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Thread: Imposters

  1. #41
    When Rayner showed renewed interest in the namana-yellow trousers, Jeryd suspected mischief. What kind of ulterior motive drove him to such a sudden change of heart? He did as instructed, of course, but his guard was up. Had Rayner presented him with face paint and a pair of comically large floppy shoes, he’d have scarcely been surprised. As such, he did indeed find himself surprised by the sound advice his companion had to offer.

    In light of Rayner’s words, he regarded the overalls afresh, and tried to picture himself dressed like a greasy spanner-turner, hanging out with drunken locals who spent the night complaining about their jobs, gambling on the nuna races, and talking about… whatever poor people have to talk about. The weather, probably. It was true: he really had no idea what he was getting himself into. Whatever objections he had were put to bed in favour of resuming his search through the densely-packed clothing racks. Idly, he nodded along with what Rayner had to say.

    “Zepp came from money. He knew nothing about the lower classes. Poor people, I mean,” he quickly corrected himself, but it still didn’t feel right. His hand hovered, as if he could pluck the correct words from thin air, “That is to say, the less economically fortunate.”

    From a tight cluster of fancy shirts, he untangled a long-sleeved emerald green shirt, it had a casual round neck and was covered in a subtle hexagonal pattern that caught the light. Go big or go home, he told himself, committing to the choice. He glanced at Rayner, recalling his old friend with a glint of amusement in his eyes:

    “He made it his life’s work to disappoint his old man; the more expensive the item, the fancier the occasion, the better the target. He was a complete fucking delinquent, man. And when the rest of us left for the academy, he did a stint in juvie then fell off the radar. Let’s hope we don’t bump into him down here, eh?”

    With a smirk, Jeryd gave Rayner a nudge. For a fleeting instant, he felt oddly at ease, even in his presence. Rayner, with whom he had a strained and antagonistic relationship. Talking about his old mate made him forget that. Hells, for a second, he even forgot that Kyle Rayner was no longer a peer, but his superior. It was enough to give him pause for thought. This tactic of his, of adopting a familiar persona to hide behind, it might actually work. And then there were his backstory suggestions: dodging military service? Check. Escaping a disapproving family? Double check.

    Rayner was good at this subterfuge thing. And Jeryd was not above leaning on his expertise.

    “Won’t I stand out like this, though?” he said, through a wince, as he held aloft the obnoxious garments, “I thought the whole point of this was to not draw attention to ourselves.”

  2. #42
    "Wish it hadn't been raining," Hal replied. And that's all he said for a moment, looking back toward the door they had entered through.

    "Wish it hadn't been raining, so you could have seen the people on the street, or go look at them now." It wasn't much more of an explanation, but still he turned back to Jeryd. "If you'd seen them, you'd have seen several species other than human, and even among the humans you'd have seen a wide variety of appearances and attitudes. And each one would have looked genuine. Glance at 'em, they just feel right, so you move on. Doesn't matter how they look, as long as they seem to look right for how they're presenting themselves, you don't look twice."

    He then nodded at the loud clothing. "Those, on this character you're playing, would feel right, in a way that a workman's clothes wouldn't. Or, like a nice suit on a poor person," he said, then paused. "And I do mean poor. Not unfortunate, not less fortunate, not financially-challenged, or any of that shit. Those are just words that rich assholes use to make themselves feel like they're doing something for poor folk, without actually doing a damn thing. Me? I'm poor. Always have been. Not even middle-class. Working class, blue-collar, oil-stained poor, and that's not an insult. That's how it is. From my end, there's poor, there's middle class, and they're rich fucking assholes who don't give two shits about anything but themselves. That's how the view is for a lot of those we'll be interacting with. And if your character is out to stick it to the rich, that'll get you some brownie points."

  3. #43
    A nerve had been struck, Jeryd realized, as he pressed his chin flat against his chest and fixed his gaze on the tacky green shirt, as if it was suddenly the most fascinating thing in the galaxy. It was pretense, of course, a ruse to bury his amusement while Rayner delved deep into the durni hole of his own socioeconomic grievances. It was but a chink in his armour, yet what issued forth was bloody passion dressed up as a limp-dicked lecture on semantics. Even though it came off a bit preachy and a little too working-class hero for Jeryd’s taste, he liked to see it. Vulnerability, revealed willingly or otherwise, was endearing.

    As for Jeryd, it was not the first time it had been inferred that he was a rich asshole, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. He was, after all, the product of a couple of very rich assholes, who themselves came from a long line of rich assholes. Indeed, he was the poster boy of rich assholes.

    “Stick it to the rich?” Jeryd repeated, looked dubious, “I don’t see me convincing anyone that I’m some kind of social justice warrior or champion of equality. No… Zepp is adventurous, and all for the sake of trying something new, that is why he mixes it up with the, uh, financially disadvantaged.”

    Jeryd wiped the shit-eating grin from his face to concede, “But I don’t think poverty tourism is going to be a big hit with the locals.”

    In each hand he held a shirt, one patterned, long-sleeved, and emerald green, the other was decidedly plain, burnt orange with short sleeves; they actually looked good together. The total sum of the trousers and two shirts was 10 credits. Criminally cheap, even for cast-offs. He felt the urge to add to this shameless new outfit, and to keep adding, so on he went, rifling through a coat rack. With each new disaster unearthed, he gained confidence, braving even the most ridiculous options, such as a long coat that appeared to be fashioned out of floral drapes and lined with rose-threaded white silk. To think, there was a time, once, when someone somewhere thought that was a good idea.

