The small sign of the Looping Mug flicked a few times in the cold dark streets. It’s pale glow was the only thing that lit up the side alley, a tiny oasis of light in a frozen forgotten corner. It flickered against the light snowfall and finally stayed off. Inside the owner of the sign sat down his datapad. He slid it across the bar and turned to the rack of mugs behind him. Yil Sims’ two good eye-stalks twitched involuntarily as he placed his favorite mug on the rack. Across the room the door signal chimed at his back. The Gran grumbled to himself. Probably Diaz coming back after he made a run across town. His Talz lieutuant had been running late this evening, something most unlike him.
“What took so long?” Yil growled out as he wiped the last mug. “You should have had that dataspike back to me over an hour ago.”
“I do apologize but I am afraid the criminal known as Diaz Talbert won’t be joining us this evening.”
The blood inside Yil’s vessels froze as he paused, towel in one hand. He tried to remember if he shoved his blaster underneath the counter like he always did.
Yil slowly turned around, still holding his rag. The human standing in his doorway smiled at him. Yil felt his breath catch. The male wore the uniform of the Imperial Inspectorate.
“I know you are closed this evening but perhaps we could be a bother for just a little while. That would be quite alright, don’t you think?” The smile on the man’s face radiated friendliness. The armored troopers behind did not.
The barkeep slowly placed down the rag as his thoughts raced. They probably already had the place surrounded. They already had his data accounts, accomplices, underlings. They had him. The man entered the bar and began pulling off his gloves methodically as he looked around. He brushed the light accumlation of snow on his jacket.
“I do hate coming up here this far north, just dreadful weather. The sun exposure in the South is so much nicer, don’t you think? I really do enjoy the warmth.” The man was dusting off a chair. “Do you mind if I have a seat?”
Behind him filtered in other Imperials. Yil recognized two Imperial Inspectors and their imposing helmets with heavy capes. The Inspectors moved across the bar as if they were searching the place for clues. Behind them came some sort of stormtroopers. Yil realized they were wearing variant armor, the kind that belonged to a Special Security Battalion. The rumors Yil had heard were true, one of the specially-trained units of elite stormtroopers had been assigned to the area. He knew that a SSB was nominally under Stormtrooper Command but in reality worked directly for the local Imperial Security Bureau office. They were trained in special security service operations, fugitive apprehension, direct police action and acted as the ISB’s heavy internal force.
Belatedly, Yil realized the human male was still smiling at him, standing by the chair waiting for him to respond. Yil nodded at him dumbly as the SSB stormtroopers moved about in the bar, taking up various positions. All carried heavy weaponry.
They had him.
The human male took a seat and with his foot pushed out the chair across from him. He smiled at Yil and tilted his hand towards the chair invitingly. As Yil stared at him, the man cocked his head towards the chair. “You are closed for the day, aren’t you? Take a seat my friend and we will have a drink!”
Yil glanced at the stormtroopers before he caught himself. The human followed the motion. “Ah—sorry for my friends but, you know! Security is dreadful here. The Shadow City and all that.” He said it with a wide grin on his face, as if he found the entire thing amusing. “But come, come! Long day must be rewarded with a drink.”
Yil moved towards the table. His sense of dread increased with every step. He was aware of the Inspectors gathering his datapads, tearing open a central droid brain, of his life coming apart all at once. He slowly set down and realized he still held his rag.
“Ah, ah. That’s better. Now, my aide, Ensign Valroot, is no skilled barkeep like yourself but the Imperial Navy has taught him a fine thing about mixing up some drinks! Let’s have him get us a few.”
It dawned on Yil that the man had been speaking the entire time in perfect Huttese to him. The man switched to Basic. “Ensign! Would you mind making us up a Shepherd’s Herd? Two, my fine fellow.”
The young blond-haired male in an Imperial Navy uniform that had been standing at attention behind them snapped into motion and moved behind the barkeep. He began to gather ingredients and glasses. Yil watched him work. The man knew where everything was kept, including the hidden refrigerator unit. Yil sense of dread blossomed into full terror. They had to have been watching the place for months. They were telling him they had him in every sense. The human in the Inspectorate uniform watched the young naval ensign work.
