Title: The Void of Nal Hutta Genre: Action, Drama Timeline: 3,643 BBY -- Shortly before the opening of The Old Republic Characters: FemSmuggler, OCs Summary: Fate pushes the future Voidhound towards her destiny as her captain takes a dangerous job. *** Mud and water crested over the top of Larena’s black leather boot. She stood in the middle of a clearing of a great swamp, gangling narrow tree roots rose to the sky around the empty space, vines and leaves covering nearly every centimeter of the bark. In the center of the clearing was a round ship just under 90 meters in length. Two round, massive engines stuck out from the back, flanked by a rectangular engine bank off to the side. A rectangular cockpit jutted out from the middle of the craft. Larena kicked at the sopping ground. “Captain, I know we have to make this thing discreet, but couldn’t you have picked a better place?” Her hazel eyes glanced at the landing struts of the ship, halfway buried under the mud. “I think she’s going to sink...” A blue-skinned Twi’lek turned away from his work. “The Ta’rpoy will be fine, Larena,” he said. He gestured towards the end of the clearing with a gloved hand. “Just keep watching with Kah Sey for our ‘guests’.” Larena sighed and adjusted a strand of dark brown hair that had escaped from the loose blue tie. Kah Sey paced just outside of the perimeter of the ship and cargo, a large blaster rifle in his furred hands. “See anything?” Kah shook his head. “Nothin’ to see.” Larena checked her chrono. “Blasted murglaks are late...” She removed the long-barreled blaster pistol from its holster and checked its charge. “Think they ran into trouble?” Kah glanced at their captain. “Jela’s got us right in the middle of a Hutt turf war, so anything’s possible.” “At least he’s not an idiot like Captain Sisshk was. Damn fool wanted to play both sides.” Kah spat onto the ground. “And got his entire crew butchered because of it...” Larena shivered despite the oppressive humidity. “They got off light compared to him. I heard Labeu keeps him in his dungeon and he has to eat his own arms and legs.” “Don’t piss off a Hutt...” Kah could only say. “I hear you,” she replied. She looked around the clearing again, at Captain Jela and the three other members of their crew unloading the large crates from the cargo bay. “Bad enough that we’re unloading this all for Barggula, but on disputed land?” Kah scoffed. “Tubella thinks this all of Nal Hutta’s his.” “Well, that’s Tubby for you.” Kah stopped where he was and shrugged. “Pay’s good at least.” Larena chuckled. “Pay’s going to be amazing.” She continued to walk past a green-skinned Duros clad in a blue spacesuit. “And Cei gets the right to buy the first round.” Cei stopped pushing the repulsorcart and turned to face her. “Last I heard it was your turn to buy a round, Larena!” “A technicallity...” Larena smiled as Cei returned to pushing the cart. “We’ve got company!” Kah’s voice was raised and tinged with the slightest hint of alarm. Eleven beings walked into the clearing, a healthy mixture of humans, Weequay, and Twi’leks. Each of them wore an identical set of padded armor emblazoned with the crossed oval sigil of Tubella the Hutt. They held their blaster rifles and pistols close to their chests. Larena drew her blaster pistol and stood beside one of the crates on the ground. She licked her lips in nervousness. She didn’t dare pull back the priming hammer of her blaster. Jela walked to the center of the clearing, hands raised in a peaceful gesture. “Nothing has to happen here, boys.” He gestured towards the crates. “If Tubella wants our cargo, he can take it. There’s no need for any violence.” The leader of the group was a male Mirilian, evergreen skin dotted with lines of black, geometric tattoos. “You’re in Tubella’s territory and he doesn’t take kindly to people conducting business on his land without him knowing about it.” Jela made an attempt at a conciliatory gesture. “I was under the impression that this was Bargulla’s turf.” Larena glared at the armed beings in front of them, looking for the slightest hint of them moving to raise their blasters. “Don’t try ignorance, captain,” she muttered to herself. “It never works...” “What else can he do?” Kah said. “There’s ten we see; Force knows how many else are out there.” Larena looked for the others: Cei had been caught unaware with a crate still in his hands, Toln was empty handed but still unarmed. “Just us...” “Shavit goes down, we cover the others so they get to the ship.” Larena’s only reply was the gentle whine of her blaster pistol’s priming hammer activating. A smirk came to the Mirilian’s face. “Since you’re doing business on Tubella’s turf, you’re doing business with Tubella.” He motioned to the crates. “Have your people bring them over here, nice and slow.” Jela’s voice was filled with relief. “You heard the man, crew!” He turned to face his crew. The Mirilian gave a quick nod and raised the small blaster pistol in his hand. With the smoothest of squeezes upon the trigger a red bolt flashed. Larena stood in the stunned silence as Jela collapsed to the ground, his face forever locked in relief. The boom of Kah’s blaster rifle tore her from her shock. The ten enforcers were advancing towards the crew, blaster rifles raised and firing. She drew a bead on the closest one--a leathery-skinned Weequay—and fired. Her shot took the thug in the shoulder, spinning him around before he hit the ground. “Get to the ship!” Her words and Kah’s were nearly simultaneous. Cei raced from his open position for the cover of the larger crates but was cut down before he took his third step. Larena pushed herself against the wall of the crate and backed