Trinn glanced at his chrono, knowing full well what time it was. He knew the tiniest detail of this job by heart, as well as any number of contingency scenarios. He had this job planned down to the second, and he knew exactly what every other person involved would do, say, even think - that's what made him the best thief in the Corporate Sector. He always cased his jobs so thoroughly that he even knew what his targets had had for breakfast. He'd always been lucky, but extensive observation and planning certainly didn't hurt anything, either. With a deep cleansing breath, he pushed his bulk through the outer doors to the Second Coruscant Bank in the Senatorial District and waddled up to the teller he knew to be the least confident and most anxious to please.
"I'd like to cash out my account," he said.
The female human looked at him across the counter with wide, trusting eyes. "Certainly, sir. What is the account number?"
Trinn rattled off the number.
While she pulled up his account summary, he looked around the lobby, taking it all in with a single glance. There was only one patron in the bank's lobby, but he was carrying on a comlink conversation and was in his own little world; everyone else was an employee doing exactly what he knew they would be doing at this time of day. He shifted the bulk of his fat suit disguise from one foot to the other, looking restless and impatient to leave. It wasn't all an act, either - the suit added an extra twenty kilograms, even though it looked like four times as much. It was hot, too, and Trinn was sweating profusely underneath. The teller got the hint and flushed a bit, trying to hurry. Perfect.
The computer beeped at her and her eyes widened as she saw the balance of his account.
"I'm sorry sir, but due to the amount of your withdrawal, there will be a three-day waiting period before I can cash out the account." She looked up at him hesitantly, worried.
"That's absolutely unacceptable!" Trinn stormed in a boisterous voice. "I'm not leaving my money in this institution one second longer!" He waved his hands at the vidcam in the corner of the ceiling. "You bring your manager down here if you need to, but I'm walking out of here with my money now!"
The teller was now thoroughly flustered, as well as a little bit afraid of him, as he knew she would be - this was her fourth job in three months, and she couldn't afford to lose it over a customer complaint. Tears began welling up in her eyes. It was time to drop the other foot.
He sighed and leaned over the counter. "Look," he said softly, in a conspiratorial tone, "I know it's not your fault that this bank's security is so shabby. I used to be a bank teller myself, long ago. It's hard when you know the management is doing something wrong, but they won't listen to you, isn't it?"
She nodded, sniffing softly. He knew she didn't really have a clue what he was talking about, but she would agree with just about anything he said to make him happy right now.
"I know how we can both come out happy here," he suggested reasonably. "You don't want a customer complaint, and I just want my money. You've heard of Senate bill 30472.661, right?" He made as if to continue talking, but stopped when he saw her blank look. "You don't?"
She shook her head.
"How typical!" he shook his head in disgust. "The Senate just passed it a few weeks ago, and it gives even the lowest-level employees of all financial institutions discretionary authority to disburse accounts in the event of suspected negligence from the institution's officials." He leaned in even closer. "The fact that your manager didn't tell you about it is evidence enough that they're hiding something." He straightened up. "That's why I don't feel safe leaving my money in this bank anymore. It's my life savings, and I just don't have that much more living left to do, especially with the illness and all." He threw in that last part on a whim, just to give her that last little push over to his side. "I just don't feel safe leaving my money here anymore."
"I hadn't heard about that bill." She smiled bravely at him as she reached across the counter to pat his chubby hand. "Don't worry, I'll get it taken care of for you so you can enjoy the time you have left." She got up and went back to the vault.
Trinn smiled appreciatively at her as she disappeared from sight. What an idiot. She almost made this too easy. He glanced at his chrono - right on schedule. Now was the first likely point of breakdown. If one of the managers, who he knew liked to sit up in their suite sipping Corellian ale and playing sabacc, decided to come down and question the teller about what she was doing, he was in trouble. It was the thrill of this moment right here, when there was the chance, however small, that he could be discovered and caught, that kept him in this game. He didn't really need the money, although this was by far the largest heist he'd ever pulled - he certainly wouldn't need to work again after this job was done. Even so, he knew it would only be a matter of time until he did because he was addicted to the thrill, intoxicated by the rush that came with pulling off a job.
He expected the teller to return in about two minutes. As he waited, he thought back over the process of preparation for this job. A contact of his had given him a tip that this branch bank was in serious trouble. Somebody was siphoning money from the bank's profits by exploiting a security hole in the computer's self-auditing system. Trinn did some checking, and found that the lower-level managers were the ones who ran the daily business of the bank, and that they liked to sit around in their suite sipping Corellian ale and playing sabacc. The branch manager liked to spend most of his time in the nearby gambling establishments that catered to the elite of Coruscant. Trinn didn't really care who was on the take; he just figured that if someone else was stealing the bank's money, then he should get in on the action, too. The really ironic part, though, and the part that made this job irresistible to Trinn was that the branch manager was good friends with a Jedi. It was somewhat surprising that they got along at all given the manager's gambling habit, but it seemed they were quite close nevertheless.