“They assigned him to me because of the operations, you see,” the man continued back in Huttese, “in the spirit of service branch coordination or something. He comes in handy! Now, I do hate this part of this backwater world but I must admit that I love the little delights of the local cuisine.”
He chuckled and slapped his belly. The noise snapped back Yil’s attention to the man. For the first time he noticed the man had black hair with white streaks and a long, regal nose that he knew humans loved so much. A beard wrapped around his strong jawline, something not seen in the Imperial military but often allowed in the civilian branches of government.His eyes were bright and lively but there was a darkness there that Yil had seen before. It was the look of danger. Yil had dealt with dangerous individuals his whole life but this friendly man sitting across from him was the most dangerous yet.
The human continued speaking without pause in Huttese.
“Perhaps a bit too much! It most likely will show if I stay out here much longer. I can see why the high caloric diet is needed! Hard work, oilmen. Dangerous dealing with the beasts out there. You need energy to continually gather that valuable oil. I must admit I am too much of a fiend for the creature comforts of life! Ah-but to see the sparkling beaches of Corellia! A much better location for dangerous work than here. Have you been there? No? Ah sad. You surely must visit, it is a spectacular sight. The people, not so much. But I am sure you know all about people. Who am I to telling you about that, hah!”
The man laughed, interrupting his rambling. The Navy junior officer continued mixing up the drink, pouring the thick soupy mead into several containers. “Ah, here he comes now. Well done, my boy!”
The large mug placed before Yil was full of steaming thickened batter. The smell of vegetables and proteins and alcohol wafted from it. It looked like a perfect rendition of Shepherd’s Herd. Yil reached for the mug simply to have the comfort of the familiar in his hands. The man raised his hand and Yil froze in place.
“You must wait for the creme! Ensign Valroot makes the most scrumptious vanilla cream topping! It is simply delightful.”
The aide plopped two big balls of light cream on the top of the mugs. The man raised his mug and took a heavy sip. He sighed contently.
“Perfect, once again my young aide.” He switched back to Huttese. “You must try it.”
Hands trembling, Yil raised the mug to his mouth and took a cautious sip. Incredible. He nodded slowly to the man, unsure of what else to do and not trusting himself to speak.
“See! It’s all in the creme! Now that we have had our drinks, I fear we must turn our conversation to the less pleasant but ever so stimulating.” The man placed down his mug and sighed again at contently.
“Oh but I will miss this! A brisk, chilly day ended with a warm mug of this delightful brew. Brrr-just what one need!” He shook himself dramatically like a child would in excitement.
“Now, Mr. Sims—-May I call you Mr. Sims?”
“Wonderful. Now, Mr. Sims, I am Chief Inspector Dario Cross of the Imperial Inspectorate. I have come here from very far away at the request of Coruscant to aid Regional Inspector General Tython Mark in sequestering the dissidents on this planet so that Imperial Minister Jerot Bell can once again report another peaceful protectorate to Governor Gordan Lath and Rear Admiral Kal Mattish can once again leave this place to aid Moff Jerjerrod wherever he needs.”
He sipped again on the mug.
“Now, all those important people I just named have had their lives disrupted by lawlessness. Chaos, Mr. Sims, chaos that will tear this great empire of ours apart. You see, Mr. Sims…”
Here the man, Inspector Cross, set his large mug on the table and leaned forward. He had an air of seriousness about him now but projected it as someone would who thought it was all a joke. No, not a joke… supreme confidence. A hunter who knows he has his prey…
The human stopped for a moment and smiled. He tapped all ten fingers on the table, spreading them out wide, as if he was in a deep thought. Cocking his head to the side he gazed at Yil.
“I must admit, Mr. Sims, that I have exhausted my rather limited and rudimentary knowledge of Huttese. I do understand that you speak Bocce, is that correct?”