up, firing haphazardly in an attempt to suppress the enemy. They approached the maze of shipping crates and repulsorcarts, blasters at the ready. She spared a quick, questioning look at Kah. “Where’s Toln and Tehra?” she asked. “Can’t see ‘em.” He motioned behind them. “Get to the other side of this crate and take a look.” Larena nodded and jogged back to the end and pressed herself against the metal. She leaned out for a quick look before rounding the corner to take cover on the other side. Toln was meters away, making his already small Chadra-Fan body even smaller. His snout twitched with sobs and his rodent-like ears were finned flat against his head in fear. He was an engineer, Larena thought, at home with the ship’s engines and consoles than in a gunfight. “Toln!” she cried out above the sounds of blaster fire. The tiny alien looked her way, terror obvious in his black eyes. “Get to the ship, we’ll cover you!” The Mirilian rounded the corner of the Chadra-Fan’s sled as the words left Larena’s mouth. She raised her blaster pistol, surprise no longer slowing down her aim as it had just a minute before. The leader of Tubella’s thugs aimed at Toln just as the durasteel sites hit center mass. She squeezed the trigger before he could do the same, the bolt throwing the body down into the muck. “Go to the ship!” she yelled out. Toln didn’t need to be told twice. He scrambled up on his feet and raced towards the open ramp. Larena moved to cover him, blaster pistol moving left to right. A Weequay popped into view and was cut down in an instant, followed by a Twi’lek who dived for cover at his first sight of her. He popped up for a quick shot, a violet afterimage followed it as it flashed past her. Toln screamed out in pain in the distance. “Kriffing kidding me...” Larena cursed. She opened the cylindrical port at the base of her gun and slammed a spare energy pack home before priming the weapon again. “Behind you!” She spinned at Kah’s voice and spied a fair-skinned human with his blaster raised. She fired, her bolt and a shot from Kah’s blaster converging upon his midsection at the same time. The assassin sank to his knees before toppling face first to the ground. “How we doin’?” Kah asked. “I got three of them,” Larena replied. “Toln’s down.” “Two for me. Tehra?” “Haven’t seen her.” “Shavit...” Larena dived across the distance separating the two crates and peeked above it. The Twi’lek opened fire with a wild shot that impacted on the crate. She ducked back under the small sled and fired blindly. She popped up again and aimed quickly at the Twi’lek. He fired quickly at her, missing handily in his haste. Her shot didn’t miss. She dared not call Tehra’s name and draw her assailants to her like what had happened with Toln. She sneaked around the cart and rounded the nearest crate. A dark skinned human female fired off a quick shot that sent a column of steam up as it hit the ground near her feet. Larena aimed and killed her foe with a quick shot to the chest. Tehra was face down on the ground when Larena found her, fresh blaster wounds still glowing orange on her back. Her killers, at least six remaining by Larena’s count, nowhere to be seen. Blaster fire still cracked through the clearing before they suddenly stopped, the final retort too soft to be Kah’s blaster. She looked down to her fallen comrade before gazing back at their ship. Fear and grief overpowered her and sent her legs pumping in a scamper towards the open boarding ramp. Get to the ramp, lock it, blast off. Get to the ramp, lock it, blast off. One of Tubella’s thugs appeared in front of her, his face turning to surprise as he noticed her. Larena didn’t aim, didn’t even shoot. She ducked slightly and sent her shoulder right into his chest. The two collapsed into a pile on the ground. They scrambled on the ground, Larena striking at her assailant’s face and chest with the grip of her blaster while he flailed his hands around in a vain attempt to defend himself before he finally stilled. Larena panted in exhaustion and pain from his punches that managed to connect. Fire erupted from her side as she began to stand up; her left arm and leg numbing in second and sending her collapsing to the ground. There was no such mercy from fiery wound in her torso. Her attacker stood in the distance, blaster rifle drawn and aimed towards her. Larena laid on her back, uninjured right arm struggling to raise. “Our boss forgot to tell that wormhead before he killed him.” He tipped his rifle up to check the energy level. “Tubella says ‘No dealing on his turf unless it’s with him. No exceptions...’” Adrenaline and determination pumped its way through Larena’s system, her right arm raised slowly but steadily as her foe made the last mistake of his life. He noticed a second too late as the blaster pistol raised and fired. He stumbled backwards, rifle dropping to the ground. Larena fired again, catching her assailant in the chest. She attempted to stand before collapsing to one knee. The jolt sent waves of pain throughout her entire body and sent droplets of blood into the ground, staining the puddle left by her knee red. Strength returned to her seconds later and she stumbled to her feet. Her first step nearly sent her back to the ground, the knee on the left side of her body barely able to hold her weight. She half walked, half fell towards the ramp of her crew’s ship, right hand firmly pressed against her burning and bleeding wound. There might be more of them, she thought as she limped towards home, but it really didn’t matter anymore. The open ramp thudded slightly as she stepped upon it. Larena leaned against the struts for support before turning around, her mind