Trinn hated Jedi. He could out-maneuver, out-fight, or out-run anyone else, but Jedi were entirely different. Their Force powers allowed them to run faster, jump higher, and move quicker than any being had a right to do. And, even worse, it almost seemed like they knew what you were going to do before you did it. It just wasn't fair - they removed all of the luck and much of the planning from any encounter. A gambler friend of his had once remarked that Jedi and luck were like oil and water: they just don't mix. Trinn was a firm believer in that, especially because of the one personal run-in he'd had with a Jedi. He'd ended up in a detention center for six months when he tried to lose himself in a crowded marketplace. He would have gotten away from the local authorities easily, but a Jedi happened to be visiting on a goodwill tour from the Republic and pinpointed him in the crowd. He knew it wasn't the same Jedi as this one, but as far as he was concerned, all Jedi were the same - faceless and nameless enforcers who messed with his life, and he hated them all.
So he had to pull off this job, not only for the money, but to take some small measure of personal revenge against the Jedi.
He had sliced his way in through the security hole and discovered that the Second Coruscant Bank's computer system was indeed second-rate. It ran a self-audit on all accounts and balances every quarter hour, so he had simply dropped a block of code into the system that activated itself after a pre-determined audit point, created an account with a hefty sum in it under his assumed name, and deleted itself. He had timed his entry into the bank to coincide with the completion of that audit point, so he had fifteen minutes to empty the account before the computers flagged the invalid transaction and brought security down on him. He knew he'd be long gone before that happened, though. He'd planned this job down to the excruciating details. And, he was lucky.
The teller reappeared, carrying a small pouch with her. She was half a minute early. The illness comment probably gave her a bit of extra urgency, Trinn thought with satisfaction. She set the pouch on the counter almost reverently.
"Here you go, sir," she said with a broad smile. "It's all there, in large denomination credit chips." She paused, as if unsure of whether she should say what she was thinking. "I hope you can enjoy yourself," she blurted out.
"Thank you, my dear, I shall try," Trinn replied gravely as he picked up the pouch and turned toward the door. "Have a good day."
He waddled across the lobby, pushed his way through the doors, and started down the steps outside the building. Right on schedule, with several minutes left before the next audit.
I'm so good I should be illegal, Trinn thought to himself as he ambled into the darkness of the evening. The heist was done, but the getaway was just beginning.
By the time he reached the end of the block, he was breathing heavily and sweating even more profusely under the heavy fat suit. It was a good enough disguise that he could probably pass through a customs search without being revealed even without his huge brown cloak, which covered the suit well enough by itself that anyone glancing his way would see only a fat human waddling down the street. It had easily fooled the teller. Another block and he would dump the suit; then he was home free.
Trinn had always considered himself a cut above other thieves. He liked to think he had a flair for the artistic, combining complexity and elegance to achieve a profitable financial outcome. Take this fat suit, for example. He was, in reality, very fit, and a little on the small side, if anything. In fact, his size had helped him many times in crawling through air ducts or crawl spaces between walls. No, he certainly didn't have to pretend to be fat for this job. True, the suit completely threw off any possible identification on the old vidcam in the bank's lobby, but the main reason he'd elected to go with the fat suit was that it accentuated his level of expertise. The suit greatly hampered his movement, especially in the event that he needed to move quickly to get away, and that forced him to plan everything about the heist down to the smallest detail. The fact that he could deliberately handicap himself and still pull off the job so smoothly showed just how much better he was than his target. He really didn't need to have such a well-designed disguise, either, when some plain pads and a heavy over-cloak would have been sufficient, but he considered it a professional must to have the very best equipment. He'd always been lucky, but luck was much easier to come by if you correctly manipulated all the variables involved.
He huffed his way around a corner as he smiled to himself. He'd pulled off a lot of jobs, some more difficult than this one, but he'd never gotten this much pure enjoyment out of any of them. The idea of using security concerns as his reason for emptying the account he'd just sliced into their system struck him as a bit of deliciously ironic self-fulfilling prophecy that was just too good to pass up. He hoped the Jedi was around when the branch manager learned of the theft.
