Many Happy Returns: Chapter Four

"You managed to locate Calrissian's yacht yet?" Bomar Tag transferred the comlink from one pudgy hand to the other so he could activate a grid map of the spaceport.

"Yes, Boss," replied a gravelly voice, "but there ain't nobody around, and we've been here for a while. I reckon he and the kid might have come here alone."

"Okay. Well here's a challenge for you then," hissed the big man. "Find out where they're staying. Shouldn't be too difficult to access the recent arrival records in the local tourist apartments and hotels, especially as Calrissian would probably go for one of the upmarket places."

"Sure thing, Boss."

"And remember I want anyone you find alive. A-L-I-V-E!"

"Yeah, yeah, we've got the Somnacyl. Don't worry, Boss. If there's anyone, we'll find 'em."

Tag grunted an affirmation, and clicked off his comlink. He called up another map, this time of the central city area, and began to highlight some likely tourist boarding establishments. When Calrissian had contacted him about ordering some more reflector sealant, he had decided to do a little research on the man. After all, the ex-gambler had a long history of involvement with Han Solo and his wife, and as a result he had also often worked with the Jedi. The Peace Brigade didn't have as extensive an intelligence network as it would have liked, but the general buzz was that Calrissian seemed to be keeping a fairly low profile, which suggested he might be up to something. Tag had decided to go with a hunch. Obviously the Jedi were in fairly dire straits at the moment, and because of Calrissian's sentimental connection to them, it seemed plausible that he might be in on any scheme designed to protect them. It was quite possible therefore that the sealant was destined for some Jedi use.

Tag was certain that Calrissian was unaware of his Peace Brigade connections. After all, when he had supplied the sealant for the control station on the man's asteroid run near Dubrillion, the organisation hadn't existed, and since he had joined it, he'd kept his link with it under wraps. Until Vehn had appeared on Balmorra, there was nobody, other than a group of trusted employees, who knew, and now that Vehn had been effectively silenced, Tag was sure that the pilot's little counter organisation would soon lose its support. Even so, he was still annoyed at himself for not taking Vehn more seriously. Maybe he should have just paid the compensation the pilot requested and sent him packing. As it was, the cost of damage control had already exceeded any settlement he might have made. And he was still having to work hard on keeping friendly with the media, so they wouldn't start digging too deeply.

His plan in coming to Balmorra was to establish himself within the business community, enveigle his way into local politics and then the wider political scene, working from within to build up support for the policies of the Peace Brigade. When the Vong finally reached the sector, he hoped to be able to present them with a planet that was at least partially receptive to the idea of co-operation. He had already reached the stage of running for office as Executive Officer on the local council, a position that meant he would also be representing Dinarra on the Continental Administrative Council -- not bad considering he'd lived there for less than a year. True, he had established a branch of his business there nearly two years previously, but even so, he was surprised at how successful his foray into politics had been. The last thing he wanted at this stage, therefore, was anybody suggesting he might have a hidden agenda.

Tag grunted again, and rubbed his furrowed forehead thoughtfully. One bad decision had been balanced by one good one. Intending to capture Calrissian in order to use him as bait to catch one or two of his Jedi friends, Tag had asked his Brigade contacts to deliver two ysalamiri and a supply of Somnacyl. His preparedness had paid off. He had never anticipated the possibility that Calrissian would bring a Jedi with him, let alone such a valuable one. Swings and roundabouts, he thought. What you lose on one, you gain on the other. He felt a satisfied smile creeping over his pudgy lips. When he had received the ysalamiri about two standard weeks before, he had set up the room beside his office to serve as their temporary den until he had finished the alterations to their intended home. He had had to move them into the new room earlier than expected because he had captured two women who he suspected were Jedi, but when this turned out to be a mistake, he had moved the ysalamiri back to their original residence in order to complete the work. The look on Anakin Solo's face when he walked in with Calrissian and immediately felt their effect had been almost worth capturing on holocam -- from cocky to confused in two seconds flat. Tag chuckled viciously. It would do the kid good to find out what life was like without his supernatural powers to protect him. He'd soon learn what it felt like to be afraid, and what it felt like to suffer. In other words, he'd find out how everyone else in the galaxy was feeling. What a pity he wouldn't live long enough to expand on this educative experience.