racing with the surprise that she was somehow still alive. In the distance, near the shipping crate that she had started the short fight at, was Kah’s body. The Cathar lay with his grey fur matted with mud, his blaster rifle just under a meter away from him, and with almost half of Tubella’s force dead in front of him. She nodded to the bodies of her fallen crew, a thousand words running through her mind, but none that she had the energy to say aloud. The flash of a blaster shot broke her grief. Sparks rained down upon her as the bulkhead about absorbed the shot from the cyan-skinned Twi’lek scoundrel. Larena backed away on instinct, violet spots dotting her vision. She fell backward as she slapped at the door’s security controls, crying out as the stairs stabbed into her back. Larena crawled up the stairs leading to the main cargo hold and crew lounge. She used the check-patterned Dejarik board to regain her footing again even as the sound of angry shooting outside reached a crescendo. The cockpit was familiar even to her half-closed eyes and paralyzed arm. Control switches for thrusters and landing gear were all within reach to her good arm, the control yoke sensitive enough steer even with one arm. As the ship exited Nal Hutta’s gravity well and jolted off into hyperspace, Larena finally allowed herself to breathe again. She’d made it out of the ambush alive, badly wounded, but alive. Her head felt as if it were floating, the edges of her vision darkening. Alive, she thought. A dark chuckle escaped her lips. For how long? She dragged her failing body to the medbay, the Kolto tank a welcome sight. She stripped as best she could, doing little more than cutting off the area around her blaster shot before collapsing against the side of the tank. The breath mask pumped in cool oxygen mixed with an anesthetic. Only then did she allow herself to cry. * * * Port Nowhere was no Nar Shaddaa, but the hidden base always seemed to be bustling with the scum of the galaxy. The cantina was the main draw for smugglers, bounty hunters, pirates, and others, but the various shops and booths always drew a crowd. In between a small eatery serving Twi’lek food and an armory, a bright sign advertising Lands’ Electronics glowed brightly. Lands was human, fair-skinned and short. “This is what I could do on such short notice,” he said to his client. Larena gazed at the documents in front of her, a frown forming on her face. “Amana Wentlas?” she said. Lands shrugged. “You wanted common, something that the Hutts wouldn’t easily find. I gave you common.” Larena scooted forward in her chair, the movement sending a twinge through her still healing flesh. “Common, yes, but Wentlas?” “There are half a billion human women named Wentlas in the galaxy,” Lands said. She studied the documents again. The deed to the Ta’rpoy in her name along with its new transponder codes and B.O.S.S. license, a new birth date that added an additional three years to her age. “Looks good,” she said, “but Coruscant? I hate that place.” “Better get used to it,” Lands said. “A lot of openings for my business came up there after that whole Sith business. During their attack, the records hub for a quarter of the planet.” He made an explosion gesture with his hands. “And practice your accent. Your Outer Rim is showing.” Larena closed her eyes and conjured the image of a HoloNet newscaster she knew and studied her voice. “I’m going to do my best,” she said. “That’s better, but still a little more work.” Larena pulled out her datapad and transferred the last of her credits into Lands’ account. “And your final payment.” Lands checked on his own datapad and stood up. “Well, Ms. Wentlas, good luck!” He gestured towards the door. “Not that it’s any of my business, but are you planning on getting out of the business? A lot of my clients do.” She shook her head. “Maybe if I can get a little more credits together,” she said. “I’m not selling the...” she checked the documents in her hand “the Dawn.” Amana walked out of his office and headed for hangar. It was a simple job she had lined up, she thought, running guns for the pro-Republic Balmorran forces for Rogun the Butcher. It wasn’t worth a lot of money, but it was a start. *** Spoiler: Author's Notes Author's Notes * The Ta'rpoy is an XS Stock Freighter, the Smuggler's ship from the Old Republic video game. * Labeu the Hutt originally appeared as a background character in a story taking place shortly after the Tales of the Jedi comics. As Hutt's are long-lived, he has seen everything that's happened since then. * Tubella's not-so-flattering nickname was inspired from a malapropism for Labeu in the earlier story, as he was accidentally called "Blobbo" by a pair of dim-witted smugglers. * Captain Sisshk's implied and legendary fate is inspired by what I think an angry Mafia boss would do if the person who crossed them could regenerate their limbs. * I love the trope of hearing a gun cocking in action movies, so I've always tried to reflect that in my stories with having the blasters needing to be primed before use. * I wanted the shootout to seem chaotic. To do that, I added a LOT of cover to the area. * In the tradition of The Old Republic having several ancestors of other Star Wars characters, the Lands mentioned is an ancestor to Roan Lands from the Last of the Jedi YA series. * The idea of Wentlas being a common name originally came from Survival Instinct, another one of my stories. * Despite Wentlas being a common name, Larena/Amana is indeed the great-great-etc grandmother to Alexis Wentlas and her father Galen. * The first mission under her new name is the opening quest for the Smuggler's storyling in The Old Republic.