Up ahead, he could see a dark passage leading back away from the street. He knew from prior reconnaissance that it was an alley that led only to the entrance of a seedy restaurant that went out of business several months ago. In scouting this place, he'd found out that the owner had been shot over an overpriced and exceptionally bad batch of gizer ale, and no one had wanted the location after that. Now, the only people to use that particular passageway were petty thugs or intoxicated wanderers, and even they didn't drop in very often. It was mostly a dead-end alley filled with garbage that no one wanted to visit. Perfect.
He waddled around the corner and paused, peering into the alley to make sure it was empty. A single stuttering sign blinked a silent eulogy for the restaurant that used to be there, throwing a harsh light onto the piles of garbage covering most of the alley. A trash bin stood across from the doorway of the place, which had been knocked inward, presumably by looters. A stray breeze stirred a piece of crumpled flimsiplast and sent it skittering from one trash pile to another, but that was the only movement Trinn could see.
Taking a final glance around to make sure there was no one looking his way, Trinn waddled deeper into the alley and stepped behind the trash bin. He dug his fingernails into his cheeks, peeling away the plasti-formed synthetic that covered his face. This was actually the most dangerous part of the job - if someone came into the alley with a blaster while he was removing his suit, he was finished. He quickly finished removing the rubber from his chin and neck, dumping it into the trash bin, then pulled the brown cloak over his head and dropped it into a thick puddle by his feet. Most of the fat suit was formed from padded pouches of rubber that he'd strapped across his chest or around his arms and legs. He'd had the suit built with quick-release straps, so it only took him a couple seconds to free himself of the extra weight. Underneath he wore a simple but stylish black sleeveless jumpsuit with a light black jacket. He pulled a pair of black dewback hide gloves out of a jacket pocket and put them on - no sense leaving any inadvertent fingerprints or genetic clues around. He wore his trusty blaster on his right hip, and had a few utility gadgets on his belt, but he was ready to travel fast now.
Feeling much lighter and decidedly cooler, he quickly slid the pouch with the credit chips into the sealable pocket inside his jacket. It was a bit bulky, but not so much as to get in the way or cause discomfort. Glancing toward the mouth of the alley, he gathered the pile of rubber and straps in his arms, then dumped it into the trash bin. He spread the brown cloak over all of it, then stepped back to take a look. In the dim flickering light, the brown cloak completely hid his disguise - it would take someone actually prodding through the trash bin to uncover it. He had no doubt it would happen eventually, but by then he would be on the other side of the galaxy relaxing on some exotic beach with a scantily-clad woman next to him. That thought brought a smile to his lips as he turned and walked briskly out of the alley.
Yes, his luck was certainly with him again today. He began whistling as he strolled down the street. He was headed for a parking lot a couple blocks away where he had left his speeder. He'd take the speeder to the nearby spaceport where his ship, Lifter's Pride, was berthed, then he'd be off-planet and free to enjoy a life of luxury. Well, at least until he felt the need to experience another job-rush. The pouch of credit chips clinked faintly as he walked along, causing his smile to widen.
As he rounded the last corner before his parking lot, a Republic law enforcement speeder sped toward him from the direction of the parking lot. The computer had likely flagged his transactions by now, so he was not surprised to see the local authorities searching the area around the bank. He wasn't worried, however, because there was no possible way they could identify him as the thief without his disguise, and although it was full night, he was certainly not the only being walking the surrounding streets. He could hear sirens as more Republic speeders flew down the adjacent streets. He knew they would soon begin to stop and search everyone they saw, but he would be in his speeder before their net could be closed this far away from the bank. Still, he stayed alert. Luck was only good to those who paid attention.
He hopped over the guardrail around the platform, then walked toward the last row, where his speeder was parked. It was a new turbo snub-speeder, a two-seater with a sleek flowing design and an open cockpit - he liked to be able to get in and out quickly and easily. On a whim, he'd had it painted bright yellow with green highlights around the cockpit and on the back of the twin headrest spoilers. He'd also removed the engine casings from the front of the speeder, so the engines were open to the air. He'd used the excuse that it helped cool the big thrusters, but he really just thought it looked rakishly dangerous. There was a stabilizer bar that ran from the front of the engines around each side of the speeder to form very short, thick stabilizer wings. He loved the back end the best - it had wide half-circle taillights set into each vertically flaring spoiler, and a horizontal light bar crossed the width of the speeder to connect them. The brake lights weren't used often when he was piloting, but when they were, they lit up the night behind him like the glow of afterburners. It wasn't very inconspicuous as far as getaway vehicles went, but he figured that if he'd managed to screw up badly enough that they identified his speeder, then the design didn't really matter - all that mattered was that it was fast. Besides, he liked yellow. It was a color that displayed excessive personality, and rich people could do that. And after this job, he was very, very rich!
A Republic speeder raced up to the edge of the parking lot and two Republic troopers hopped out. A third figure in the back seat stood up.
