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“She’s not ready.”

“I disagree.”

“She’s just a kid. You have more experienced Shadow Warriors, use one of them.”

“She’s seventeen. She’s ready.”

Himbimimam kicked the foot of the door frame he was leaning against and scowled at Melm. He hated it when he was right, and he almost always was. Glann Cipples white haired number two rewarded the towering Imbams words with a flat stare. Himbs looked away and growled beneath his breath.

“Damn those two idiots…”

“Quite.” came another voice from around a corner. Himbs and Melm straightened as the ganglord Glann Cipple entered the corridor. Melm glanced at his boss and then at Himbs.

“We were just discussing…”

“I know what you were talking about. Himbimimam.” The underworld ganglord acknowledged the huge alien, who nodded back.

“Glann. I don’t think…”

“Not in the corridor. My office, five minutes.”

Cipple glided away as two assistants seemingly folded out of the corridor walls and pushed clipboards and info pads under his nose. Cipple continued his brisk pace, seemingly ignoring the attentions of the two scurrying underlings as Himbs blew out a breath and turned his gaze down to Melm.

“Maybe we should have saved that conversation for Zythlies.”

Melm nodded and moved past Himbs into the corridor.

“Best not be late.”

“Why her? She’s a kid, she’ll be eaten alive in that place. Literally! I could name ten other agents better suited to this mission.”

Himbs was raging, his body pumped full of adrenaline, one of many reasons why he was such an excellent bar room brawler. Glann was at his desk, his own face a mask of anger and annoyance, flims strewn across his desk, the sunlight hiding behind a cloud as if too nervous to expose itself. Melm stood implacably against his hidden entrance to Glanns office, watching the scene with his usual emotionless visage. Himbs had already thrown two chairs across the room, and Glann had smashed a glass against the wall in a fit of rage. Only the thinnest vestiges of temperance were stopping the two from tearing into each other, although the outcome was beyond doubt. Melm knew that only Glanns genuine respect for Himbs stopped him from having him forcibly and physically ejected from the ninth floor of the building. Besides, Glann loved a good argument. His wife Bella obliged daily.

Cipple threw a glare across the room at Melm.

“You tell him why it has to be her, for hell’s sake.”

Melm held Glann’s glare, ignoring Himbs.

“He knows why. She has the training and the temperament. Nobody fits the mission like she does.”

The wind slightly deflated out of Himbs sails as he crossed his eyebrows at Melm as he turned to him, almost silently pleading him to be wrong, to say something different. But he knew he wouldn’t. Her was right and he knew that, but his heart was raging. Dammit, why her?

“I need someone on the inside,” started Glann, running his hand across his own bald, scarred dome. “Someone to be my eyes and ears there now that Lomona and Galletti have gone.” Glann calmed himself and sat. “There is much happening on the Outer Rim, things that I must be kept up to speed with. I can’t rely on smugglers or traders to get as close as Lomona, or my assassins to be as involved as Galletti. This agent must be closer. Much closer.”

“And you don’t get closer than one of Jabba the Hutt’s dancing girls.” said Himbs, the disdain in his voice shabbily disguised. He slumped his shoulders, a wave of defeat washing over him. He retrieved a chair and perched himself on the edge of it, wearily rubbing his face with his enormous hands. He looked through his fingers at Glann and Melm.

“Does she know yet?”

Glann raised his eyebrows at Melm, who in turn looked back at Himbs.

“No.” A pause. “You’re telling her tonight at her weekly review.”

Himbs sat bolt upright, a look of shock and genuine surprise on his strange alien face.

“You want me to tell her?”

Glann nodded.

“Correct.”

Himbs stood and shook his head in disbelief, waving his arms around in confusion.

“For frecks sake, I don’t want her to go. Why not just kill her now.”

Glann lowered his angle, levelling Himbs with a steel gaze.

“If I did, would you do it?” He taunted, raising his eyebrows in a manner more menacing than it initially appeared. Himbs felt a cold chill run through the warm office and snapped back to reality, remembering just who it was he was addressing. Glann Cipple was known for many things, but sentimentality wasn’t one of them. The Governor of Amagad City gave him more leeway to express his feelings than practically anyone else still alive, but even that rope ran out after time.

Himbs drew a short breath and moved towards the table, his hand outstretched.

“Give me the information. I’ll tell her after we eat.”

