Chapter 10: Scum and Villainy

"Well, here it is," Aleina said quietly.

The rusted and weathered brown metallic door slid back into the rough, beige plaster wall of the unassuming building, hissing and scraping into place. Kyrr Geron and Aleina Kaede stepped out of the almost blinding light of Tatooine's twin suns, and down into the dimly-lit interior of Mos Eirat's premiere watering hole for its multicultural inhabitants. On the way in, they passed a severe-looking member of the Zabrak species, with light brown skin and numerous small horns protruding from the top of his hairless cranium, who seemed to be waiting impatiently for someone just outside the cantina.

Kyrr and Aleina stopped just inside the doorway, standing where they were for a moment as they took in their new surroundings. Kyrr shouldered the rifle he had been carrying in his hands, and now that they were out of the wind, Aleina unzipped her jacket again. They stood in a square shaft of sunlight for a brief moment before the door closed noisily behind them, enveloping them in the cantina's dark atmosphere.

The setting was all too familiar to Kyrr. With the barren desert landscape outside out of sight, the rundown drinking establishment was no different from the countless bars he had frequented over the years in the urban sprawl of Coruscant. Looking around, Kyrr could see its denizens were as varied and diverse as those of underlevel bars. He almost felt at home. Almost.

Even by Coruscant underlevel standards, this place is pretty bad... At least it's a little cooler in here.

This cantina seemed… darker. There was an even greater volume of smoke filling the air than what Kyrr was used to. The place lacked the polished, industrial charm of Coruscanti interior design; underlevel nightclubs and bars usually had a few colorful light fixtures, even if they were more decorative than illuminative. Here, there were only a handful of weak lights that cast a faint yellowish glow on their surroundings, making the cantina seem dirtier and more faded than it was.

A Rodian wearing a brown jacket passed by in front of Kyrr, reminding him of the life he had taken in a similar bar only a day before. This one, unlike his deceased Coruscanti counterpart, wasn't laughing. The immense dark orbs of the Rodian's eyes were featureless, so it was impossible to tell in which direction they were looking. Kyrr judged by the slight angling of his head, however, that he had glanced subtly at Kyrr in passing. I suppose a Mandalorian is bound to draw attention, Kyrr thought, even on a backwater planet like this one.

"So, this is where your contacts are supposed to be?" Kyrr asked in low tones.

Aleina seemed to be slowly scanning for them among the cantina's numerous occupants. "I… I think so. This is where they usually make their deals. If they're doing any business today, they'll be here."

"Well, we probably shouldn't stand around much longer, we don't want to attract too much attention to ourselves. I'm going to get myself a drink. I suggest you stay close by."

Aleina shifted her focus to the horizontal slit in Kyrr's helmet. "Alright. Maybe I can ask the bartender about the dealers we're looking for."

Kyrr and Aleina began to make their way toward the bar, a rectangular counter which seemed to be in the center of the place. A straight path to the bar was impossible, and they had to weave between many crowded, circular tables, overhearing conversations in a thousand languages and dialects. The faint clatter of drinking vessels accented the din of countless murmuring voices as Kyrr walked slowly and casually onward, Aleina just behind him.

Kyrr noticed a very pale-skinned man with a scarred and disfigured face seated at one table, who was conversing with a wrinkled, dark green Weequay. The pale-skinned man stopped short in the middle of a sentence in a language Kyrr could not understand, and put his drink down on the table as Kyrr was passing by, staring at him warily.

So much for subtlety.

Kyrr and Aleina finally made it to the bar area, after what had seemed like a mile-long journey from the cantina's entrance. There were two open seats in front of them, and Kyrr chose the seat on the right.

The bar stool creaked in protest as Kyrr sat down upon it. It was upholstered with cheap bantha-hide leather. Kyrr had never seen a living bantha before; the gigantic, furry creatures, sometimes used as beasts of burden by the primitive Sand People on the planet, were native to Tatooine. But he recognized the material easily, as it was commonplace among lowlifes in the underlevels who sometimes wore bantha-hide vests or boots.

Kyrr estimated that each side of the rectangular bar could accommodate at least fifteen or twenty bar-goers. He noticed there were several scratched and dented, boxy distillation machines whirring a few feet behind the smooth, brown counter. It seemed that all its roughness had been worn away by countless years of use.

As soon as Kyrr took his seat, the Gran sitting to his immediate right momentarily focused his three eyes on Kyrr, before promptly standing up and walking away. Several other beings who had been sitting at the bar also got up and left, some leaving their drinks behind. Aleina sat down cautiously next to Kyrr as the bartender turned around.

The blue-skinned Duros was cleaning a dingy-looking glass with an equally dingy-looking scrap of fabric. He removed the rag from the glass, squinting at a particularly dirty spot on its surface, and then spat forcefully into it. He wiped the rag around inside it once more, and set it down on the counter in front of Kyrr. The spot had become a translucent smear. Aleina tried not to look disgusted.

"What do you want?" the bartender asked in accented Galactic Basic.

"Arala," Kyrr replied.

"Don't serve that here."

"Ardees, then."

"One Jawa Juice, comin' up," the Duros said, referring to the drink by its nickname. He reached under the counter and brought out a pitcher of the stuff, and filled up the glass already in front of Kyrr.

Kyrr stared down at the drink and swirled it around pensively. The smear on the inside of the glass was now gone.

"What will it be for the pretty lady?" the Duros sneered, turning to a half-horrified Aleina Kaede.