"You there, in the black!" yelled one of the troopers, pointing at him. "Stop!"
Trinn's head snapped around and his grin froze on his face. There was no way they could have found him yet! Then he saw that the figure standing in the speeder wore a thick brown cloak and held a shiny cylindrical object in one hand. An icy feeling seeped into his guts. A Jedi! The branch manager's friend was supposed to be meditating at the Jedi Temple right now, but Trinn supposed he had had a premonition of danger and showed up unannounced. It was the only explanation for how they had found out about the heist so quickly, and for how they identified him.
He was still bitter about his previous experience with a Jedi, but something good had come of his time in detention. He'd heard many stories from the other inmates about how to elude Jedi, even though he knew most of them were just wishful thinking. After all, if the stories had been true, the storyteller wouldn't have been in detention with him. But, through all the stories, Trinn had divined the one weakness that seemed to be common among all Jedi...
Quickly, he scanned the street behind the Republic speeder. Finding what he sought, he whipped his blaster out of its quick-draw holster and triggered three rapid blasts in the direction of the speeder. The Republic troops, who had been running straight toward him, dove for cover. The first bolt struck the speeder's engine housing, throwing sparks and dropping the speeder straight down to the permacrete pavement. The Jedi leaped off the speeder as it fell, turned a somersault while igniting his lightsaber, and landed lightly on his feet, casually batting the other two bolts away with the shimmering blue blade. Trinn hadn't expected to actually hit the Jedi, just distract him. While the Jedi was dealing with his blaster bolts, he shifted aim to a delicate-looking balcony above the street about half a block away. A group of Rodians was reclining in chairs on the balcony having an evening drink. Trinn snapped off a few well-aimed shots at the support struts holding the balcony up, burning them away and pitching the entire balcony, along with the Rodians, plummeting toward the pavement below.
As he expected, Trinn saw the Jedi whirl around and reach an arm out toward the impending disaster. The Rodians' descent abruptly slowed as the Jedi caught them in the grip of the Force while the balcony, chairs, and drinks crashed down onto the pavement. Trinn spun and ran toward his parked speeder. He knew he could elude the Republic troops, and the Jedi was temporarily out of the chase. If he could get to his speeder, he should be fine.
He came around the next to last row of vehicles and saw his speeder, parked below a weather-preventive overhang that lined the edge of the parking platform. Much to Trinn's dismay and disbelief, he saw a Jedi Padawan hop into the open cockpit, fire up the controls, and soar away from the parking platform. He skidded to a halt, his face contorted into a mask of furious disbelief. He wasn't sure which shocked him more, the fact that yet another Jedi was messing with his life by stealing his speeder at this particular point in time, or the fact that his engine code-lock had been bypassed so quickly. The Jedi must have been some kind of mechanical genius or something. Still trying to get his mind around what he'd just witnessed, he thought bitterly, What do the Jedi have against me? The pounding of boots on the pavement behind him and the splash of a stun bolt on the hover-car next to him startled him out of his shock. He could still get away from the Republic troops, but he had to act fast before the Jedi caught up.
He turned and snapped off a few shots from his blaster without really aiming, then pulled a small detonator out of a belt-pouch and tossed it under the hover-car. It was pre-programmed to wait five seconds before going off. He holstered his blaster, then turned and sprinted toward the far edge of the platform, counting silently. As he ran, he pulled out a short baton with a wrist-strap on one end and four buttons set into the external casing. The end opposite the strap had a powerful magnet set into it. He looped the strap over his right wrist and sprinted toward the edge of the parking platform. Time to see how lucky I really am! Trinn thought.
He had chosen to leave his speeder in this parking lot because it was one of a hundred such parking lots set up in a straight row that jutted out from that level, overlooking an open space that dropped past several hundred levels of Coruscant businesses and dwellings. Each platform was basically a plate of durasteel that was several meters thick, and the sides were flat, smooth, and featureless. They each had a weather-preventive overhang on one side, but the other side was open. That overhang would complicate the beginnings of the plan he was forming, but his choices at the moment were severely limited. He had initially used this series of parking lots to force a wide search area in the event that Republic law enforcement actually caught on to him, but it now became his only hope of escape.
He was rapidly approaching the fifty-meter gap over the chasm between the edge of his platform and the edge of the next platform over, so he had to act fast. He aimed his baton at the side of the next platform and triggered one of the buttons with his thumb. It bucked as the compressed gas canister set into the bottom of the magnet was released, and the magnet shot out of the baton's end with a hissing sound, trailing a line of ultra-thin flex-cable. Trinn used the safety curb running around the edge of the platform as a boost to get the most height possible as he leaped up and out over the chasm, even though the magnet had not yet attached itself to the far platform. Behind him, the detonator's timer finished its countdown and exploded, lifting the hover-car several meters in the air before crashing down on the speeder next to it. The explosion threw the Republic troops off their feet and rocked the platform, nicely covering Trinn's escape.