    “I’ll play the rebellion against authority angle,” he said at last, then with a cynical smirk, elaborated: “A hopeful youth hellbent on breaking society’s rigid mould, forsaking tradition and privilege, and taking refuge from the creeping grasp of military conscription in the bosom of his lessers, while squandering daddy’s hard-earned credits in pursuit of the debauched hedonism that hides in places where the sun doesn’t shine.”

    On cue, he picked out the perfect compliment to his ensemble: a puffy, bottle green, sleeveless coat, with yellow stitching and large bold Aurabesh lettering on the back. It read:

    WHY NOT

    It was loud, it was obnoxious, and most importantly of all, it was completely devoid of meaning. A statement for the sake of making a statement, just like a rich kid who runs away from home. Jeryd held it up high, and regarded it at arms’ length, as one might a work of finest art.

    “Hal, I think this might be my masterpiece.”

  4. #44
    The Nehantite looked at it, blinked, and simply replied, "Someone bought that to get laid." And then he nodded.

    That was it. No further explanation or reaction. But he also wasn't saying no. Instead he headed back to his own section, to now find a jacket to go along with the shirt and pants he'd found. Jeryd's picks would work, especially with that cover story. And if Jeryd's cover came into question, Hal knew he could swoop in and save Jeryd if needed. But that meant his own cover needed to be good, and that meant just the right jacket. He'd decided he was going to be a transmission specialist, with a secondary specialty in power relays. Stuff no one wanted to do, but he knew how to do on most ships. After all, back home he was supposed to either go into heating and air conditioning, or work at his uncle's transmission shop. Between the two, Hal had preferred working on ships and speeders, so that choice was simple.

    What else was simple was knowing that this could be his escape. He could find the right ship and get out of Empire space, back to the Alliance, to his friends, and the Jedi Order. If Jeryd were to try and stop him, Hal could deal with that to. But he didn't like that idea. Sure, the kid might be Captain Coruscant Jr., but he was still a kid, still a person. Deep down, Jeryd might still even be able to be swayed, and this mission could do that. In Imperial missions, people tended to get hurt, and Hal was going to do his best to avoid that. Distracting himself from the thought, he selected a dark red leather jacket, with some faded and worn black trim. It would go nicely with his fur, and worked with the gray tee shirt and brown technician's pants he'd picked up. All that, and Jeryd hadn't even noticed Hal was back to the boots he'd been captured wearing, instead of uniform Knight boots.

    A quick rummage through a tool bin found him the minimum acceptable selection of various tools for his cover trade, and they went into a beaten, but sturdy, tool bag. "Zepp," he called out. "You good to go? Gonna ring up at the register, then we're headed next door to the gun store."

  5. #45
    From behind a privacy screen, Jeryd negotiated a truce with his eclectic selection of clothes. While the long-sleeved emerald shirt clung to him like a wet sheet, this was offset by the loose orange shirt that slipped over it, and further still by the bulky bottle green vest coat that fit like a glove. The earthier tones on top were doing a lot of work to balance out the bright namana yellow trousers, which, for all their absurdity, were of excellent quality. They sat low on the waist, and were complimentary around the crotch and thighs, with room to move at the knees. The lining felt great against his skin when he moved, and even the silken pockets had their own elaborate pattern inside. To finish the look, a pair of green leatheris ankle boots fastened with faded silver buckles – not the most sensible footwear, given the rain, but a rich kid from the upper levels wouldn’t be thinking of function over fashion. If his feet got wet, they got wet.

    He had toyed with cheap jewellery; gold rings, clip-on studded earrings, a fake nose ring, a gaudy chrono, but in the end, he took pity on his own reflection as it begged for mercy in the full-length mirror. He settled for a simple gold chain, another fake, for 5 credits, which peeked out from the open collar of his burnt orange shirt. It pained him to admit that it looked quite good – his brother had always been the one for flashy chains and fancy bracelets. Jeryd had always, rather childishly, considered men’s jewellery a step away from men’s make-up. If his old man could see him now.

    Rayner’s voice snapped him out of it. Did he say something about a ‘gun store?’ Surely not.

    “I came into this place hungry for a nerfburger,” he said, appearing from behind the privacy screen, “But I leave with a newfound fever for fashion. You have awoken something in me, today, Hal. Who knew 20 credits could go so far?"

    Though tongue was firmly in cheek, there was some truth to what he was saying: it was impressive someone could buy a whole new – well, newish – outfit for just a handful of credits. Every article of pre-owned clothing had passed the sniff test, too. He had one rule: if there was even a hint of stim smoke smell, it was to be immediately tossed. Fortunately, all was clean and suited his needs. He even got a genuinely good pair of trousers out of the trip. Indeed, his inner Zeppodor Bibblebix was sated. He watched Rayner pay for his gear and wondered if his inner Halajiin Rabeak was happy. It was an understated look, functional almost to the point of boredom, but the red jacket brought it to life. It really was a nice jacket, and it suited Rayner well.

    “You scrub up well, Hal. For an everyman, of course.” He regarded their starkly contrasting looks, then, and frowned, “But what exactly is a common grease monkey doing down here with this very cool, handsome, and enigmatic young man from the upper levels? Are you fixing my speeder?”

  6. #46
    The moment Hal pulled on those trousers, he paused. Eyes closing, he recalled his former life. The tee shirt brought back more memories, and for a moment he stopped to look at himself in the mirror. Gone was the guise of an Imperial Knight; the stain of it all washed away, and for the first time in well over a year, Hal felt - and looked - like himself. The jacket came on next, fitting well, and he smiled at his own reflection. Yeah, it was workman's wear, but he could still score big at a club, dressed like this. The smile slowly faded, recalling the mission which lay ahead, and he pulled on his boots. If there was one good thing about being able to wear his old boots, it was the hidden pocket on the right one which held his lightsaber. Cash went into his pockets, spread around so that it wouldn't all be in one place, and his Imperial gear was folded into a neat pile, carried out just in time to see Jeryd emerge.