Glann nodded and found the relevant flim. Himbs took it from him, turning and glancing at the page. He paused at the door, waiting for Glann to unlock it.

“I hope she likes what’s on the menu. I certainly don’t.”

Himbs let the door slam on his way out, and the echo of his footsteps down the corridor rang as loudly as the thumps of his hearts in his mighty chest.

“There is no one else here tonight. Why is that?”

Weale Galletti surveyed the large and empty food hall and waited patiently for Himbs to return from the serving hatch, watching as he closed it too, bringing two trays of food and a large pitcher of spice wine. He lowered them onto the table and seated himself opposite her, a wan smile on his face. Weale crossed her eyebrows in confusion, pausing before she took her own tray.

“Is something the matter sir? You seem distracted.”

Himbs slowly took a spoonful of his soup and blew out a long breath. Weale watched him closely, unused to seeing him not demolish his food in a matter of seconds and waited for him to speak. Clearly there was something important he needed to say.

“Weale, I’ve been speaking to Melm.” He let the words hang in the air, and Weale furrowed her brow slightly as she waited for him to continue.

“Yes?”

“He feels it’s time to send you out on your first missions as a sleeper agent.”

Weale raised one eyebrow as she took a mouthful of her food.

“Sleeper agent. So I’m going undercover?”

Himbs nodded sadly and looked her square in the eye.

“That’s right.”

Another long silence. Weale again pressed her mentor further.

“Am I allowed to know where I’m going?”

Himbs paused a beat before answering.

“The Outer Rim. Tatooine. Jabba the Hutt’s palace.”

He waited for her reply, the look of shock and hurt, of worry and fear, but none of those emotions played across her elfin features. Instead, he could swear she almost smiled. And Weale smiling was as rare as a Jawa sunbathing without his robes on.

“Did you just hear what I said? You’re going to Tatooine.”

“I heard you fine sir.” replied Weale, her food ignored as she leaned closer to speak to Himbs quietly. He seemed confused, and she sensed that. “What’s wrong? I thought you’d be pleased?”

“Pleased?” He answered, the edge in his voice coming across much sharper than he intended. “You do realise what this job means, don’t you?”

“Yes. It means that Shadow Melm and Governor Cipple trust my abilities enough to send me out into the field.” She narrowed an eye at Himbs. “After all this time, don’t you trust me, sir?”

It was almost a taunt, Himbs knew that. He trusted her skills more than he trusted his own, but Jabba’s Palace…

“You know I do. But you won’t be there just to spy. You need to blend in, merge into the place. And given your gender and age I can think of only one position you suit.”

“And that is?”

“Shadow Weale.”

Both turned to the sound of Melm as he stood in shadow at the entry to the food hall. Himbs gave him a sorrowful look as Weale sprang to her feet and addressed him.

“Yes Shadow Melm?”

“Come with me. Governor Cipple wishes to see you.”

Weale gave Himbs another inexplicably bright smile and stepped away from the table, following the white-haired Shadow Warrior out of the food hall and up towards Glanns office.

Himbs slowly shook his head, toying with the food on his oversized plate. He knew he should eat, his stomachs were growling, but he just didn’t have the appetite anymore.

“Have a seat.”

Weale nodded smartly at Glann and accepted the chair, folding her hands into her lap and waiting for her employer to speak. He shuffled some flims and cleared his throat.

“You are aware of the mission.” A statement, not a question. Weale nodded.

“I am Governor. A sleeper mission to the palace of Jabba the Hutt.”

Glann acknowledged that with another nod.

“And are you aware of why you’re being sent?”

“As I understand it, Jan Lomona and Goah Galletti regularly worked there and sent detailed information back to you. Since both Lomona and Galletti have left the sector, you need a new pair of eyes in his court.” She paused. “Hence me.”

Glann mentally praised her succinct summing up of recent events. Lomona and Galletti had been a precious source of information from the Outer Rim. Not just from Jabba’s court but numerous other operations on the periphery of the galaxy. With them both gone, fleeing the wrath of Jabba to gods knows where, he had no eyes or ears to keep him informed of events on Tatooine, and with the swelling confrontations between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire and the events surrounding the abduction of Han Solo being so closely linked together, he knew he must be apprised of all manner of detail. Hence Weale.