The magnet from Trinn's baton thunked into the durasteel side of the platform and held fast just as Trinn's leap reached the top of its arc. He could feel the heat and force of the explosion behind him as he gripped the baton with both hands and began falling into the abyss below him. Although he'd practiced with the baton before, he'd never had to use it in a live escape. He forced himself to focus on the baton instead of the thousands of meters he would fall if he misjudged his timing. He could feel the line pull taut and pressure abruptly yanked at his shoulders and right wrist as his full weight pulled on the line. It was a good thing he'd put on those gloves - they helped his grip on the smooth metal of the baton, and he needed all the help he could get to hang on. He'd have to re-design the baton with a much rougher grip after this was over.
The air whipped past him as he swung in a long downward arc underneath the platform. He triggered the slack button on the baton and he could feel the line playing out further, his arc lengthening. He had to be careful not to play it out too long, or he wouldn't have enough momentum to swing back up on the opposite side of the arc. As he reached the bottom of his arc, he hit the reel button and felt the compact internal motor begin pulling the flex-cable back into the baton. He could feel himself slowing as he approached the underside of the far edge of the platform. His wrist felt like it was being pulled apart, even through his gloves, and his shoulders burned fiercely, but he held on.
His plan was to swing under the platform and slingshot over the far edge, curling over to land on the platform he had just passed beneath. It should work, provided he had gotten enough extra height in his initial jump. It was risky, though - if he misjudged his arc and came up too short, he'd slam into the underside of the platform. If he came up too far past the edge of the platform, he would not be able to curl over it and back up on top; his momentum would be spent in the open gap between the two platforms. Either way, he would swing back in the other direction, but his return arc would be too slow to get back up to the level of the parking lots and he would end up dangling underneath the platform until the Republic troops found another speeder and came for him. Or until the Jedi figured out where he was and used the Force to lift him up.
He stopped reeling the flex-cable in, and eyed the rapidly shrinking distance to the edge of the platform, gauging his decreasing speed. It was going to be very close. He swung up past the bottom edge of the platform, then past the safety curb on the top edge, the flex-cable snapping tight across the durasteel underbelly of the platform. His momentum was almost spent, and he was almost completely upside down two meters above the edge of the platform.
Luck, don't leave me now! he thought desperately, then kicked his feet back and over his head as he clicked the disconnect button on the baton. The magnet anchoring him to the opposite side of the platform disengaged and popped off, sending a tremor back through the cable to vibrate the baton in Trinn's hand. He spun slowly and fell toward the safety curb at the edge of the platform. At the last instant he remembered to swing his aching arms to the side so he didn't get caught in the now-loose cable.
He barely made it. His boot heels landed right on top of the safety curb, but his body was still spinning slowly backward, so they immediately skidded off and flailed back out over the gap. He landed heavily on his back, with his rear end snugging up against the curb. The impact knocked the wind out of him, and the back of his head smacked down hard on the permacrete pavement. He lay still for a moment as his vision grayed out from the impact, but his instinctual panic at not being able to breathe brought him back quickly. His legs still dangled over the safety curb and down into the gap between platforms as he lay still, struggling for breath.
His chest finally started allowing him to breathe again, and as he gulped air down greedily, he hit the reel button on the baton again. The flex-cable quickly slithered back into the baton, the magnet on the end of the flex-cable skipping over the curb and back into its place in the end of the baton with a soft thunk. Trinn placed the baton back onto its clip on his belt and began assessing himself.
His shoulders throbbed, but seemed to be okay. His right hand felt all prickly, like it had fallen asleep, from the pressure of his weight on the wrist strap. He peeked under his right glove to see a thick red stripe and an imprint of leather on his skin, but he shook his hand out and the feeling quickly came back. He rolled onto his hands and knees, then immediately regretted it as his head throbbed with the sudden movement. He remained still for a few moments, trying to breathe deeply. He reached a gloved hand around to the back of his head, and was relieved that it came back without any blood on it, but he could already feel a lump forming. He sat back on his heels, leaning forward with his hands on thighs, willing his mind to clear. When he felt steadier, he peered over the safety curb, looking down into the depths of Coruscant below him. He whistled to himself.