The man switched to the auxiliary language used throughout the Outer Rim trading lanes. It was, once again, flawless. He leaned back into the chair, studying the Gran carefully. His half smile still radiated a deadly friendly demeanor.
“Now, Mr. Sims, like I was saying, there exists in this certain part of this rather lackluster world an element of chaos. It is my job, or rather the job of the Inspectorate, to root out chaos and ensure that civilization and the law reigns.”
The man stopped for a moment and dug around in his long jacket. He produced a thick rectangle and opened the top. A large brown-colored stick that stank of rich earth was produced from the rectangle. Cross stopped for a moment and nodded to the Gran.
“Do you mind, Mr. Sims, if I have a smoke? I must admit I have rather developed a keen like for these rolled leaves. I believe they call them a junaleaf here but they are rather delicious. It does help calm my nerves. I get so excited when I am on a case!”
Yil cleared his throat and uttered the first words he had said yet. “Make yourself at home, Chief Inspector.”
The smile spread across his face. He moved the stick to his mouth and lit it with a fast motion from the lighter in his hand.
“Now, Mr. Sims, as you know there has been recent developments on Ord Cestus. Dissidence spreads across the planet. Crime has escalated. The outlaws are beginning to run rampant.”
Cross puffed heavily on the cigar a few times and leaned forward, pointing at the Gran with the cigar in his hands. His face broke through the smoke, the smile gone.
“And that, Mr. Sims, is something that the Empire cannot abide. So it falls to me to root out these outlaws. I must bring light to the darkness.”
The smile returned as he leaned back in his chair, the cigar dangling in his hand. He laughed. A brief, quick sound that almost came out as a snarl.
“Not that much light comes here! Not in this city. Now, both you and I know that this a haven for outlaws. And we both know that the Empire does not care to bother with such small trivialities.” He tapped the cigar and continued. “And I also suspect you know that I know that disrupting the bribes you pay to minor Imperial officials throughout the northern continent would create more problems then gain any solutions.”
He paused for a moment and stuck the cigar in his mouth. He held it there while he drank deeply from his mug, puffing away at the same time. Another large puff and he slammed the mug to the table with a satisfied noise. Reaching back into his pocket, he produced a well-made handkerchief and dabbed at his mouth.
“As such, I could come here and rip apart your entire operations but for what? What would that accomplish? Sure, I could execute you as you sit here. I could burn this bar down to the ground decorated with your organs.”
“But I find such crude simpleness lack their… subtleties. No, what brings me here is the things that has no entrenched benefit to the Empire. I want a bigger prize, no offense to you Mr. Sims and what you have managed to build here.”
He paused again and tapped at his cigar. With his other hand he motioned to someone behind Yil. One of the helmeted Inspectors suddenly sat down a large physical book on the table. Yil slumped in his chair.
His collection. An off-the-grid information store. Accounts, names, contact information, rumors…. Handwritten blackmail, deep underworld knowledge. Everything that he managed to gather, store and then sell to whoever was the highest bidder. It stored information that was his escape, things that would get him a free ride out of any local jail, bribes paid. Everything.
The Chief Inspector tapped on the book with his free hand, making a ticking sound. He puffed again on the cigar as he watched Yil.
“What I want is what walked into this bar only a few weeks ago. What I want is the catalyst to the disturbances that called me. I want the thing that has caused those men I mentioned, those important men, to turn their ever critical gaze to this sector of space. You can keep toiling away on this rotting machine, this tiny community of brigands and bureaucratic pocket liners. Oh sure, I will take this and see what in here does not benefit the Empire. You may lose a contact or two.”
“But you live, Mr. Sims. Your livelihood lives.”
The man tapped out the cigar and placed the half-smoked stick on the table. He pulled out a datapad and set it carefully on the table. A stylus laid next to it. He cracked a knuckle and flipped open the book.
“Now, Mr. Sims, tell me what in here you have written down on six individuals who entered this bar looking to sell a stolen Imperial shuttle…”