“Precisely. Shadow Melm and myself decided to choose you above other agents for a number of reasons. Firstly, your dedication to duty. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed, and your attention to detail has been marked. Shadow Melm believes it is high time you are given a solo mission. Himbimimam has been an excellent tutor to you in the field, but it is time you operated on your own.” Glann glanced out of the window at a freighter as it blasted its way out of Amagad towards destinations unknown. “And you perfectly suit the parameters of what we require for the mission.”

Weale cocked her head slightly.

“And those parameters are, sir?”

Glann stood and took his familiar place at his panoramic window, watching the bustle of Amagad City as it lived and breathed beneath his volcano-top fortress. He didn’t face Weale, nor did he let his reflection be seen by her. My, she is young. And so like her brother…

“You will travel by freighter to the Tatooine township of Duneside. There you shall find lodgings and apply for a job as a dancer in a local cantina.” Glann folded his hands behind his back. “You are young and attractive. You will be spotted by one of Jabba’s operatives and offered a position as one of the Hutts many performers.” Glann turned his head to look over his shoulder. “You will refuse.”

Weale kept her face placid but Cipple could sense a question.

“Why would I refuse sir?”

“Because no one in their right mind would willingly accept such a position. The job title is dancer, but in truth, you are little more than a slave, a toy for the Hutt to play with and discard at his leisure.” Glann turned fully to Weale, who seemed so small and fragile in the large leather chair that sat opposite. He felt a nanosecond of guilt for sending her into such a situation, but swiftly remembered the training and time that had been bestowed upon her. She was likely the most lethal object in the building.

I must keep reminding myself of that fact.

“So I refuse the offer. What then sir?”

“You return to your dwellings. Sometime during the night you will be abducted.” He allowed himself a small smile. “I realise you would have little trouble defending yourself against any such attack, but please, allow yourself to be taken.”

“Of course sir.”

“You will be taken to Jabba’s Palace where you shall be put to work as a dancer. I assume you can dance?”

Weale paused, seemingly checking the back of her mind as if dancing was something she had perhaps done once or twice in her life, and nodded.

“Yes sir, I can.”

Melm stepped forward.

“I can attest to that. She has the fluidity and grace of a dancer in battle. This will be no trouble”

Weale tilted her head at the compliment and returned her eyes to Cipple. Glann returned the look and held it for a long while.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of this mission. You may be in his court for days, weeks, even months, there’s no way to tell. Events have a habit of running away with themselves. You and I,” again he held her gaze. “You and I could become slaves to these events, but we shall not. You are a slave in name only. When you return I shall not only reward you financially but with information that could change your life.”

Weale cocked her head slightly but resisted the urge to enquire further. Sensing her audience with Glann was over she stood and nodded.

“Thank you for this opportunity sir. I won’t let you down.”

“I know you won’t, Shadow Weale.” Glann gave the briefest of smiles and turned back to the window and its vast vista as Melm joined Weale in leaving the room. As the door closed another side door opened and Bella Cipple entered. She walked slowly up to her husband and slipped her arm into his, resting her head on his shoulder. He barely moved.

“You gave her the mission?”

“Yes.”

“She accepted?”

“She’s a Shadow Warrior. They are trained to accept danger.”

Bella loosened her hold and looked up at her husband, her brown eyes quizzing him.

“And are they trained to accept death?”

Glann followed the trail of yet another vessel as it departed the dusk of Amagads spaceport.

“Yes they are. Especially their own.”

Weale had gathered her small pack of simple belongings and collected her new documents and papers in a sealed container from the front desk. For the purposes of this mission she was now Innga Marrael, a small-time show performer from Amagad who fancied her chances of finding fame by heading for the Rim and working her way towards the interior. She’d studied the dossier Melm had compiled for this fictional lady, the fake jobs and references she had and a loose family history, absorbing it like a student eager for the test. Tucking the package away in the side of her bag she swung it over her shoulder, giving her dorm a final look, then left.

As she strode confidently towards the main office that Melm occupied on Level Four she passed a handful of fellow Shadow Warriors, all of whom gave her a nod of recognition and respect. The last Shadow she passed was one of her senior compatriots, the former pirate Malletta. The older woman nodded as had the others and hands behind her back stood in Weales path. The smaller woman breathed slowly through her nose.

“Shadow Malletta.” She said in her clipped voice. The powerfully built Shadow stared down at Weale.