"Trinn, you are one lucky nerf-herder!" Realizing how he'd come to plunging thousands of meter straight down, he muttered to himself, "Let's not try that again, huh?" The weather-preventive overhang on the other end of his platform prevented him from seeing the Republic troops on the platform he'd just left, but he knew it wouldn't take them long to call up another speeder and get over here, and he figured the gap between platforms was too big for even a Jedi to leap across. At least, he hoped so. He rose groggily to his feet and jogged off the platform. His head was slamming with each step, but he knew he had to keep moving.
He was now improvising, which he didn't like to do, but he was confident in his ability to complete his escape. After all, he was lucky. The thought of escape made him bristle again at the Padawan who had stolen his new speeder. He'd really liked that speeder! He ran down half a block, then ducked into the first turbolift he saw and selected the lowest level it would reach - it would be much harder for Republic troops and especially the Jedi to catch him in the lower levels of Coruscant. The doors slid shut and the lift dropped.
With a few quiet moments to think, he realized the theft of his speeder was probably unrelated to his attempted getaway. If the Padawan had been working with the Jedi tracking him, he may have been waiting for Trinn at his speeder, but the Padawan certainly wouldn't have taken his speeder and left. It must have been just a piece of bad luck. That thought sobered him even more than dealing with Jedi - his luck had always been favorable, and that had made him successful. If his luck was changing, it was certainly good that he had scored a major job; he may need to consider getting out of the game. The lift came to a halt and the doors opened.
He stepped out of the turbolift, blinking his eyes to try to adjust them to the darkness. It had been the dark of night up on the top levels, but the darkness down here always seemed to be much thicker somehow. There were glowlamps sporadically spaced down the dirty streets, but their light was sickly and pale, and the darkness seemed to swallow it up. There were a few beings about down here, but this level was low enough that it was dangerous to speak to anyone else or do anything but go about your own business, so Trinn did just that. He'd never been this low directly beneath the Senatorial district before, but he knew his general location. He figured if he wandered around for a few hours, he'd be able to shake his Jedi pursuit. He'd make his way back up to the surface and head for the spaceport. With the credit chips snugged up to his chest, he could easily buy a whole lot full of speeders just like the one he'd lost tonight, and it wouldn't seriously dent his new wealth. He just had to make sure he kept moving, even if he didn't know exactly where he was. He walked quickly down the darkened street, looking for another turbolift or some other way to travel quickly. There were usually banks of public lifts together, but he'd come down a maintenance lift, so it was set off by itself. He kept a loose hand on his blaster, just in case anyone bothered him.
As he walked, he suddenly noticed that the few other creatures moving along the street quickly scurried away from the main walkway. He turned to look behind him, and was shocked to see that the Jedi had just emerged from the lift just a few hundred meters behind him. He ducked for cover in the nearest doorway, wincing at the pain from his sudden movement and thinking furiously to figure out how the Jedi had caught up so fast. There was no way the turbolift car had gone all the way up to the platform level and back down again in the short time since Trinn had gotten out of it, so the Jedi must have found another way down the lift. Probably just floated down, he thought cynically. This Jedi was nothing if not persistent!
He peeked around the doorway to see the Jedi still standing there in his hooded cloak, not moving. Trinn didn't know how the Force worked, but he was certain the Jedi would eventually lock onto him and come running. This level was certainly less populated than the marketplace where he'd been pinpointed long ago, so there was no reason to think it couldn't happen again. He had to keep moving. He also needed another distraction.
He turned and pushed through the doorway to find himself in a small chamber with a pair of scummy-looking Gamorreans holding repeating blasters. Between them was another door, and Trinn could hear a noise that he supposed some species called music floating through the door. He pulled a couple credit chips out and tossed them toward one of the Gamorreans, who caught them and snorted to his companion. The other guard swung the door open, letting the noise and a pungent smell flood the small outer chamber. Trinn stepped through the doorway into a dimly lit nightclub full of unsavory-looking characters. A band of Biths in one corner was causing the offensive noise, and there was a small open area in front of them where a few intoxicated creatures gyrated to some beat that Trinn just couldn't make out. He shouldered his way to the bar and waved the hulking Devaronian bartender over.
"What you want?" he asked loudly in a thick accent.
"I want to offer a reward," Trinn said.
The Devaronian grunted. "For what?"
"There's a Jedi down the street. I'd like to speak with him, but I need him contained."
"Unconscious, but unharmed and unarmed."
The Devaronian growled in laughter. "You crazy? Jedi no captured!" He turned to resume his bar-keeping duties.
Trinn plunked a high-denomination credit chip down on the bar. "This one's for you. There's another for the one who gets me the Jedi."
The Devaronian stared hard at him. Trinn could tell he was almost persuaded. Almost.