    It took effort not to giggle at his appearance, but Hal did afford himself a smile.

    "Like your dad would let you borrow one of his speeders," he chuckled. "Look good, though, kid. But I think the bigger question is: what's a rich kid like you doing slumming it with me? If I'm with you, we're trying to get into places well above my class level. But we're going to the lower levels, so that means you've got a stronger interest in moving down than I do in moving up."

    Letting the question linger, Hal led them on so that he could pay the shopkeep. Twenty credits for Jeryd, but sixty-two for Hal's outfit, tools, and tool bag. Laying it out in paper notes peeled off of a larger roll, Hal then looked up at the shopkeep and waved his paw slowly from left to right, two fingers extended. "We were never here. You nevefr saw us," he said calmly. The shopkeep blinked, and just looked at him with a blank expression. With that, Hal looked back at the door, placed down another ten credit note, and headed out, pulling two umbrellas from a stand by the door as he went.

    Outside, the rain hammered down on his umbrella as it opened, and he passed the second one to Jeryd before pulling his communication tablet from a pocket. A few taps later, and then a few seconds of looking around, an Imperial relay droid descended from the sky, and opened its storage hatch. Hal placed his uniform, rank badge, and even his keycard inside, followed by the tablet - leaving him with nothing on his person to identify him as an agent of the Empire. "Put your stuff in, too," he said. "All of it. This'll take it all back to Imperial Center for us. Can't risk anything that would identify us in case we're searched."

  7. #47
    “This is some proper spy shit,” Jeryd said, as he placed his folded uniform into what was probably the droid’s mouth, his ID chit followed, and the droid sealed shut with a hiss. Jeryd watched as it hovered, glistening like oil in the dark, and then with a low burble, it ascended, vanishing into the night. It was those kinds of moments that reminded him why he loved doing what he did; the calculated precision of the Imperial machine, the slick execution, and with the most cutting-edge ordnance and technology at their disposal, it was impossible to not feel like a total badass.

    “Looks like it’s just you and me now, Hal,” he said, with a sudden thrill that bolted up his spine. First, he smiled, drinking in their liberation. They were free to do as they wished. To go wherever they wanted. His heart was racing. What was that? He felt weightless, like an enormous burden had suddenly been lifted from his shoulders. Lifted into the sky.

    And then, he was in free fall. Dread. He cast a wary glance at Rayner, and his wholly inappropriate smile faltered. They had a job to do, he told himself, and they would do it well. And then they would return to the Citadel to receive new instructions. It was his duty.

    He bit down on the smile, forcing it to the surface once more, but this time as a meticulous construction, cultivated through years of fabrication. He soldiered on:

    “Maybe you were my old man’s mechanic. You came to the house a few times and captured my imagination with stories of the sordid underworld, full of rough-and-ready characters who live life by the seat of their pants. Not knowing where their next paycheck is coming from – sounded like real frontier stuff to the ears of a pampered prince. So, I asked you to show me this real world, the place my dad could never understand.”

    They walked at a brisk pace, like two normal pedestrians with somewhere to go. Through the transparent canopy of his umbrella, Jeryd watched the cold lights of mystery establishments go by in a haze, dispersed amongst chaotic rivulets of rainwater. What strange and wonderful ecosystems of cultural disarray lurked within, he wondered. Curiosity scratched at the surface of his thoughts, aching to get at the itch within, but he held fast to the task at hand. The cover story had to be impenetrable, and he was beginning to doubt the fond memory of an old buddy would stand firm. His face dropped in realization, “It’s still poverty tourism, isn’t it?”

  8. #48
    "A bit, yeah," Hal replied, though no nod accompanied it, this time. "But we can work with that. You want adventure, huh? The thrill of seeing the galaxy from the front row, instead of in the designated guest area with champagne and canapes, and food that tastes bad, but it's expensive, so therefore it must be good, right? Maybe you want to rough it a bit, at least until you can call Daddy to send the ship out to fetch you. I've seen the like before, it's a reasonable cover."

    He paused outside another door. It wasn't right next door, as he'd said, but it was close enough to ring true to the gist of the expression. "If we get you a blaster, you know it's for absolute emergency use only, right? I don't want violence on this mission, I don't want casualties if we can avoid it at all. No one knows you have it, and it only comes out if your life depends on it. Are we clear?"

    Taking a nod as confirmation, Hal pulled open the door to a blaster shop, and carefully closed his umbrella before placing it in a stand just inside the door. The shop wasn't large, but it appeared to be well-stocked. Handheld blasters and firearms of all makes and models filled transparisteel cases which comprised the counters, while longer guns adorned racks behind the counter. Accessories, tactical clothing, long-term stable dried foods, and even some body armor filled other shelves. Hal simply nodded hello to the man running the place, and led Jeryd over to one of the cases of. A case of *used* pistols. There were some flashy, tricked-out blasters, some over-the-top, heavy firepower ones, some tiny subcompacts, and then a host of various mid-size blasters. Each had a price tag for its own unique attributes.

    "Anything I can help you with?" The man behind the counter asked. He was a human, middle-aged, dark hair, mostly unremarkable aside from a mustache.