The big man shifted his bulk and recommenced studying the city map. When Calrissian had called him that morning to let him know he was on his way to the office, Tag had put a trace on the call in the hope the man had called from his hotel. Unfortunately that had not been the case -- the call had obviously come from Calrissian's personal communicator. Hopefully soon his men would find where Calrissian had decided to stay, and, if their luck was still in, they might be soon adding some other illustrious prisoners to their collection.

* * * * *

"I can't stand this waiting. I want to do something," said Tahiri as she completed another circuit of their comfortable living room. Tendra had lost count of how many times the girl had paced around the room's perimeter, and even without Jedi abilities she could sense that Tahiri's anxiety and frustration equalled her own.

"I know," she soothed. "So do I, but we can't just go off half-cocked. We need facts -- we need to find out exactly what has happened and where they are. At the moment we've only got assumptions."

"Well as I said before, I'm positive they actually made it to the sealant manufacturer's place. The flashes I got from Anakin before I lost contact with him gave me the impression he was in a room of some sort. I don't think they were anywhere outside."

"I know, Tahiri, but as I said, they may have stopped off somewhere else on the way there. That's the problem, we don't know. And I'm not going to contact Tag's office. If for some reason he has done something with them, there's a chance he may not know about us. And I'd prefer to keep it that way for the moment."

"If he has got them, all I can say is that he'll soon be very sorry," muttered the blonde girl fiercely.

Tendra sighed. Their trip to the Lady Luck had failed to reveal any useful information. Whatever had happened to Lando and Anakin must have taken them both by surprise, because there was no record on the ship's communications log of any attempted contact. Even if Lando had only managed to get his hands to his comlink and switch it on, he would have given them a signal that they could have traced, but no such event had occurred. Tendra had briefly considered trying to contact him, but had then thought better of it. Presumably, any assailants would have removed his weapons and communications equipment, and all her attempt would achieve would be to give them the location of the ship -- assuming they didn't know that already -- and confirm that Lando and Anakin had not come alone.

Logic had suggested they should stay on the ship, as it was well-armed and would allow them to escape if necessary. But part of Tendra's brain had still been operating on the hope that the whole thing was a mistake, and that in fact Lando and Anakin were waiting for them at their hotel. As she had already ruled out the inherent dangers in trying to hail her husband, she only had one other choice. She had grabbed her comlink and an extra blaster to complement the small hold-out version she always carried. Tahiri had collected a padded utility vest from her cabin, a blaster and a spare power pack, and they had left quickly and stealthily, ensuring that nobody followed them.

They had returned to their rooms -- hoping. It was a vain hope however, and they had fought to hold their disappointment and anxiety in check as they searched for any signs of forced entry or of people waiting to attack them. The place was empty, unvisited by either friend or foe. Lunchtime had come and gone, and as the afternoon sun had moved round far enough to miss the apartment's large window, the room had begun to feel as cold as they both felt inside. Tahiri had donned her vest and begun pacing, stopping once to pick up the compact multi-tool she had bought for Anakin and play dispiritedly with its various functions.

Tendra sighed again. There were so many unknowns, it was almost impossible to think through all the possibilities without feeling she was going round in circles.

"Okay, we'll find out the address of the place they went to. It belongs to a guy called Bomar Tag. Lando said it was called Tag Insulation."

"Good. I really think ... "

In the pause that followed, Tendra glanced up, but when Tahiri failed to continue, and began creeping noiselessly to the door, she realised the girl was unlikely to want to finish her statement. She watched as Tahiri's expression assumed that distanced appearance that Tendra was beginning to identify strongly as a Jedi habit, and she drew her blaster in readiness.

"There are four of them," whispered Tahiri. "Two in the hallway, and two by the window."

"Damn. I knew we should have gone for one of the upstairs apartments," muttered Tendra. Usually Lando would have been more aware of security too, but the prospect of a break from routine and the chance to visit a relatively pleasant world seemed to have infected them all with a strange sense of holiday-itis. They should have known better. As Tahiri had said earlier; trouble did seem to follow them around. "You take the door."

Tahiri nodded, and drew her lightsaber out from where she had concealed it inside her flimsy wrap-around skirt. She concentrated on what she could feel outside the door, while Tendra installed herself in the alcove beside the window.

"Ready?" hissed Tendra.

