The Rodian feigned offence as Jake shouldered past, but didn’t protest at the insult, slinking warily into an alcove. The squeaky runt knew his place.
Jake shot him a warning look as he sidled past. A part of him wanted to put an end to the Rodian just for looking so outraged, but that was not what he was here for. Not tonight. Besides, it would be a bad idea to draw attention.
He stepped down to the lower level of the bar, careful not to spill the three drinks as he set them down on the table.
“Enjoy chaps”. His companions thanked him; two weather-beaten dockworkers from the main town on the island.
“It’s like I was just saying to Jax” the larger man said “every year it gets worse. We used to have just one big race a year, now we’re up to three. Half the sector piles in every time, drain us dry and then they’re gone again”.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if there were still plenty of locals racing” the other added, “but they haven’t got the credits to enter the big stakes they’re asking now. So between races it’s a ghost town. My mates on South Island say it’s the same there”.
“They’re aliens” Jake said, taking a swig of his drink. “They’re not Human and they’re not from Corsin. They’re not gonna care. It’s just take, take, take and to hell with you guys. I’ve seen the same thing back home”.
“But getting organised like you say” one cut in “it’s easier said than done. And what if we start with what you said and we get caught?”
“There’s ways gentlemen. Ways....”. Jake lowered his voice and began to explain to the two how they could fight back. They were simple men, but he could talk simple when required. Besides, he felt a connection with them however slight – they were strong guys, patriotic and trying to save their world from a government that was blind the damage outsiders were wreaking. Jake had seen it so many times and he was not going to let another world go under. It was time to turn the tables.
They lapped up his advice gladly. After all, he knew what he was doing. Soon enough, he would prove it to them too.
“I’ll be back in three weeks” he explained “we’ll meet somewhere different next time. By then you need to have your people organised and have the lists of names we talked about. Then we’ll show them you mean business”.
They shook hands eagerly and passed Jake his credits. His help and advice did not come for free and all funds went to the cause. “I believe in your two” he told them, looking each of them in the eye. They would need courage for the task ahead.
With that, he zipped up his jacket and made ready to leave.
It seemed like a simple job. A low-ranking official on Corsin caught wind of something big, illicit and xenophobic going on. With few people on the planet being trustworthy, Sector Rangers were contacted. However, the rangers couldn't act without solid evidence and based on bare assumptions. That led to the job being "outsourced" to a Jedi, if one were willing to take it. As the Force would have it, Knight Nykoria Tallis was nearby and volunteered. Her objective: track down a couple of dockworkers to the meeting spot, see if they're conspiring with anyone, and what they're up to.
Lucky for the Zeltron, the meeting was to occur in a public place—a bar. Her standard attire could blend in nicely. The dark-brown leather jacket on top of it hid the lightsaber hilts secured horizontally on the back of Kori's utility belt. The heavy stun pistol holstered on her right hip was her only visible tool of self-defense.
"Sorry, didn't mean it," the Zeltron graced the Rodian with an apologetic smirk, as she had almost bumped into the alien. She sensed the man's powerless anger and self-bashing for not standing up to the guy who had insulted him earlier. If left unchecked, it could result in trouble. Taking pity for the alien, Kori decided to help; in the only way she knew how. She patted the alien on the shoulder and made a waving gesture towards the exit: "Wouldn't it be nice to go home and spend some time with the people you care about?" The Rodian nodded and headed towards the exit. Apparently, he did find the suggestion that the Zeltron had subtly instilled through the Force agreeable.
That was a risk, Kori. You've interfered in that man's life and almost made the choice for him. Let alone the fact that you've made your presence in the Force known. Can't you feel the cold? That's a telltale sign of a dark side user nearby. Even if you can't tell who he is yet, or if he has buried his presence. And your little "persuasion" might've alerted them to a Jedi nearby.
Hey, I couldn't just leave the guy bashing himself over the insult and lack of courage. Besides, I haven't been hiding my presence and alignment in the Force anyway. Had to focus on not drawing attention and listening to the voices of our marks. Though you're right, it's time to be more discreet.
Leaning over the rails, the purple alien with indigo hair observed the lower level of the bar. Closing her eyes briefly, Nykoria tried to conceal her presence within the Force, while reaching out in all directions herself. Her goal was to become a thousand eyes and ears spread all over the place. For a few moments, she saw and heard everything going on. A Weequay sharing a tale about his adventures in space; a Twi'lek giggling to a joke made by her suitor; a glass accidentally dropped, and a drink spilled... Three people discussing aliens; one of them sounds like he's trying to persuade his listeners to do something... Bingo!
The Zeltron focused on those particular individuals, shutting out the other invisible "eyes" and "ears". On the outside, however, she was still enjoying the view and just looking at the crowd. Yet her attempt to be omnipresent produced a curious effect. Instead of hiding the presence of the light side, Kori accidentally made it evident. The aura filled the bar, making its source harder to identify. Let's hope nobody pays too much attention to it.