    "Yes, please. My friend here is looking for his first blaster," Hal replied. "Something with enough power to stop someone, in case he needs to, but compact enough that it's not going to be obvious that he's carrying."

    Inside, Hal could feel Jeryd's longing for the gold-plated fashion disaster sitting on the top shelf of the display cabinet, or perhaps the super magnum Blastech Eliminator next to it, but either would be totally wrong for their mission. He had his eye on another Blastech, a smaller mid-sized number, black with wooden scales on the grip. It was a fine blaster, good quality, good condition, but not too fancy. The perfect blend of rich-boy option and reliable operation. But he wanted to see what Jeryd thought might be the right choice, so he stepped aside and asked, "Anything here jumping out at you?"

  9. #49
    Jeryd felt buoyed by Rayner’s assessment of his cover story. It sounded like he had some real-life experience of the privileged and clueless encroaching on lower class spaces. Now, he could start easing into the part with confidence. Drifting back through his memories, he summoned Zepp’s easy smile, and pulled it on like an old coat. From this moment onwards, he was to consider everything and everyone as a source of personal amusement – not with the cold callous indifference of an Imperial officer, nor with the lecherous possessiveness of entitlement lordlings – the balance had to be right. He had to be likable.

    While Rayner broke the ice with the serious-looking shopkeeper, Jeryd moved between displays with keen interest. His eyes were bright as he marvelled at a rack of rifles, some were made from brushed metals, others from smooth alloys, each with a different composition of components. He was thinking about the first time he saw naked breasts; how long he had thought about them, visualised them, and indeed dreamt about them, and yet, when at last the game was on, he scarcely knew where to look or what to do. And that was precisely how he regarded the weapons on display.

    “These are incredible!” he said, beaming, “I’ve never seen so many different kinds of blasters in one place. What a collection!”

    The armouries at the academy put this dusty hole to shame, but Jeryd took no pleasure in the lie. His sole concern was the unremarkable man behind the counter, and if he could make him feel even the slightest bit proud in his own establishment, he would consider that a mission accomplished.

    When finally he joined Rayner at the counter, he crossed his arms tightly across his chest and sucked the air through his teeth as he considered the assortment of blasters laid out before them.

    “Blast, man! I don’t know,” he lied. What he wanted was something smart and compact enough to tuck into a shoulder holster, with enough stopping power to one-shot a large Barabel. But he pretended not to notice the A-180 with the custom barrel, and instead addressed the shopkeeper, “What about you, sir? I need something I can conceal but access in a pinch. And it has to look cool, of course.”

    “You’ll find we have all kinds of cool stuff to suit your needs, chief.”

    The man behind the counter did a fantastic job of not giving his questionable outfit so much as a passing glance, but there was a tug at the corner of his lips that suggested he had an alternative definition of the word ‘cool.’ And if the request had caught him off guard, he was quick to recover, and eased himself into a familiar routine. From the display case, he produced a small BlasTech pistol and offered it to him. It had a good weight, and a solid build. Jeryd did not play the fool with a weapon in his hands – if he was to walk out of the store with one of his own, he had to at least look like he knew his way around a blaster as he inspected it. There was an arch to the grip that he didn’t like and the scales were a deal-breaker.

    “It’s a beautiful piece,” he began, with a note of apology in his voice, “But I’m not feeling the wood.”

    “No hard feelings. Try this little beauty.”

    The granddad blaster was swapped out for a measly DF number that was dwarfed by his hand. Jeryd held it for a beat, then said, “It’s not that I want to overcompensate for anything, but this makes me feel inadequate.”

    “We all have our shortcomings, kid.”

    As the straight-faced shopkeeper unburdened him of the peashooter, Jeryd noticed him sharing with Rayner the briefest glance of amusement. He pretended to be oblivious, and rubbed his chin, deep in thought.

    “Did you ever read Captain Astra’s Blasters? It had this character called Raskallian Roche, and he was a suave gentleman spy, with a sort of roguish charm, and a penchant for danger…”

    “Say no more, Agent Roche.”

    The shopkeeper was generous with his time. Next up, the classic DL-44, but it was too boxy for Jeryd’s tastes. Then the DH-17, which he recognised at once as the weapon of choice for rebel scum, but instead rather diplomatically described it as ‘a little cumbersome.’

    At last, he was offered the A-180. It was sturdy, with a finely-textured grip, black, with a snub-nose barrel of brushed gunmetal. It was perfect.

    “This one, I like. Though, it seems familiar…”

    Needing no further invitation, the shopkeeper said, “This is a modified A-180 from BlasTech Industries. It has always been a versatile blaster, but with this configuration, it is readily concealed and sacrifices none of its stopping power at close range.”

    “The A-180! I knew I recognised it from somewhere! Sir, you are a poet.”

    After one last look of longing, Jeryd returned the pistol. His attention then sought out the source of their finances, in his unlikely travelling companion, and he smiled.

    “Hal, my friend.” At once, he descended upon him and threw his arm around his shoulders, pulling him in tight, “Have I ever told you that you are my favourite Nehantite?”

    He patted his arm, and feigned surprise, “Have you been working out!?”

  10. #50
    The sigh Hal emitted was at once annoyed and exasperated, further punctuated by the rolling of his eyes. "Favorite Nehantite? I'm the only Nehantite you know," he grumbled. "And, yes, I've been working out."

    Eye contact was met with the shopkeeper, who recognized Hal's position and had to stifle a chuckle. "The A-180 will run you six hundred credits," he stated.