"Surely you know some people who are capable of this," Trinn suggested, playing a hunch. "I've heard this is a bar where such beings can be found."
The barkeeper palmed the credit chip and held out his clawed hand. "Pay first."
Trinn nodded and gave him another chip, then ordered the house brew to drink. He watched as the Devaronian shuffled down to the other end of the bar, serving a massive Trandoshan and a couple of attractive human females wearing very little clothing but quite a lot of undisguised weapons. Trinn expected the barkeeper to enlist the Trandoshan, but instead he leaned in and said something to the two females, who quickly glanced at Trinn. One arched an eyebrow in his direction. He nodded at the two women, then took a sip of his drink. It tasted awful, but his pride allowed him to keep his face neutral. Bad luck, indeed. This drink should be illegal! he thought. He looked around. Of course, in a bar like this, it just might be. It certainly didn't help his headache at all.
He looked back over toward the women, but they had disappeared from their spot at the bar. He looked searchingly at the barkeeper, who cocked his head at the door. Trinn set his drink down and walked back out the front and past the Gamorreans. As the outer door closed behind him, Trinn peeked around the corner again. He saw the two women approach the Jedi, who stopped to speak with them. His face was shrouded in shadow from his hood, but Trinn could see him shake his head. Trinn suspected the women had used the pretense of sex to get close to the Jedi. They acted appropriately crestfallen at his rejection and started to walk past him.
Suddenly, they both whirled around and rushed the Jedi, one with a long knife and the other with a stun baton. The Jedi spun around and ignited his lightsaber, sweeping it through the stun baton, throwing sparks back in the woman's face. He ducked beneath the knife-swipe of the other woman and kicked out at her stomach, doubling her over his boot heel. Trinn didn't watch any longer - he bolted from the club's doorway, running down the street away from the fight, fresh pain exploding through his head. He felt a little bit bad about setting up the two women for imminent failure, but that was the way of things. He needed a distraction, and they agreed to provide it. Besides, they had been paid in advance, and it was unlikely the Jedi would kill them or even seriously hurt them. Trinn raced around a corner and just missed bowling over a Ranat who was pushing a cart full of rags down the walkway. He didn't figure the two women would give him much time, so he had to move fast. He sprinted hard, looking left and right for another bank of turbolifts. He found something even better.
He saw a gateway leading to a hover-train station, and beyond the gateway was a train waiting to depart right away. The trains were something of a forgotten means of travel on Coruscant, but they traveled parallel to the planet's surface in a long tube, they covered great distances, and they moved fast. He walked quickly up to the counter manned by a scruffy-looking human, paid the fare for a one-way credit chip that would get him to the other side of the planet, then walked across the boarding area. He stepped into the last car because it was empty and afforded the best view of the boarding area. He sat down next to the transparisteel window and watched for the Jedi.
A few moments later, the doors on the hover-train whooshed closed. His head was feeling a bit better and the Jedi still had not appeared, so Trinn was beginning to wonder if his luck had turned back in his favor. The hover-train lurched and began to pick up speed as the front end of it entered the tunnel. The Jedi suddenly raced around the corner and leaped five meters into the air to sail over the purchase counter. He landed lightly on his feet and ran alongside the hover-train, his cloak and hood billowing behind him. Trinn watched in disbelief as the Jedi ran at superhuman speed, actually catching up to the hover-train as it continued to pick up speed. The Jedi drew even with Trinn, and they stared at each other through the transparisteel window. In a detached sort of way, Trinn was surprised to see that the Jedi looked much older than he'd thought at first. He was human, and easily twice Trinn's age, with thinning hair and piercing blue eyes. Those eyes held no mercy, however, and he suddenly felt a dizziness wash over him. Trinn found himself standing up and reaching for the emergency stop lever above his head without really knowing why. He fought his own muscles, and watched in spooked fascination as his arm quivered from the internal struggle. As much as he fought the movement, his fingertips moved inexorably toward the lever, and were just about to close around it when he suddenly jerked back, falling heavily into his seat. The dizziness lifted, and he unconsciously shook his head to clear it. Pain shot through him at the sharp movement, and he winced. That was weird! he thought. Kind of like an out-of-body experience. He looked out the window again to see that his car had entered the tunnel, and he could only see the ghostly image of a dark wall flowing past.
