Star Destroyer Chimaera
"Grand Admiral Thrawn, sir, we're receiving a message from the Enforcer," Commander Eli Vanto informed his superior, his face illuminated from the datapad in his hand.
The blue-skinned alien looked over coolly, his red eyes glittering with interest.
"What is it, Commander?" He asked.
"Appears we've been assigned to aid and assist in apprehending a rebel sympathizer on Batuu."
"Just one individual?" Thrawn asked.
Vanto voiced his Admiral's thoughts, "must be someone pretty important to the Rebel Alliance. They could have viable intel."
"Perhaps," Thrawn said gently, "set course to Batuu."
"That's the edge of the Outer Rim," Vanto said, "there's only one reason you'd go that far..."
Thrawn looked at him expectantly.
Vanto looked at his datapad thoughtfully, "you go to hide."
"I know I'm late on payment, but I need a few more days," Araceilia said firmly to the disgruntled and stern-looking Utapaun towering over her.
His lined, bisected face didn't change. "I give time last cycle. No this time," he argued back in broken Basic.
Araceilia gave a heavy sigh, raking a hand through her long, snarled black locks. She reached deep into her coat pocket. "Here. This is half of what I owe you. I'll give you the rest tomorrow."
The Utapaun's expression didn't shift. Instead, he took the credits and turned away without another word.
Araceilia's stomach grumbled as she watched him leave, scowling. Great. Now she had hardly any credits left for food. Better if she kept herself busy then.
Making her way out of the Spire she headed back to Market Row, keeping her eyes peeled. It wasn't long before she spotted what she was looking for. The tall grey horns of the Terk stood out among the crowd. How he managed to stay an informant without the safety of discretion was beyond her.
"Hey, Jiiu, tell me we're still on for tomorrow."
The Terk turned to face her, the pale fur on his face reflecting the sunlight, his horizontal slit pupils narrowed.
"As far as I know, nothing changed. Why? Something wrong?"
"No. But I need the credits. Fast. Otherwise, I'll have to take free work at the cantina again and sleep behind the Spire." She cringed at the thought, pulling her coat closer as a sudden chill came over her.
"Is there any way we could move our rendezvous to tonight? They're inbound aren't they?" She asked the Terk.
Jiiu pulled out his comm link, "I can try. Gimme about an hour. Contact should reply by then."
"And go to the bathhouse. You stink."
"Grand Admiral, we're about to drop out of hyperspace," The Enforcer's captain informed.
"Sir, Batuu takes all types but our presence may be a little upsetting if we show up with the destroyer."
"Commander Vanto makes a valid point. Captain, drop us out of hyperspace to where we aren't too close to port. The Commander and I will shuttle down. " Thrawn said.
"Yes, sir." The captain replied before turning to give his orders.
Eli hovered near Thrawn. "We'll still be in an Imperial shuttle… Either way, maybe we should ditch the uniforms? I don't know how skittish our sympathizer might be. That way we may have the element of surprise."
Thrawn nodded in agreement, "another excellent suggestion Commander Vanto. Come let us make our preparations."
It had been almost a half hour. Araceilia checked her rendezvous coordinates again for the umpteenth time. She tapped her foot on the ground. She was restless and was ready to get this over with. She was also ready to go home and sleep off the long night she had previously. She had spent the entirety of the night putting her final touches on the piece. It then took another hour to scan and upload it to a hard drive and finally, destroy the physical piece.
Just think of the credits. She kept telling herself. Soon she could get the hell out of this outpost and get a pod to put down in the forest some clicks away. Enjoy some peace and quiet. She'd like that.
Leaning against the alley wall, she went to glance at her comm link again, but movement caught the corner of her eye. A man approached her.
He looked her up and down, eyeing her seriously before asking, "know where a man can get a drink around here," he looked at his surroundings as he spoke. A nice part about using Smuggler's Alley as a meeting site? No one snitches.
"Oga's is the place," she gave the standard reply as she swept her eyes around the alley to make sure no one would follow. As she walked casually alongside the man she noticed he looked to be a few years younger than her. His hair was dark and his complexion the same as her olive brown. He even had her same chocolate colored eyes. She felt oddly comfortable around him. Which she knew she shouldn't. He was the new contact and this was their first meeting.
"Are you from Vardos?" She asked outright.
The man's eyebrows rose at her random question.
"No. Born and raised on Fest." He replied after a slight hesitation. "Well, until my parents dragged my sister and I into—" He stopped himself before ending with, "—you know what."
She felt a twinge of disappointment. Though she'd forsaken her homeworld years ago she couldn't escape her roots and her wistful thinking of connecting with someone from Vardos again. She hadn't come across a single soul since she'd left. The Empire had made sure of that.
She led them east toward Batuu's tourist hotspot. She had used what little money she had left to clean herself up and buy them a secure meeting spot. This part of the Outpost consisted of a few working locals and the rest were naive tourists. They had few hotels to choose from, most of which didn't even have regular staff. No one recognized her or her companions. They looked like every other tourist.
Dragging her hover-card over the pad, the door to their tiny room slid open. She cranked the faulty lock level into place behind them.