"Ready as rockets," Tahiri replied, her voice strangely low. Something about the tone made Tendra shiver, and she spared a quick glance in the girl's direction. In the brief instance she had before the door burst open and one large human and one Devaronian lurched into view, she caught the fierce smile on Tahiri's face, and the feral glint in her green eyes. She had barely registered her surprise at this sudden change in personality when the transparisteel window began to disintegrate under the concentrated beam from an industrial blast torch.

She pressed back into the alcove to protect herself from the heat, aiming the blaster in readiness to catch the first body part that tried to push its way in through the hole where the window had been. Instead of an arm or a leg, however, an entire body suddenly hurdled into view, and in the pause that marked Tendra's surprise, the man had time to shoot, almost catching her before she leapt to the side. She returned fire rapidly, catching the man in the shoulder, causing him to drop his weapon and lurch backwards. Instinct prevented her from lunging towards him to kick away the fallen weapon, for that would have brought her into view of whoever was still outside. Instead she aimed again, but the man had chosen not to rely on one source of firepower. Before she could fire he had pulled a second blaster from his belt, and in her effort to prevent him from hitting her again, her own shot went off target. As he aimed, she hit the floor and rolled desperately towards the door.

The Devaronian had been a little slow to realise that his small female opponent had been waiting for him by the door, and therefore he had a clear view of her cutting the legs from under his companion -- literally -- as he turned to confront her. The seedy looking human went down with a piercing shriek, followed by an even more unnerving silence. What the Devaronian had missed seeing was his associate almost ensnaring Tahiri in the mesh fired from his stokhli spray stick. For a split second Tahiri noticed a look of complete surprise register on the muscular humanoid's face, but then he seemed to recover and fired several bolts in rapid succession, only to have them deflected by Tahiri's sapphire blade. As he aimed again she leapt into the air and somersaulted over him, and he swung around desperately and readjusted his stance to keep himself out of her reach. In a heartbeat she had closed the distance between them, holding the shimmering green shaft in front of her body to protect herself. He knew that all she had to do was flip it up in an arc and he would be sliced neatly in two, but he aimed anyway, and then watched as she slipped on the blood spilled by his companion. He steadied himself to fire at her, but something collided with his legs and knocked him to the side, pushing him into his other companion's line of fire. The man by the window cursed as he saw the Devaronian take the shot intended for Tendra.

By the time Tendra had struggled to her feet again, Tahiri was already between her and their third assailant, deflecting bolts.

"Remember there are four of them!" Tahiri shouted, although it was more of a snarl than a shout.

She pressed her advantage, parrying shots and slowly backing the man over to the window. Tendra acted on the girl's warning and ran to the open doorway. She was about to peer cautiously out, but then thought better of it, and looking about her wildly, grabbed the belt Anakin had left on the nearby chair, folded it over and poked it out the door instead. A bolt sizzled across the space in front of her. Tendra turned and ran to the window just as Tahiri finished cutting her opponent's blaster in half.

"Give up now and I won't harm you!" the blonde girl commanded.

The man bared his teeth in what Tendra assumed was meant to be a humourless grin, and pulled out his back-up weapon. As he aimed, Tahiri reached out with her left hand and Force-flicked the blaster away.

"This is your last chance," she hissed, but the man had already pulled out a stokhli spray stick. Tahiri's blue blade reversed in a neat diagonal stroke that traced green light across his arm just above his wrist, leaving him writhing in agony and cradling his arm desperately against his chest . "I really hate it when people don't take me seriously," she muttered, but Tendra could see by the girl's trembling hands that her flippancy was at least part bravado. She noticed also that the girl's expression, although still determined, was looking a little more human, and a little less unsettling. Perhaps the reality of killing and maiming had tempered her initial ferocity.

Tendra waved her blaster to signal towards the corridor as she hoisted herself up and over the sill carefully to avoid the smouldering mass of melted transparisteel that had been the pane. She landed on the spongy blue-green turf outside a split-second after Tahiri, and, in spite of the intensity of the fight, she couldn't help admiring the girl's lithe athleticism. Tahiri leapt towards the external door that led to the hotel passageway, but Tendra reached out and grabbed her arm.

"No! Let's leave him and get to the ship."

"If we take him, we can get him to tell us where they are," said Tahiri stubbornly.

"We can trace them through Lando's comlink. I didn't want to use it earlier, but whoever's behind this obviously knows about us, so it makes no difference now."