    Not the best price for a used model, but Hal could recognize the modifications, and overall it was reasonable. Nodding slowly, Hal looked back at the case and said, "Fair enough. Give you six-forty if you toss in four or five energy cells for it, too. Gonna have to get him some range time to get used to it, after all, and that should cover things."

    "Can do. And good idea. Most dangerous thing is an untrained kid with a blaster. Anything else?"

    Of course there was something else, or Hal would have started to pull money out already. His eyes examined the case again, then over at the next one, as if he were searching for something which could not be found. "Yeah," he nodded. "But I'm not really seeing it among these blasters."

    "Looking for something a bit more your speed?"

    "Yeah, with a bit of weight to its punches. I'm a Nehantite, sure, but I'm more mechanical than high-tech, if you get my drift."

    The shopkeeper eyed him up for a moment, reading to make sure he understood what was - or wasn't - being said. "Think I might have something that fits the bill." Squatting down, the rumble and chunk of a drawer beneath the cabinet being opened could be heard, before the shopkeeper re-emerged and placed something on the transparisteel surface of the cabinet with a thunk. Wrapped in a piece of brown fabric, he unfolded it to reveal something which looked like a blaster, yet wasn't.

    Slab-sided, the handheld firearm didn't appear special, but Hal went to reach for it anyway, only proceeding to actually grasp it once he got the nod of approval. It seemed to fit well in his paw, and he turned it over, inspecting it carefully while also ensuring it was never pointed at anyone in the store, and his finger remained off the trigger. It appeared to be missing its energy cell, judging by the hollow area at the end of the grip, but as Hal grasped the top half of the upper section and pulled back to reveal it was a slide mechanism, all was explained. This was no blaster; it was a slug-firing weapon. Purely mechanical, it was reliable and effective, with the added bonus of not setting off weapon detectors as it neither contained, or expelled, tiberium. Hal inspected it thoroughly, before pressing the lever to snap the slide shut again, and he laid it back on the piece of fabric.

    "Hamad 19. Haven't seen one of those in a while. Not my favorite, but it'll do," Hal said, sounding unimpressed. "Presuming you have some mags for it, and ammo."

    "Hard to get ammo for these, here."

    "Hard to sell one of these, here, with so few looking to buy. Show me what you got."

    Bending down again, the shopkeeper came back up with a few paper boxes of cartridges, and three empty magazines. Each of the boxes had different letters stamped on them, like FMJ, HP, and, FMHJ-SS, AP-U. Hal regarded them briefly before turning his eyes back to the shopkeeper.

    "And I want the other part, too," Hal said.

    "What other part?"

    "Don't play dumb with me. Threading on the barrel is worn, this had a suppressor. I want it."

    "That'll-"

    "If you've had a hard time finding a buyer for this, imagine how long you're going to hold on to a suppressor for one of these, in this caliber. Either you sell it to me, or you're gonna be sitting on it for another six months to a year. This thing's been sitting two or three months as it is, and you know it."

    The shopkeeper stared back at Hal for several moments, before frowning and pulling out a matte black metal cylinder and setting it none-to-gently beside the other items. "Two grand," he stated.

    "All in, or-"

    "For this. And six hundred for the blaster. Forty more for some power cells for it." The shopkeeper's words were firm, as was his price, apparently. When Hal nodded, he continued, "Good, now for the paperwork."

    Hal withdrew a folded wad of cash from his pocket, and peeled off 2,700 credits in 100-credit notes, laying it on the counter. "Here you go, keep the change," he said. Then he peeled off ten more 100 credit notes, one at a time, counting from one to ten as he did so. They lay in a separate stack, though he kept his eyes on the shopkeep the whole time. "Think that'll do for our paperwork?"

    A moment's silence passed in the shop, Hal and the older man eyeing each other. In the end, the man gave a curt nod, and came over to collect the cash. Hal smiled, pocketing his new firearm, and ticked his head to Jeryd to do the same. "Help ourselves to some holsters on the way out?" Hal asked, then thumbed another hundred-credit note onto the counter.

    Taking that note as well, the shopkeeper shrugged. "Sure. Dunno what you'd use them for, since you didn't buy anything," he replied.

    It took but a few moments for Hal to find an inner belt holster for Jeryd's A-190, and a bit longer to find a shoulder holster for his own pistol. With another nod of thanks, it was back to the door, and back out into the rain with their new umbrellas as protection.

    "Let's head back to the speeder for a moment," Hal said. "Get these loaded and prepped. Then it's off for a nerfburger. For real, this time."

  11. #51
    “I’m holding you to that, Hal.”

    In private company, Jeryd elected to address Rayner using the name of his alias. He gave it some forethought and concluded it made sense, firstly, for the sake of keeping up appearances in case anyone was watching them, and also because it helped him develop the habit of using the name. In a tense moment, when reaction speed was paramount, he did not want to risk using the wrong name and blow their cover in the process. Oddly enough, the name was a good fit for him, too.

    “I didn’t think you’d actually pick a slugthrower,” he said, giving his companion an amused side-eye. Even now, he half-anticipated a punchline, but no joke was worth 2000 credits. Not on the lower levels. It had been no secret Rayner was not only a fan of old hardware – anything with moving parts, grease, and smoke – but that he had also demonstrated a knowledge of these kinds of antiques, back at the Citadel. They had their appeal, Jeryd supposed, and a certain niche usefulness. He chalked it all down to Rayner’s oddball nature and left it that, “Good call on spotting the suppressor, though. No-one can say you lack an eye for detail!”