“I should be going on this mission. I have more experience than you. I was undercover as a dancer on Corellia. The mission is far better suited to me.” She narrowed her glare. “So why did Melm chose you? Did he need any…persuasion?” Malletta rubbed her wrists together. “You’re know why you’re there, don’t you?”

Weale chewed the inside of her lip to stop herself from stabbing back a reply and secured the bag on her back. Malletta seemed almost ready to smile, as if her words had affected Weale in some way, but before she had chance to get the signal from her brain down to her lips she was being hit in the throat by the sharp fingertips of one hand and a foot was snapping at the back of her knee, and in what seemed like less than a second she was on the floor with Weale behind her, snapping on a rear headlock like a nexu-trap. Malletta struggled for breath but none came and she began to relax, realising she was going nowhere. Weale leaned in to her ear.

“I’m going on this mission because I’m prepared, and I don’t dance like a malfunctioning Battle Droid.” She released her grip and snapped to her feet, ready in case Malletta retaliated, but she didn’t, remaining on the floor in a heap. “I must be going. I have a ship waiting for me.”

And with that she was gone, leaving Malletta gasping for breath and gulping down insults like a scalded Loth Cat.

Melm was waiting just around the corner, barely out of sight and nodded as Weale approached, a trace of a smile on his lips. Weale waited for him to re-enter his office.

“Impressive negotiating skills. We’ll make a diplomat out of you yet.”

Weale laid her bag on the floor and nodded.

“Nine years of training. Maybe now she’ll finally respect me.”

Melm seated himself and latticed his fingers as he motioned for Weale to do the same.

“No doubt. Your transport is due to leave at 22.00 hours.”

Weale glanced at the chrono. Just over an hour’s time.

“I understand sir. Am I to be taken to Tatooine by a fellow agent?”

Melm shook his head slowly.

“No. Himbimiman is taking you from here by speeder to the Refugee Sector. From there you are on your own.”

Weale nodded inwardly. Refugee Sector was a large portion of the public spaceport set aside for off-world visitors and refugees. There wasn’t a more downtrodden area in Amagad City.

“Yes sir.”

“I’ve compiled a second dossier for you to read during your trip.” He handed her a thin batch of flims. “This concerns your report schedule. You are our Alpha Source. Beta Source will be your contact.”

“And who is Beta Source?”

Melm shook his head.

“Beta Source is as anonymous to you as you are to it, which is as it should be. Read the flims. They explain everything in detail.” Melm stood to his feet and waited for Weale to do the same. He extended his hand and she took it, shaking it firmly.

“Thank you for this opportunity sir. I won’t fail.”

Melm smiled warmly, for what seemed like the first time ever.

“I have put a lot of faith in you Weale. I know it’s not misplaced. Be well.”

And with that he left the office, leaving Weale alone with her thoughts. She gathered herself as the realisation hit home. For the first time since she was eight years old she would be truly alone.

The thought startled her for a second, but her ingrained composure drew her back to the moment. She’d always prided herself on her ordered and rational mind, and she knew that she would need it now, more than ever. The looks of worry on Himbs’ face and the smiles from both Glann and Melm sat uneasily with her.

This mission would be harder than she’d been told.

Shaking her doubts away before they could coagulate into clots of concern she grabbed her bag and strode out of the office, passing a still prone Malletta on the floor, down the turbo lift to the foyer where she took a rear corridor to walk underground for two minutes to the external speeder lot. Waiting there for her was Himbs, arms folded across his huge chest and a look of nonchalance drawn painfully on his features. Even with his unusual alien features she could sense that he was putting on a brave face for her. Weale was well aware of his protective feelings towards her, and for the sake of his heavy heart she played along.

“Are you ready sir?”

Himbs snorted back a casual affirmative and stepped into the speeder, waiting for Weale to do the same before gunning the engine. They swung out of the compound through a holographic wall and onto a deserted dust track that led down the side of Mount Fava to a busy speeder way that wove through various districts into the spaceport region of Amagad City. Himbs aimed the rusty old speeder towards the classy Swish Lines Terminal, right past it and around the enormous rust laden power facility to the Refugee Sector. He brought the vehicle to a stop and killed the engine, the speeder bobbing under his weight. Himbs rested his arm on the back of Weale’s headrest.

“Well, here we are.”

