrest them at the point of debarkation. The Empire expressed little tolerance for the abuse and sale of illegal intoxicants. Fortunately for Nolann, Fern and Dax they did not carry, and enjoyed a pleasant drop back to the surface.
Pushing through the crowds and out the glass doors, there were many airspeeder cabs available for passage. Coruscant never had a shortage of the red, white, and often grungy transports for hire. Airspeeder cabs were one of the few refuges where non-humans were allowed after curfew. This was understandable since enforcing the imperial segregation laws upon an endless stream of moving airspeeders would be impossible.
Sitting crammed between Fern and Dax in the backseat, Nolann opened the cloth envelope. Looking up to his left Fern raised an eyebrow to him as if stating This isn’t exactly private Nolann. But he did not care. Besides he reasoned, the best hiding places were often right out in the open where no one expects a secret. Drawing out an old leatherbound book with yellow pages titled The Mental Pathways Between Flesh and Stone: A Force Users guide to Self-Instruction he unceremoniously dumped it into the unwary Dax’s lap “There you go Dax, some light reading for the taxi ride cross-town.”
The smelly aqualish taxi-driver looked up from his controls. “Where are you headed?” It barked in a moist and strangled basic.
“Aha…152 Chasm Rd. East,” Nolann read from a small datapad he pulled out of the envelope. Handing it to Fern he pointed to the last line on the screen. It read Cut a deal with the leader for the package. Time is of the essence. After Fern acknowledged the last message on the datapad with a nod, Nolann showed it to Dax.
The transport crossed several major lines of traffic. Flying for about forty-five minutes the speeder crossed a large chasm dug into the duracrete city surface. Dipping down in between the walls of the artificial canyon the driver barely skimmed above the surface of the thick black smog characteristic of Coruscant’s lower urban levels. After a short drive in the city’s shadows the driver brought the airspeeder to a halt before the entrance of a residence embedded in the south chasm wall. Extending out from the doorway was a long walkway suspended by repulsorlifts. Where the bridge met the entrance, two creatures with lightbrown skin, and round faces circled with small horns, watched their arrival. Dax recognized the aliens immediately as Nikto. He rarely saw Nikto on Galaxy center. For those who commonly traveled the spacelanes, Nikto were usually only seen in large numbers near refugee colonies, or as indentured servants to hutt aristocrats. “Wait here” Nolann said to the aqualish driver before he and the others headed towards the ornate entranceway.
“Ba num raq tude, na wei tochi clup,” the Nikto nearest them said with a circular gesture of his hands, palms facing forward. Nolann waved back to the first Nikto and sheepishly attempted to pass.
“Eh, eh, eh, eh” the first Nikto grabbed Nolann by the chest with his right hand, then gently pushed him back as he shook his head in the gesture of “no.” Dax noticed the second guard tighten his grip on a holstered vibro-axe. The first guard then repeated the previous phrase “Ba num raq tude, na wei tochi clup.”
Nolann, Dax, and Fern glanced at each other in slight dismay, momentarily perplexed how to transcend the language barrier. Then Fern spoke up.
“Baa hootch, needa ploong, taa Hutt bagpa?” Do you speak huttese Fern querried in a third language.
The first guard then smiled warmly and replied to Fern in huttese “Noke tooona cee reesa,poon katchka aays grunden. Eeesa wine teechko lack boon taggen.”
“What did he say?” Dax leaned over to Fern.
“He said, please leave any weapons you have with me. Will you allow me to search you?” Fern turned back to the alien.
The first guard smiled widely again and gently placed his hands upon Nolann, then began feeling for any weapons the small Duros might have brought with him. The second guard stood expressionless from behind, still clasping his axe.
Finding that his hands were not adequate for holding all of the items that the threesome were carrying the guard pulled a small metal lock box from behind a decorative pillar. He then rattled something else in huttese.
“He says drop all of the items into the box. They will be safe with me.”