"The same thing he's having," she answered quickly.

Kyrr leaned in menacingly toward the barkeep. "Watch yourself. She's mine."

The Duros leaned in as well, pointing a long, blue finger at Kyrr. "You Mandos always make a mess. But I'm not afraid of you. The last Mandos that came in here were… made to leave."

There were other Mandalorians here?

"Easy now," Kyrr said, straightening up, "there's no need for… hostilities."

"E chu ta!" the Duros spat, lapsing into Huttese as he went through the motions of cleaning another dirty glass. He proceeded to fill it with Jawa Juice, and slammed it down on the bar for Aleina to drink. She eyed it suspiciously, as if it might have been a particularly dangerous and diminutive venomous beast. The bartender turned away and began to wipe the bar with the same filthy rag, moving his arm in an angry circular motion.

Aleina wasn't terribly eager to take a sip of her beverage. "I need some information," she stated matter-of-factly.

The Duros looked up from his work, leaning on the counter. "What information?"

Kyrr removed his helmet, regretting doing so almost immediately as an indescribably rank scent exploded into his olfactory senses; this cantina was even mustier than any he had been to back on Coruscant. He took a small sip of his Jawa Juice, and found it to be as likeable as the species after which it was named. He put the drink down, keeping his helmet tucked under his left arm out of habit, and continued to listen to the conversation.

"I'm looking for Jorel Kopos. Is he here?" Aleina asked.

"Never heard of him," the bartender replied, returning to cleaning the counter.

"I need to talk to him about a deal," Aleina said after a momentary silence, "a spice deal."

The Duros again stopped his cleaning, sighing loudly. "Why the Mando, then?"

"To make sure the deal goes smoothly. You can never be too careful."

The Duros's red eyes locked onto Aleina's for a moment, searching for something in them which he evidently did not find. He sighed again, and then spoke. "He's in the back, like always."

Kyrr casually took another swig of his Jawa Juice. He could tell that it wasn't potent enough to affect him, if he didn't finish it, and it tasted watered down anyway. With the attention that seemed to come with wearing beskar'gam, Kyrr didn't want to run the risk of being seen ordering a drink and not drinking it; if he showed any signs of weakness, he wouldn't be as good a deterrent to anyone who might otherwise jeopardize the success of his little operation. After swallowing a small amount of the questionably sanitary fluid, he put his grey and crimson helmet back on and stood up.

"Thank you," Aleina said to the bartender.

He gestured to the drinks he had served Kyrr and Aleina. "Sixteen credits."

Kyrr came to stand directly behind Aleina as she withdrew a credit chip, her last 20 credits, from a pocket inside her jacket. She slid it across the counter to the Duros. "A little extra for your help," she said, also getting up from her seat, leaving her drink untouched.

The bartender grunted as he immediately swiped the credit chip off the bar, jamming it into his pocket without so much as glancing at it first. He returned nonchalantly to his efforts with the rag.

Great, Kyrr thought. Now there won't be a shabla cred between us until we sell the Ryll spice. At least this place accepts Republic credits.

Kyrr and Aleina took a few steps away from the bar, and spoke in hushed voices. "So our man's here, then?" Kyrr asked.

"Yes, as long as the bartender was telling the truth," Aleina told him. "I think there's a more exclusive section of this cantina further in. Kopos should be there."

Kyrr found that reply to be somewhat worrisome. "You don't sound entirely certain. If you've been here before, why didn't you already know that's where he usually is?"

Aleina answered somewhat hesitantly. "Well, I haven't exactly done this before. I've never talked to the dealers directly, I was just a courier for my boss."

Kyrr took a deep breath. How is she going to pull this off if she's never made a spice deal before?

He had never been involved with the drug trade, but he had spent enough time in the underlevels to know that a deal could go very wrong, very fast. With illegal mind-altering substances being so valuable, armed protection was usually required to ensure they didn't change hands without the proper payment. In many cases, the guards who protected the drugs were also customers themselves, or got a small free supply from their employers as part of their wages. Throwing any sort of argument into the volatile environment of drug-abusing, gun-toting criminals, even a minor disagreement over pricing, could be like throwing a thermal det into a fuel depot. A negotiator in the business needed to talk tough, but do it softly.

"But I know what I'm doing," Aleina reassured him. "I have a lot of… second-hand experience. Besides, we have an advantage, since we're not trying to make a profit. I can sell at a price so low, no spice dealer on Tatooine would be able to resist. They love a good bargain, from what I hear."

"I hope you're right. And I hope it'll be enough to get us off this rock."

They were silent for a moment. Then Aleina spoke again. "Kopos should be this way," she said, as she began to walk in the opposite direction of the cantina's entrance.

The two picked their way among the tables until they had gotten to the edge of the establishment, where there was a clearer path. They continued along the beige wall, getting closer to the back of the place. At one point, they passed a faded stain on the plaster that looked to Kyrr to have been blood at one point.

Eventually, Kyrr and Aleina came to an area where there weren't as many tables and chairs, and even fewer light fixtures. Here, the murmur of the crowd was barely audible, and the lights of the bar could no longer be seen through the dense smoke. In the dark, close to the back wall, Kyrr could see a single, shadowy figure seated at the only occupied table. As they approached the figure, Kyrr noticed a second standing right next to it. This second figure had green skin, dark and featureless eyes, and was wearing a brown jacket; it was the Rodian that had passed Kyrr earlier.