Meanwhile, the stranger had finished talking with her marks and prepared to leave. And Kori hadn't even recorded anything! That's alright. You know those two are up to something. New plan: take note of their contact; wait for him to disappear; track down one of those guys when he's alone; "persuade" him to tell what he knows on record.
Jake rose from the table, turning to leave and having to steady himself as a strange sensation passed over him in a wave. He had never been a lightweight. His military days had made him and alcohol firm friends. What was it then?
The feeling came again briefly, passing across his body like the raking of a searchlight. He recognised it now and smiled in anticipation.
“We're being watched” he said quietly to his comrades "As soon as I'm gone, get yourselves out of here and split up". They both nodded obediently, glancing warily around the bar.
Jake made for the door, walking calmly but with purpose. The dockworkers could look around the bar all day. The one that threatened them was not like them, but like Jake, with the power of the Force in their palm. They could be hiding that power under any exterior. Whether or not they were specifically tailing Jake and his companions, they would not be obvious to the naked eye.
He reached the door and slipped out into the street, checking the saber hilt concealed in the long back pocket of his waistband. He hoped it wouldn't be needed. Though he knew enough to sense that he was not dealing with a fellow Sith - likely one of the misguided Jedi - their meeting didn't have to mean the Jedi's end.
The street was empty and Jake's hands curled into fists as he began to draw the Force around him, shrouding his presence as he stepped into the shadows of an alley.
Piecing blue eyes fixed on the front door of the bar, he watched for his comrades leaving and, with any luck, their mystery pursuer.
Not long after the mysterious contact disappeared, the two dockworkers stood up from the table. Perhaps it was the time to bump into one of them? Spill a drink, apologize, wait for the other guy to leave, and then have "a talk". Alas, the marks were sticking together for the time being. Bumping into one of them meant that the other would certainly remember a pink-skinned indigo-haired woman. The Zeltrons did stand out in a crowd of humans; just like Twi'leks and Pantorans did.
That's why Kori bided her time and let the two men walk right past her. Up close, she could sense their cautiousness. It was as if they were up to no good, and their own fear tailed them like a shadow. Yep, definitely my guys. She followed the men outside the bar and into the streets, at a respectable distance. Focused on her marks; oblivious to everything else.
As one of the men turned to the side alley, while the other continued down the street, the Zeltron saw her opportunity. With a smirk of confidence on her lips, Kori turned towards the side alley, tailing the man. "Excuse me," she raised her voice a little, but spoke softly; mainly to keep things on the low, but also so as not to spook her target. Still, the dockworker jumped from surprise as he turned around to face the disturbance.
"I think you dropped something at the bar," the Zeltron waved to the dockworker in a friendly greeting. Some truths (and a little application of the Force) made the story more believable and allowed the Zeltron to approach without worrying her target too much. Kori knew that the closer she got, the easier it would be. At close range, her species' natural pheromones would also take effect: calm the dockworker down. Hopefully, that would make her questions and Force persuasion even harder to resist. Up close, she'd press the button on the recording device in her pocket, before asking: "I also think you want to tell me what the meeting was about."
Jake watched the woman with narrowed eyes. She might have been Human if not for the garish skin and hair, maybe even a pretty one at that. His youthful features stopped just short of a scowl. Zeltrons had a certain appeal, and this one was a Jedi. She wasn't completely irredeemable.
The woman tailed the dockworkers up the street, following in their steps though she made every effort to conceal it. There could be little doubt she was the one he'd felt. Now it would be him who would get the jump on her, hidden in the shadows as he was and with her attention focused on hers charge.
She let one of the men go to Jake's surprise, opting to slip after the smaller one as he hurried into the opposite alley across the street. Bending the Force to his aid, Jake could just hear her call to the dockworker, probing him about their meeting.
Oh no you don't dear.
He stepped quietly across the street, rolling the soles of his boots to muffle his approach. She had her back to him now, focused on her interrogation.
It was only right to introduce himself.
Stepping into the alley behind her, Jake swept up and across with the Force, aiming to lift the Jedi off her feet and pin her against the wall. Fresh and fueled with anticipation for their meeting, it was a a powerful blow designed to hold her fast.
Then it would be time to ask some probing questions of his own.
Kori approached the dockworker, sensing his concerns fading away with every step she took. The Zeltron had no doubt that the mark would spill it soon enough, taken in by her harmless appearance and application of the Force. The job was definitely below the pay grade of a Jedi. Then why was there still doubt lingering on the fringes of the Knight's confidence? There were more emotions than Kori would've expected from the dockworker. The Zeltron's senses picked up... passion? A strange addition to the mix, unless...