    The rain was unrelenting, making a neon watercolour of the pavement underfoot. He already missed his old boots; his new boots were cursed with thinning soles, and bit into the sides of his feet, but the green leather scales caught the light in a way that drew the eye, which in turn reinforced his flashy persona. It was a fun thought exercise, to consider all the different ways one might confuse or misdirect others, to hide in plain sight with nothing but a fresh change of clothes. Rayner seemed to have a knack both for understanding the art of obfuscation, and for seeing through it. There was but one flaw in their otherwise meticulously crafted cover story, which he raised the moment they were safely back inside the speeder:

    “Do you think it’s a good idea to drop 2000 credits on an antique like that?” He said and, sensing that Rayner was about to leap to the defence of his beloved slugthrower with a seminar about the merits of old technology, he elaborated, “And a grand in bribe money? What I mean is doesn’t it undermine our story if you, the poor guy, are seen splashing your hard-earned cash like that while I don’t appear to have a pot to piss in?”

  12. #52
    "You see anyone else in that shop?" Hal replied, leaning back in his seat. His headrest was wrapped in silver duct tape, and the seat creaked, but it was comfortable. He let the question hang for a moment as he emptied his pockets into his lap. "I found this place a few weeks ago on a scouting run. Run by one guy, doesn't even trust having armed security there. He's got the bare minimum of registrations, and I never saw more than one customer go in at a time. Yeah, he knew something was up; that's why I had to bribe him a grand to keep our purchases off the books. He might be shady, but doesn't seem to answer to anyone but himself. Besides, who would tell? Letting it be known that he talks will damage his reputation with buyers like us. See, there's knowing the rules of undercover work, and then there's knowing when to break them."

    As he explained, Hal opened one package of ammo, and began to feed rounds into one of the empty magazines. Each appeared to hold fourteen rounds of a fairly substantial projectile, and he was deft with the loading process. "Besides, if I thought there was a problem, I would have told you to pay for it. Check your vest's left pocket. There's four grand in there. Slipped it in as you walked by while I held the door. I'd recommend splitting it up among your various pockets, and only using it when you really need."

    One magazine was loaded with one type of round, and he busied himself on loading another from the next package, followed by a third type in the final magazine. "Was this worth two grand? No, not on its own. But we needed it off the record, and you pay more for that. Also, slug-throwers don't register on tibanna sensors. Might be old, but it's more covert. Not to mention that instead of just bouncing off armor, they pack a solid punch. Among other good uses for these." Shrugging off his coat, he tugged on the leather shoulder holster, then hand-loaded a round into his pistol before seating the magazine, making it a 14+1. He couldn't holster it with the suppressor on, so that remained off at the moment, tucked into a tool pocket on his trousers, while the other two mags found homes under his opposite armpit. With the jacket back on, none would be able to tell he was armed.
    Last edited by Halajiin Rabeak; Nov 22nd, 2023 at 12:28:26 PM.

  13. #53
    While Rayner expounded on the tactical advantages of slugthrowers, Jeryd busied himself with a rummage through his own pockets. As his fingers dipped into his coat’s left pocket, he threw his neighbour a scandalised look. Unearthed from his jacket were 8 slender plates, pressed with dull gold and embossed with the Imperial crest - each was worth 500 credits.

    “When did you-?” Jeryd began, freezing to replay in his mind the moment Rayner led him through the door to the blaster shop. “How in the hells did you do that!?”

    Each of the credits was inspected for authenticity, the metal was unyielding and the markings exact. He even bit one for good measure. Satisfied that the credits were real and not some cheap imitation from a box of magic tricks, Jeryd split them into twos and tucked them into separate pockets as instructed. He found himself feeling a little uncomfortable in the wake of such a revelation; as harmless as Rayner’s deception had been, it also made him acutely aware of his own vulnerability, and of just how oblivious he was to things happening all around.

    Spurred on by the crystalisation of his own shortcomings, Jeryd took comfort in something with which he had plenty of experience, and went about preparing his blaster. First, he arched his back and clipped the leatheris holster over the waistband of his trousers, on the right-hand side. Then with rote familiarity, he checked one of the power cells and slotted it into the base of the A-180’s grip. Before his weapon was holstered, he indulged in a further assessment of its build, acquainting himself with both its unique weight and balance. Compact though it was, the fit was very snug, which meant that when his shirt was pulled down, any traces of the concealed blaster became invisible.

    By the time he was done, Rayner was wrapping up his points about his now-vanished slugthrower. He raised an interesting point about the tibanna readings – it was not something he had ever considered before. Indeed, the logistics of stealth were lost on him prior to his arrival at the Citadel. At the academy, the ISB had been considered a softer branch of the military, reserved for academic types with weak stomachs. How quickly the stigma of stealth was removed upon his first excursion with Knight Jibral. And now, with Knight Rayner. How much there remained for him to learn.

    Still flustered from being caught so off-guard, Jeryd sent a look Rayner’s way, and summarised his feelings with an exasperated shrug.

    “Where did you learn all this stuff?” he said, thinking back to the litany of prep work he’d discussed, “Is it a Jedi thing, the smoke and mirrors? Or did you go to magic school, too? I mean… what’s next? Am I going to find a bouquet of flowers up my ass, too?”

  14. #54
    "Jedi thing?" Hal chuckled. A handful more cartridges were dumped into a pocket of his jacket, before the boxes were stowed in the speeder's center console, out of sight. "Hardly. Deception is more of a Sith thing." Firing up the speeder, he ratcheted the drive select lever into position, and pulled away from their parking spot.