Dax shifted his weight from his left to his right. “Do we have to?” He looked at Fern and then to the Nikto. “I think that you should let us pass without taking our items,” he said while sweeping his hand in front of the aliens face.
“If you want to get in” Fern replied. The jedi’s mind trick apparently did not diminish the guard’s resolution. With regret Dax dropped his lightsaber into the metal box.
“I better get that back, or there’ll be hell to pay.” Dax said directly to the alien.
“Ya, ya, ya.” The Nikto replied in bad basic.
When all of the teams’ items had been emptied from their orange jumpsuits the second guard spoke Nikto into a hidden communicator placed in the buildings terra cotta façade. Nolann, Fern, and Dax stood for several more minutes before Dax finally asked “What’s taking so long?” The others just shrugged their shoulders in equal confusion. A moment later the two steel doors before them groaned open to their stops. In a friendly gesture the second guard waved them into a darkly lit hall.
With the huge doors now sealed behind them, they were now concealed from the glitter of Coruscants multitude of nighttime lights. After several minutes their eyes adjusted to the dimness. They were walking in a long curving hall, decorated in tan sandy stone. The surface of the floor was strangely wet with a mucous-like quality. On shelves inset into the walls sat thousands of fine ceramics, ceremonial masks, fertility figurines, and works of art from hundreds of different species from around the galaxy.
After passing two more Nikto guards the trio entered into what appeared to be a large audience chamber. Crowded in the alcoves around the periphery of the room were a motley troop of ragged looking individuals. The alien diversity in the room however was substantial. More Nikto guards stood sentry near the various columns and doorways located around the room. Directly ahead to the far back of the room was a large Hutt. Its eyes were bright and immediately noticed Fern as she entered the room.
“Boon dockt glooben, und meesa beind plum Jottma” the hutt greeted in a resonant bass.
“His name is Jottma, and he welcomes us to his home,” translated Fern.
The hutt spoke again. “He says that he admires our fine taste in art.” She continued with a puzzled wrinkle of her brow ridge and nose.
“What art?” Dax impulsively queried the large invertebrate.” Nolann barred Dax with his left hand to prevent him from approaching.
“Ho, ho, ho, ho, hum” the hutt on the dais rumbled a laugh from within his abdomen “Why, the Masassi sphere you’ve been carrying in the brown paper bag. You placed it in the guard’s metal box for safe-keeping. My Nikto friends always apprise me of any valuables that make their way into my home” he finished, still in huttese.
Nolann, Fern, and Dax then noticed that Jottma was holding a small blue and black translucent sphere. With his pudgy hands the hutt held the tiny object up to one of his bulbous red eyes, inspecting it with great interest. “These only come from one place,” he said dreamily “the abandoned Massassi temples of Yavin 4.”
Nolann’s eyes sparkled “that must be worth a fortune,” he thought to himself.
“Had you known this information before, your tiny Duros friend may have stolen away with it. I see his mind calculating” The hutt laughed again. Nolann looked up in surprise at the hutt’s astute observation.
“How much will you sell it to me for?” the hutt stated his question almost like a command.
“It’s not for sale,” Dax stepped forward.
“Everything is for sale,” the hutt managed a wide toothless grin. The smile made him look even more hideous than before Fern thought. If he smiled any harder his eyes would pop out of his head.
“How much would you offer?” Nolann spoke up now intrigued.
“I will give you 1,500 credits,” the hutt commanded again.
“But it must be worth more than ten times that amount!” Nolann now became animated sweeping his arms above his head in a grand gesture.
“I am feeling generous today. I will give you 2,000 credits. Final offer little one” Jotma smiled again.
“Can’t do it Jotma,” Nolann bravely squared himself before his co-haggler “We have to return that artifact to our employer.” Nolann wasn’t sure whether he really meant that or was still just haggling against the hutt for a better price.
“But surely your employer would be very satisfied with your grand judgment in bringing back a sum of credits twice the sphere’s market value.” Hutts loved to barter more than they loved to eat Nala tree frogs.