The woman almost managed to turn around, suspecting that the unexpected feeling was someone else's. She had only managed to interject a surprised "Huh?" before everything hit her. The whole specter of the stranger's emotions. The cold presence of the Dark Side of the Force. Invisible energy that lifted the unprepared Jedi from the ground and pinned her back against the wall, making her gasp—more from surprise rather than from pain. All too easy, eh, Kori?
Pressed against the wall—both figuratively and literally—the Zeltron struggled to turn her head and take a look (and sense) at her attacker. He was a Sith; that much was obvious. Yet to the Jedi's surprise, she didn't feel the murderous intent, despite his attack. Then again, the Sith were proficient at hiding their intentions until the moment they'd decide to make a move; Nykoria had learned that the hard way. She would need to break the man's hold over her, when the time was right. For that, she had to repress her fear and concentrate. Emotion, yet peace, Nykoria.
The sudden display of supernatural abilities scared the mind trick out of the dockworker entirely. It made the man take a few hesitant steps back, before he'd turn around and try to make a run for it, breathing heavily. Nykoria couldn't do anything about that at the moment. But she knew both men; she could track them down at any time and "persuade" them to talk. That sudden realization contributed to Kori regaining control of her emotions.
Until there was any immediate danger, the Zeltron allowed the stranger to keep her pinned against the wall and exhaust his own stamina. After a brief chuckle, Kori stared at the stranger with a rather out-of-place smirk. Out of any words, she said the first thing that came to her mind, with some hesitation: "Why, hello there..."
"I know, I know" Jake smiled manically, looking the Jedi up and down "not the best first impression, I get you. But you see you kinda set the tone lady, sneaking up on my friend here". The young Sith nodded to the dockworker, who needed no encourage to run for it, nearly falling over himself as he disappeared into the night.
Jake kept his gaze firmly on the woman in his grip. She'd been taken off guard sure enough, but she was not going to pieces. Not yet. There was a certain steel about her, at least for now. Though his
casual attire was a far cry from typical Sith kit, Jake could tell she guessed who he was. Or more precisely, who he was with.
"So what's your name?" he asked her pointedly. "And what you doing here?"
He knew the answer to the second question of course. She was here to see what Jake and his friends were up to. He was not going to waste time pretending they were not up to something. Both he and the pink princess had better things to do with their time. But what was she planning to do with her information? If it was stop them, then as always the real question was;
"-why?" he added. "Why's it matter to you what's going on here?". Few Jedi seemed to give much thought to why they did what they did. This one would probably be no better. She was clearly not a Corsinian herself, but instead one of the many offworlders the locals resented so much. What did she even know of the struggles she was ignoring here.
Jake feigned nonchalance as he waited for his answers. In truth, he was beginning to feel a stiffening in his outstretched arm and the rise of a dull ache in the back of his neck. He was strong, both in the Force and in body, but he could not hold her indefinitely. The effort was already beginning to drain him.
Good news: the stranger didn't try to kill or maim immediately. That left the Zeltron with more time to regain her composure and concentration. Even better, he was seemingly inclined to a casual chat. Kori attempted to shrug at the man's initial remark, but the applied Force meant that she had to settle for an awkward motion of her shoulders. "It's ok. I already see that you hold me high," the woman retorted with a wisecrack, even though the smirk was gone from her face.
Then the question came: the name. How was she supposed to introduce herself, and to a Sith of all people? Tallis? The last name has a nice ring to it, but leaves a trail. Not something you'd tell the supposed enemy of your Order. Nykoria? Less of a trail, but too pompous and formal. Shiri, just like a Twi'lek BFF from the academy? Best option at first glance; but if the enemy knew your real name already, it'd lead to trouble. No, it had to be...
"The name's Kori," the woman replied after a few moments of thought. Sure, a pet name was inappropriate for the circumstances. But it didn't leave a trail. And if the stranger knew her real name, the woman would have an excuse—she didn't actually lie. Meanwhile, the stranger asked a couple more questions. Purpose was the easy part, but reason... Yet luckily, Kori had an answer that wouldn't allow to blame her for the lack of sincerity.
"You've figured the what already," the Zeltron gritted her teeth momentarily between words, steeling her self for the inevitable less pleasant part of the conversation. "As for the why..." she let the Force flow through her and build up inside, preparing for whatever might come next. Yet even though she could try and break the man's hold over her, she opted to wait for whatever move he intended. "I was hoping that you or your friend could tell me that."
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to dodge the question," A smirk crossed Kori's lips; she didn't actually lie again. "But once I know what exactly you three are up to, I'll have a more certain answer." The Zeltron made her semi-shrug again: "Until then, I can only say the standard 'increase the peace' line."
The smirk widened into a radiant grin, as the Jedi had come up with something really punny, just for the occasion: "It's totally fine though, you can leave me hanging."