    "You don't know much about me, do you?" he asked. "I've been on the run since I was fifteen. First two years I was with a Jedi who tried to teach me stuff, but we had to lay low a lot. After he got killed, I was on my own. Had to learn how to blend in, how to disguise myself, and how to read others, and read situations. Got by however I could. Found ways to escape whenever I got caught. I'm good at it. If I wanted, I could have been out of here within a week of capture."

    The rain pounded on the windshield, the wipers doing their best, but Hal was forced to take it slow, cruising along with traffic. "And, don't worry. I won't be shoving anything up your ass unless we've gotta pretend to be lovers, in order to remain undetected."

  15. #55
    “Hey, now. I don’t pretend to be the lover of just anyone, you know. I expect to be treated right. You have to tell me I’m pretty. Only then can you slip me the finger.”

    It was a welcome return to the kind of crass humour that made everyday monotony bearable, and helped to beat into a bloody pulp Jeryd’s encroaching self-doubt. He was smiling again; the old confidence was returning. A crucial survival tactic cultivated in the cutthroat environment at the academy, where competitiveness was so unhealthy it was a disease. But it was also a very deliberate distraction, for at Rayner’s boast – no matter how empty or exaggerated – that he could have escaped within a week, Jeryd discovered that his gut reaction was to wonder why he hadn't done it, already.

    Instead, he joked, and he smiled, and he allowed his thoughts to drift to more innocuous matters, like the Sith. It was not the first time Jeryd had heard of them, for they came up briefly during one of Ivy’s lectures, back at the Citadel. From what he recalled, the Sith were once the mortal enemies of the Jedi, powerful enough to raise entire armies and even seize control of the galaxy. Just another cult of renegade Force Sensitives who did as they pleased, unregulated, without any consequences.

    “When I was 15, the most important thing I had to worry about was my next wegsphere game,” he said, reflecting on Rayner’s tale. As he attempted to put himself in the Nehantite’s shoes, his imagination was found wanting.

    “You had to grow up fast, didn’t you?”

  16. #56
    "You learn a lot of things fast, when your life depends on it," Hal replied. There was no radio to fill the void in the conversation, only the sheeting, pelting rain upon the thin durasteel of the speeder's roof, and glass windshield.

    It wasn't a lie, either. He had been forced to do things not of his choice, and become a man he never expected to be. And it was his fault, all of it. Slacking off in middle school meant his grades were poor enough to disqualify him from an academic high school, forcing him to follow his family's path in entering technical high school. Sure, there were still classes, but everyone knew you were going to enter a trade. He learned how starships work, how to repair engines, figure out electronics, and how to rebuild transmissions. It was easy, he knew he could do better, and so his mind wandered. Wandered off while he was in class, leading to a world of daydreams in his head as he began to fall behind. Then, once behind, he joked about it, and still failed to take things seriously, which only made it all worse.

    Everything came to a head when he was fifteen, and received a report card of solid F's. Young Hal, considered to be a gifted engineer, had flunked out of technical high school. The kid who ate paste had at least managed C's and D's, but Hal had nothing. So instead of returning to class after winter break, Hal found himself in his dad's van, going with him to work as his apprentice. HVAC wasn't glamorous, and it sure paid less than being engineer, and it was only after three weeks of working in tight places, fixing heating that didn't work, and getting filthy in ductwork that he realized the error of his ways. But by then it was too late, and he'd have to re-apply to technical high school in summer, hoping to re-do his lost school year. The joy and snark that had led him to his rebelliousness and class clown nature was drowned out by dust, furnace parts, and hauling too bags. All the while, his friends were able to hang out after school, or play habatta, or... do anything, while he was working with his dad and not even getting paid for it. That was weekdays, at least. On weekends he had to ride his bike to his uncle's transmission shop and do unpaid work as an apprentice there as well. It was his own fault he'd made a mess of everything.

    Things carried onin the same way for months, until the Saturday that changed everything. At his uncle's transmission shop, Hal was at a workbench disassembling a transmission not dissimilar to the one in the speeder he and Jeryd were currently riding in. His ears had perked at a strange creak and ping, and he looked over just in time to see a sports car starting to lean down as the lift holding it was about to give way, and his uncle was right beneath it! Crying out, Hal threw out his paw as if he could will the car to remain in place, but of course that's a thought of fantasy.

    Instead, the car was struck by a wall of force which might as well have been an invisible delivery truck. It smashed sideways, in a twisted mess of creased and crumpled metal, while its shattered safety glass glittered in the air before raining down harmlessly on his uncle, as the car was blown clear through the wall beyond, taking half the lift with it. Hal remembered the dumbfounded look on his uncle's face before everything went black. When he woke, he found himself surrounded by paramedics, and police officers. He couldn't explain what happened, nor could it be explained to him why he was hauled off to jail, where he spent the night in a holding cell. As he lay on his cot, he could not know that blood work was being done on the samples taken from him while unconscious, nor could he even imagine the channels by which the word about the results was spread. Hal wasn't even sure he slept that night, and he had to blink to be certain that it was, in fact, one of the Sultan's royal guard who escorted him from his cell in the morning, and into a waiting car. All of his questions went unanswered, and before he knew it, he was being hauled in before the Sultan, himself, still dressed in his hand-me-down shop uniform from the day before. It didn't even have his name on the patch.

    Everything was a blur, with people talking about him, and a camera crew entering. Like a nerf in the headlights, all he could do was look at everyone dumbly, until at last he learned what had happened - at the same time as the rest of Nehantish did. On live holovision, the Sultan announced that Nehantish had their first Force Adept, and that he'd be going to join the Jedi Order. And that someone was himself!