He let out a sigh of relief. I made it! It had been close, but he was safe now. He wondered idly if the Jedi had actually run into the wall, causing the abrupt cessation of his Force control. Probably not. Even on his best day, he wasn't that lucky. The hover-train picked up speed as it soared silently through the tunnel. With a few moments to think, Trinn decided it might be better not to head to the opposite side of the planet. While he needed to get away from the Jedi, his ship wasn't that far away. If he went to the other side of Coruscant, he'd almost certainly shake the Jedi's pursuit for good, but he would also have to double-back to get to his ship. That would take time, and would allow the bank, the Jedi, and the Republic troops to set up an organized and thorough search for him and his ship, making his return that much more dangerous. He decided to go just a couple stops, then get off the hover-train and head straight for the spaceport where his ship was berthed. He felt certain that at this point speed was the critical factor in getting off-planet.
Two stops later, Trinn exited the hover-train and walked out of the station. Now that he had no immediate pursuit, he wanted to get to a higher level. There was no reason to take more chances than necessary in the dangerous depths of Coruscant, after all. He found a bank of turbolifts across the street from the hover-train station, and rode up several dozen levels.
He got out and immediately recognized where he was - a popular nightclub district frequented by top-level Coruscant socialites who fancied themselves as capable of walking on the wild side by visiting the "lower" levels of the city-planet. Those on the fringe who actually belonged there, like Trinn, put up with them because they spent huge amounts of money on drinks, entertainment, and gambling. It was a business arrangement that both sides accepted with only occasional conflicts. It was crowded tonight, with lots of people milling about, moving in and out of the various clubs, and idly watching the circular vid-screens showing ads for various entertainments for all genders and species. The walkways were garishly lit in shades of purple and orange, and the smells were as exotic as they were pungent. Trinn was a regular at several of these clubs, and one of the owners owed him a favor that he could cash in to borrow a speeder to get to the spaceport.
He walked down the street, weaving through the traffic, arriving at his destination via an alley at the rear of the building. He walked down the darkened alley toward the unmarked door, steering around the sewer grates from which putrid steam wafted up. He entered the code on the keypad next to the door and walked in after the door slid open. Immediately he was assaulted with the trademarks of such places - a writhing mass of creatures of all shapes and types, all dancing, laughing, or sulking as their circumstances dictated. The club was packed, and the air was full of heat and the smells of dozens of species. He could hear the voice of the gambling operator announcing odds and winners over the club's loudspeakers as he made his way toward the front of the club.
The owner of most clubs like this spent much of their time in back rooms, watching vidcams and counting their money. Not Trinn's friend - he liked to mingle with his patrons, and could usually be found near the front door. As Trinn shouldered his way through the crowd, he thought he recognized a familiar form hurrying toward the door: someone who could sell him something for his pounding headache. Tapping the figure on the shoulder, he said, "Elan! How's the deathstick business treating you?"
The man turned to face him. "I'm rethinking my life, Trinn. No more deathsticks for me." There was something funny about the way Elan Sleazebaggano was acting...
"What's wrong, Elan? Is everything okay?"
The other man looked at him, a confused look creasing his brow. "I don't know, Trinn. I just want to go home."
Before Trinn could respond, their conversation was interrupted by a sudden commotion behind them, up by the bar. Trinn heard a distinct humming sound, quickly followed by a scream, and as a space cleared around the bar, he saw a shimmering blue blade.
Impossible! Trinn wanted to scream. There was absolutely no way the Jedi could have followed him here, and doubly impossible to have done it so quickly! Without waiting to confirm the identity of the Jedi wielding the blue blade, he turned to excuse himself from Elan, only to see that his friend had already disappeared. Grimacing at the thought of continuing to run with his head pounding the way it was, he quickly pushed his way toward the entrance, bursting out through the white-lighted doorway arch. He looked from side to side, searching for some inspiration or another distraction. He was definitely getting out of the business - his luck was completely gone! He hated Jedi!
Down the street to one side of the club was the burning wreckage of a green twin-engined speeder smashed up against a wall. A crowd had gathered around the wreckage, slowing pedestrian traffic around it, so Trinn turned the other way and started running. Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw through the milling crowd of beings a familiar outline across the street. He slowed and looked closer, afraid to hope. It seemed as equally impossible as the reappearance of the Jedi, but the distinct modifications he'd made were unmistakable...it was his speeder! He cut through the flow of pedestrian traffic and vaulted over the side to land on the comfortably padded seat behind the short transparisteel windscreen. He could feel the heat rolling back off the engines, as if someone had flown it hard, and he could swear that it smelled like burned ozone, but it seemed otherwise operable. He keyed in the ignition sequence and fired up the thrusters. He shot straight up and gunned the throttle wide open, rocketing away from the plaza into the flow of traffic.
The spaceport was two minutes away by speeder, and he could fly right into the bay of Lifter's Pride and be off the ground thirty seconds after that. Not even the Jedi could catch him now - he was home free, with a life of luxury just waiting for him!
Maybe his luck was with him after all...
Original cover by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.