He released his hold suddenly and without warning, likely sending the Zeltron sliding to the floor.
"You don't even know what you're in the middle of here, Kori, there's no peace to increase". Jake stepped sideways around the woman as he embarked on setting her straight. He was unconcerned about releasing her. She was not likely to come for him and if she did he would deal with her.
"Corsin's not at peace. Like a thousand other worlds there's a war waging beneath the surface. The decay, the stagnation, the struggle of the ordinary men and women who can't get a fair crack of the whip on their own world". The young Sith's wide smile was gone now, replaced by the cold fire of conviction in his eyes. "Those who want a better future have to rise up and take it Kori, who are you to tell them they can't?" He shook a curled fist in her direction, inadvertently drawing the wind into the narrow alley, before he steadied himself.
"You don't know their life, you don't know mine." He looked her up and down. " But you have power - like me - why waste your time with damned Jedi?"
Suddenly, the invisible barriers keeping Nykoria pinned to the wall were gone. Unprepared for it, the Zeltron slid down the wall, landing on one knee. To her surprise, the stranger... helped her up? He seemed to have been expecting that sort of answer. Perhaps the Human had his own prejudices about the Jedi, just like the Zeltron had about the Sith. To top it off, the man had an agenda; his determination and belief virtually emanated from him, easy to pick up for empathic and Force-sensitive beings. Kori was both.
"Maybe you're right," she shrugged, dusting her clothes off. Her law-enforcement training reminded her about the first lesson of dealing with fanatics: don't argue with them. The stranger was... well, strange somewhat, but he seemed reasonable. Yet you know how they say: "Beware of a silent kath-hound and still water." Still, the man had a point. "I don't know what I've gotten into."
Inadvertently, the stranger had also let slip what the whole thing was about. A revolt of some kind? Regardless, the stranger was also right about another thing: the order of things wasn't always just. And if people wanted a better life, the Jedi couldn't stand in the way. It was not the place of the Order to decide other people's fates. But what they could do was to ensure that someone's fate wouldn't get cut off violently and prematurely.
A sudden gush of wind sent the Zeltron's indigo hair waving and returned her from the train of thought to reality. She flinched at the surprise, but remained startled only a couple of moments longer. "I... can't blame people for wanting change," she tilted her head, looking at the stranger intently. "I guess... All I'm after is to reduce people's suffering, change or no change. Violence..." Kori cast down her brown eyes and lowered her tone; it was evident that the next topic was deeply personal to her. "... Sometimes it carries people too far from themselves, and only breeds more violence and misery in turn."
"As for the Jedi," she looked at the stranger again, from under her eyebrows, still thoughtful. "It's simple. Unlike many people back home, they accepted me for what I was. Taught me how to control my powers..." The Zeltron now met the stranger's gaze head on: "... And of the responsibility that comes with them." In layman's terms, a Jedi's abilities were both a gun and a healing kit. And as the the Force would have it, Kori had those abilities. As her master would put it: "It isn't much different from a peace officer being entrusted with a weapon."
Kori sensed that the Sith would probably have an argument or two against what she had said. After a moment of hesitation, she asked a question of her own. Partly because she wanted to change the topic, and partly because she was genuinely curious: "But what about you, stranger? What makes you tick? And more importantly..." The Zeltron lightened up a little: "What is your name?"
Kori actually seemed to consider his words. She could be just pretending to of course, but Jake suspected her mind was not entirely closed. He didn't know much about aliens, hell why would he want to, but even a back alley boy from Desevro knew about Zeltrons and their talents. It wasn't exactly their empathy that made them famous in Maslovar's nightclubs, but it was renowned all the same. Perhaps she couldn't help but hear him out - it was her nature - and through it he would make her understand. He would show her the way.
Jake was about to tell her how she'd got her responsibilities all mixed up, that she owed the Jedi nothing for the shackles they had fashioned in mind. But she suddenly turned the questions round on him and he smiled in the spotlight.
"Jacob Richter" he volunteered, introducing himself unashamedly. His political action back in the Hegemony had already put him on most wanted lists. She'd find out his name eventually. "You can call me Jake though, now we're friends". He sniggered at that last word, knowing she would tie herself in knots trying to work out if he was serious. Jedi always did when they met anything other than the heavy-breathing violent type - their training didn't prepare them for thinking people who simply chose a different way. Only for monsters.
"...and I'm not so different to you princess. I'm all about ending folks' suffering too. The difference is I've seen it, I've lived it, and I know the rot that needs burning away. I'm ready to light that fire". He took a step a little closer, knowing on some level she could feel him more than most.
"I could show you, you know".
He realised he could sense her now, a radiant aura that tugged at him, trying to calm his fire. He shut it out on instinct. The woman had a certain appeal, it was true, but it needed no exaggeration.