There was just enough room for a bathroom equipped with a toilet and refresher, a small, very uncomfortable bed, and a table with two creaking chairs. The man took a seat while Araceilia began setting up her holo-reader. As she stuck the hard drive in, she glanced up at the man, silently asking if he was ready to proceed. He nodded. She flicked on the switch and her latest creation sprang to 3D life in front of them. The man studied it. No expression or comment. Never a good sign. She'd be pissed if they changed their minds now. She didn't have time for that. He rubbed at his chin, the stubble starting to come in.
"Well?" Araceilia probed.
"It's ambitious. Recruiting from the Outer Rim is difficult." The man said, his tone colored with experience.
"After living here for a while, I guess you understand their mentalities better," reassured him, "look, it'll work. The council wanted a new approach. Not the same old message that would get looked over. This is it. Besides, from what I hear, your recruiting stats are dropping fast. What better audience to cater to then the lawless Outer Rim who want nothing to do with the tyranny of the Empire."
"Who's giving you intel on our recruiting?" The man's eyes narrowed.
Araceilia smirked. "No one. Except you just confirmed my suspicion."
The man started to protest but she cut him off. "Which means that this," she gestured to her work and tapped the table for good measure, "will work."
The man crossed his arms over chest and sat back in the chair, contemplating, his eyes focusing on her work.
"The message is good but I'm not confident that the Outer Rim will respond. And the Core wouldn't accept this. It's… edgy." He shook his head, sighing.
"What do you have to lose? Either it works or it doesn't. And you won't know if you don't try."
They locked eyes and sized each other up before the man caved with a sigh.
"Fine. Give me your comm. I'll initiate the transfer."
She handed him her comm while she copied the hard drive's contents over to her contact's. Collapsing her holo-reader and stuffing it in her coat pocket, she took her comm back from the man. She glanced down at the screen and frowned.
"Wait a minute. We agreed on 40%." She stated flatly. This can't be happening.
"I'm sorry but that was the amount I was authorized to send. As you figured out, we're hurting in more ways than one and funding is one of them. We took a big hit recently and—" he stopped himself. Araceilia gave him a look of sarcasm at his misplaced trust issues. How long had she been working with them now?
"—and we haven't recovered." He finished, studying the hard drive in his hand.
"Big hit as in what happened on Sidau 2?" She asked.
The man squinted and shook his head. "No, that was an extremist group."
Araceilia read his body language and tone easily. He was lying. But she didn't have time to worry about their next move. Especially if they were dishing out pay cuts and she was one of them.
"Well, we're done here. I'll wait for your next assignment," she said, "and I'll brainstorm some ideas to pitch to the Council next cycle."
They stood up together. She held out her hand.
"Pleasure doing business with you…?" She implied.
The man hesitated again, before replying, "Lieutenant Cassian Andor."
They shook hands before she led them to the door, the loud snap of the lock release signaling their time together was over. She let Cassian exit the building first.
Eli Vanto braced himself as the shuttle touched down in the docking bay. The loud sizzle as the shuttle decompressed filled his ears as the ramp began to fall, revealing a bustling environment filled with many different species hurrying to and fro.
Thrawn stood next to him, his hands behind his back, his eyes looking out into the bay.
Once the ramp hit the ground with a resounding echo, Eli waited for Thrawn to move before following his lead. They headed into the frazzled crowd.
"Where should we begin, sir?" Eli asked Thrawn.
"We know nothing of our contact other than their signature on their artwork. Cignis." Thrawn said thoughtfully. "Perhaps we asked around?"
"If I were a rebel sympathizer," Thrawn continued, "I would conduct my business somewhere rather busy. A place you could talk but not be overheard, yet not look out of place. We should find a place that fits that description."
Eli chuckled, pausing their step. "Sounds like the local cantina is your place, then."
Thrawn gave a slight smile. "Excellent idea, Commander."
"The first thing you do when you get paid is buy a drink…" Jiiu judged.
Araceilia smirked as the Quarren behind the bar slid her a shimmering, red drink, the bubbling froth steaming slightly. Araceilia hesitantly sipped the drink as she turned to face her friend.
"Hey, what a girl does with her credits is her business. The faster you learn that the better."
The Terk shrugged, sweeping his eyes over the bar's attendants.
"See them yet?" She asked.
"Yes, they're in the corner. Well, this is where I leave you. Later." Jiiu said, turning to leave before Araceilia could react. She was used to his behavior and didn't bother to reply.
Wedged between patrons at the corner of the bar, she took a long swig of her drink. As she went to place her now empty glass down, the front door slid open and Araceilia froze.
Two individuals stepped through the door. One was a human male, close to her age, and the other was… She felt taken aback. She had never seen his species before. Assuming it was a 'he'. He looked almost human, only taller, with blue skin and his eyes—they were red.
She swallowed and dropped her eyes, taking glances at them with her head down as they looked around, the blue-skinned alien scanning the crowd with a scrutinizing gaze. They wore nondescript clothes but the way they held themselves and the air their presence gave, it made her mind ring with alarm.
They were Imperials. The Empire was here. On Batuu. And her first reaction was that they were here for her.
Deep in her realization, she came to and found herself staring back into the red eyes of the non-human Imperial. He had locked eyes with her.
She had to leave. Now.