Dax, the near jedi-padawan, was tired and his ire began to grow at the hutt’s pushiness. Despite his significant abilities he had not yet mastered the skill of patience.“You are no longer interested in the sphere,” Dax said waving his hand hastily in an arch “you are now ready to talk other business.”
The hutt’s jovial smile faded as his short arms pulled him deeper into his stone dais “Do not offend me in my own home, force user.” The multi-specied room became a den of deathly still “I am immune to your tricks. You are fortunate that I am a gracious host. Others of my kind would already be plotting the 10,000 credit reward on your head.”
“I’ll take him in!” someone yelled from the back of the room. A nervous laughter fell over the crowd then died.
“No. So long as he is my guest, he will be safe in my home,” Jotma took a long stern look at Dax.
Dax was disappointed. Not so much at the hutt’s rebuke, but his inability to overcome the creature’s powerful mind. He wanted so much to have the full-fledged powers of a jedi-knight, but his training was far from complete.
“Now, to the business that you are so eager to discuss.”
“We are here to barter for the cargo of the freight vessel _Intrepid_” Fern announced in basic, certain that the hutt would understand her.
The hutt motioned to one of his Nikto lackeys, and within several seconds two Nikto guards emerged from a large door in the back of the room. Each held a hand on the top of a free-floating cargo crate suspended on repulsorlifts. The black rectangular box was near two meters long. With the gentle push of their fingers the crate effortlessly glided on top of the air.
“The price for this item will be 50,000.” Jotma stated in huttese, much more business-like this time.
“Jotma, if you take 45,000 instead, I promise to speak with my current employer concerning the artifact that you desire,” Nolann lied. He really had no idea as to Schlick’s interest in the object. Perhaps, once Schlick discovered the contents of the brown paper bag he would be disinterested and willing to sell. Of course Nolann secretly planned to take a cut of those proceeds should that transaction take place.
“And who is your employer?” Jotma queried, his eyes now slightly wider.
“We are not at liberty to say. Though I can assure you my word is golden,” Nolann grinned widely as he bowed low and graciously.
“Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho” Jotma bellowed out another round of laughter “I should make you my chief negotiator, but 45,000 is too low. I will take 48,000 plus your word that you will speak to your employer about the artifact.”
“47” Nolann replied.
“48,” Jotma commanded “I have plenty of other potential buyers. That is my final offer.”
“Deal,” Fern stepped forward from the troop. She didn’t want the hutt to renege on his offer she thought to herself, besides she tired of the incessant banter.
Within minutes of Fern’s final declaration the trio headed out from the hutt’s home with a floating crate of unknown cargo. As they passed through the front entrance it was nearly 12:00 midnight. The Niktos gave them their belongings and waved them farewell. In the metal box nolann reclaimed his credit stick, knives, blasters, and the small massassi artifact. Dax felt relief as he held the heavy cylindrical lightsaber finally back in his hand.
“Did you get it back?” Fern smiled at Dax while he dug through the box.
“Yes, surprisingly,” Dax replied “That hutt seemed like a decent fellow.”
“Even though he threatened to turn you in?” Nolann looked at Dax puzzled.
“I don’t think he was threatening me, besides the brutality and backstabbing of the huttese culture is well documented. That should have been a lot more difficult,” Dax said knowingly.
“Maybe it was, we just don’t know it yet,” Fern scoffed as she pulled the cargo crate towards the waiting taxi airspeeder. “By the way, I don’t think this thing is going to fit.”
After discovering that the large mysterious box was too long and awkward to fit into the taxi, Dax and Fern discussed alternate travel plans with the Nikto guards. Telling the guards goodbye again, the adventures set off on foot towards the nearest mono-rail station. Pushing the crate in front of them Nolann, Fern, and Dax walked with a light step in their gait. Perhaps, soon their mission for Schlick would come to a conclusion. The Nikto’s advised it would only be a short four blocks walk.