    After the press conference, Hal was whisked home to pack and spend his last night with his family before being sent to Coruscant the next day. It wasn't enough time. How could it have been? A few hours to be with your family, to say goodbye to your friends, and to pack whatever you might need for a new life. He savored his mom's meatloaf, that night, not even complaining about steamed broccoli being a side. Everything seemed so surreal, and it failed to sink in as it was all happening. And then it was time for bed, sleep brought on by exhaustion, before being roused to catch his flight the next morning. Hugging his parents and siblings goodbye, he told them not to worry, he'd be back to see them soon enough. But he never was. How can a fifteen year old grasp that he'll never return, and that he'll never, ever see his family again? Apprehension filled his heart as he boarded the shuttle to Vendaaius Station, and it would be too late for him to do anything about it when the feeling of loss began to set in.

    It all could have been so different, if he'd just tried in school. He could have been an engineer, had a proper job, gotten married, had kids, joined the bowling team, and grown old. Grown old surrounded by family both old and new, the years passing as they were meant to, just a normal man. It was his fault that he wound up losing everything. It was his fault that he lost his family, his home, and his time. Everything. Everything was his fault, leading him to that seat in the speeder in the rain, with a gun holstered beneath his arm and an Imperial Cadet by his side.

    And in in that moment, all Hal wanted was meatloaf. Even if it did have to come with steamed broccoli on the side.

  17. #57
    “Yeah, I bet you do.”

    Even though he conceded to the sentiment, Jeryd couldn’t help but feel that the words sounded hollow falling out of his mouth. It was a throwaway expression for something with which he had no experience. Certainly, he knew what it felt like to have his life at risk; Knight Jibral saw to that on three separate occasions. But they were missions, each with a certain degree of control and expectation, with clear goals and even clearer endings. Only once was the risk unexpected, and Luka Jibral saved his life before he even knew it needed to be saved.

    Never in his life had he ever lived that experience, of being at risk every moment of the day. He couldn’t even imagine it, a life as prey, hunted by powers far greater than you, a predator that never sleeps, and won’t stop until… well, until you are either dead or working for them. He regarded Rayner across from him in the speeder – his choice had been made for him long ago. It was no way to live. Indeed, Jeryd had a taste of that experience the night he tried to run and discovered the painful futility of it all. That Rayner lasted as long as he did was a resounding testament to his character.

    They were truly worlds apart.

    Before the creep of existential dread started to wring the air from his throat, he distracted himself with the rain-slicked dark of the undercity, its punchy lights, and the interlocking columns of tiny homes stacked like nursery blocks. They were in some sort of residential area, now, and he peered with shameless curiosity into the windows that zipped by, attempting to make sense of the blurs within, and the alien lives they lived. But they were moving too fast to make sense of anything.

    A sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach told him they were descending again, and quickly. Lights from windows strobed past with each passing level, until they evened out, banked around a corner, and settled in the mouth of some seedy back alley. Given what he knew already, Jeryd had no doubt Rayner had been here before and could only assume it was safe enough. Then, as he stirred to rise from his seat, he felt the press of the blaster barrel against his hip.

    “You got me dressed up. You got me tooled up. What kind of burger joint are you taking me to, Hal?”

  18. #58
    "The kind that doesn't usually pass health board inspection," Hal chuckled. "And the kind that doesn't do low-fat, or healthy choice options."

    Easing the speeder to a stop, it rocket a bit, then gently powered down into hover park, before the front right corner dropped with a judder. Not to the ground, but enough to indicate that not all of its anti-grav drives were working. Unclipping his lap belt, the Nehantite listened to the rain beat upon the thin roof as he glanced around.

    "This is where our intel says that people come to sign up for passage off-world. We're not sure the method they use, so for right now we're gonna sit down and just enjoy some good grub, but keep our eyes and ears open for anything that might be a clue," he further explained. "But, don't get the meatloaf; it's dry and not seasoned right. Came here last week disguises as a Galactic Express deliveryman. Ever need to just show up somewhere and not seem out of place, recognizable courier service uniforms do the trick. Couriers always need to eat, after all, no matter where their deliveries might take them. There's a decent supply of uniforms back at the Citadel. Lots of fun, covert stuff, really."

    About to open his door, Hal paused again, then flicked out a few flimsiplast credit notes from his stash and tucked them into Jeryd's vest pocket. "Small bills, won't attract as much attention. I'll be paying, but in case something happens to me, you're not stiffing them on our dinner bill, okay? And I expect you to leave a good tip, if it comes to it."

    Leaving no room for argument, Hal swung his door open and stepped out into the rain. He could smell the dirt on it, here, and made sure to purse his lips so that he wouldn't have to taste it, either. The speeder was locked once Jeryd was out, and Hal led the way to the greasy spoon, opening the door for his young sidekick. Out wafted several smells at once, in a dizzying rush of olfactory sensation. Grease, meat, beer, stim smoke, sweat, stale cologne and cheap perfume. Hal's sensitive nose wrinkled at the blast, but he stepped in, anyway, holding up two fingers to indicate his party size. A nod toward an empty small booth along the wall was all the response he got, but it was enough to lead Jeryd to their table.

    Worn vinyl covered their seats, which could give the interior of their speeder a run for its money, and the layer of plastifirm covering the table top was worn through in some areas, exposing plywood beneath. A dispenser for paper napkins was hemmed in by salt, pepper, and hot sauce shakers branded by some company which had probably sponsored the diner some twenty years ago, while the menus were paper sheets stuffed into heavy clear vinyl folders. Hal plucked a pair out of their rack, extending one to his companion. "Don't say I never take you anywhere special," he said with a chuckle and a hint of a smirk.

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