Tahiri hesitated, and then stiffened. "Behind you!" she yelled, pushing Tendra to the ground as a streak of blasterfire spewed out from the gaping space where the window had been. With magical speed she had her lightsaber up to deflect it, but Tendra wasn't looking at Tahiri. Instead she was watching the two pairs of boots that had just appeared at the side of the yard. She saw Tahiri whirl around, and then she felt something sharp strike her at the base of the neck. To her surprise it didn't hurt as badly as she expected. In fact, after the initial stabbing sensation, she soon felt nothing at all.

Tahiri felt rather than saw Tendra lapse into unconsciousness, mainly because she was busy sizing up the two new assailants.

"Put your weapon down!" one of them commanded her curtly, while the other aimed a strange-looking cylindrical device at her.

Behind her, Tahiri sensed the fourth member of the original group. She also sensed their uncertainty. Why didn't the one behind her shoot? And what was that weird tube thing? She gathered her energy into a Force-assisted leap that took her behind the two new opponents, but the one with the cylinder tracked her through the air and fired. As Tahiri landed she felt a sharp pricking sensation in, of all places, her left buttock. She reached behind her and pulled at what she found embedded in her flesh; to her surprise she found herself looking at a plastene vial, the tip of which was still exuding a pale yellow liquid. More urgently, however, she felt a strange prickling sensation spreading up her spine.

Almost without thinking she focussed her attention inwards and began tracking the foreign liquid insinuating its way into her nervous system. She knew she hadn't the time to be able to stimulate her immune system into producing an antidote, but she could localise the fluid so that it would only have a partial effect. Unfortunately, in the time it took her to work that out and begin convincing the cells in the area around the wound to cease their osmotic processes, the one who had shot her had wrenched away her lightsaber, and was now roughly applying stun cuffs to her wrists.

"Why ain't she unconscious?" demanded the human on the other side of the ruined window.

"She should be. I gave her a good enough dose. Probably using some Jedi technique."

"Well then, we'd better take her to the boss. He's got the cure for Jedi," the leader laughed unpleasantly. He leaned very close to Tahiri, so close that she could feel his hot breath on her cheek. "Hear that, Blondie? You and your sort have become a disease."

Tahiri's lower back muscles were cramping uncomfortably, but her efforts to contain the drug were proving successful. Hopefully it had a limited lifespan in terms of potency. "Better a disease than bantha poodoo," she countered, screwing up her nose in obvious disgust.

The man's face darkened, and she prepared herself to absorb a punch, but although she could sense him teetering dangerously towards violence, she also felt him hesitate and stop himself.

"Brave words. I wonder how long you'll be able to keep that up," he said. She followed his glance to beyond the window where the other two unharmed members of the group were supporting the Devaronian. Tahiri blinked, and then a feeling like ice, much colder than the drug she was fighting, froze her insides. The Devaronian had been shot by one of the group and he had only been stunned. Had they all had their blasters set on stun? Neither she nor Tendra had had time to check -- they had just naturally assumed that the men wanted to kill them. That would explain that uncertainty I felt, and the Devaronian's shock when he first saw me. They must have been under orders not to kill us, and they weren't expecting a Jedi. She thought some more, and almost collapsed with the reality that hit her. I've just killed a man and maimed another, and they weren't even trying to kill me. I never thought to gauge their intent. She felt like giving in and letting the drug in her system take control. She had failed yet again; she had let her anger take control, even when she thought she was in control of it. She gazed down at Tendra, and felt the tears welling up behind her eyelids.

"Never mind, Blondie. Your friend'll be all right," he grinned rather cruelly. "For a while," he added. He went to move towards her, and then stopped, opting to walk around her circumspectly instead. She felt him check the stun cuffs. "Just want to make sure you're not going to pull any little Jedi tricks on me," he said. He turned her round to face him, and studied the bulges in the lower front pockets of her utility vest. "Ah ha! I think I might have this. And this." He removed her blaster and spare power pack. "Don't want any more nasty surprises, do we?" He grinned at her again in his toothy way, pivoted her so she was facing away from him, then pushed her forward to signal that she should begin walking.

Tahiri felt too weak to walk, but she complied. The energy required to keep conscious and to counter her feelings of failure was draining her rapidly, but something inside her, some little spark of hope, kept her going. These must be the ones who had done whatever had been done to Anakin, in which case maybe, just maybe, they were going to take her to where they were holding him. For the next hour, that was the one thought that kept her going.

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