“Yes sir.” She answered quietly, trying to muster some strength for him in her words but not finding any. He eyed her closely, a fondness in his eyes that threatened to brim swell over. Weale relaxed and smiled at him, aware that silently, something was coming to an end. Himbs had been her mentor for a good while now, and here she was about to fly the nest. She felt trepidation but also a sense of excitement. Himbs only felt sorrow. He made to speak but couldn’t find the appropriate words. He wanted to offer her words of encouragement and tell her to watch her back and be careful, but they wouldn’t come. Instead he simply ruffled her hair, usually bound in a tight bunch but now falling free around her face and lifted her bag from the rear seat.

“You’d best be on your way.”

“Yes sir. Take care.”

Weale paused a moment and then leaned forward to plant a small kiss on Himbs’ cheek. She hopped out of the speeder, lowering her head in case he saw the unexpected tears that threatened to fall from her eyes as again that hollow feeling struck her.

She was alone.

“So, you off to find your fortune?”

The gruff pilot laughed as he gave Weale another sideways glance, and she could feel his greasy, lascivious eyes slime their way all over her. Weale reminded herself that for the foreseeable future she wasn’t Weale Galletti, Shadow Warrior but Innga Marrael, dancer. She had found her character hours ago. According to her dossier, Innga was an optimist, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary universe. Weale found her to be vacuous, shallow and a genuine joy to be, so different from her naturally stoic disposition. Over the hours of her trip Innga had become more and more three-dimensional, almost to the point of Weale not having to even try.

Perhaps this sleeper agent mission wouldn’t be so bad after all.

In her mind, Weale had added layers to Innga’s back-story. Her father had been an alcoholic, her mother died young. She’d been raised by her two elder sisters in the city of New Phoenix on Amagad and lived a simple life. Always eager for challenges and with an artistic streak, she left her home aged fifteen and hitched a ride off-planet to Zelon, where she worked as a dancer. But her career move hadn’t gone at all well and despite a brief stint in the Core Worlds she was now travelling out to the Outer Rim to try her luck out there, and make a name for herself.

Weale turned to her odious pilot, the perfect captain for a garbage scow such as this and gave her sweetest smile, her hair swinging in bunches around her face.

“Yep, fortune and glory. Dancing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

He gave her a leering, lopsided grin and Weale just about resisted the urge to break his beak of a nose, instead blinking her revulsion away with another sweet smile and a shake of her head.

“Maybe you’ll see me dancing on Tatooine. I’ve got an audition there tomorrow.”

The pilot checked his nava computer and made a couple of course alterations as the battered freighter dropped out of hyperspace and changed course to avoid a duo of star destroyers and an interdictor he’d spotted way ahead on their flight path. He’s good, thought Weale to herself. Pity the man doesn’t match the skills.

“And where might that be then?”

The Stumble Inn was the beating heart of Duneside Townships morning, afternoon and nightlife and wouldn’t have looked out of place on any other desert world. The ancient structure looked on the verge of collapse and Weale gave the ramshackle building a hard look, checking the side of the building for entries and exits, the rooftop for tactical positions and all with the vacuous, innocent, wide-eyed wonder of Innga Marrael. She practically ran across the speeder lane and into the entrance of the cantina, her true sharp mind ready for whatever came at her, the innocent Innga’s ready for the next step in her young life.

The cantina was dark and dry, a loose shaft of sunlight penetrating the gloom inside. It was just gone noon and a sandstorm had sent everyone scurrying for cover, but still there were a sizeable gathering of patrons watching large screens on the wall, betting on illegal pod races and attempting to drink the bar dry. On her travels Weale had been to many bars like this with Himbimimam, and she knew her way around. She checked herself as she moved forward. She wasn’t with Himbimimam and she didn’t usually dress like a colour-blind cheerleader. This was as conspicuous as she had ever been, and she felt the many hidden eyes of the bar watching her as she approached the bar.

A greasy layer of grime coated the surface, and crumbs of snacks were scattered over that but Innga didn’t seem to care. She laid her shoulder bag on the bar and waited for the unshaven barkeep to saunter over. He ignored her initial attempts to catch his eye, but eventually she gained his attention.

“I’m Innga. I’m here for the audition.”

“Dance auditions start at 14.00 in the rear courtyard.” He gave her a slow up and down look. “Guess you’re too young for alcohol. Soda?”

“Please.”

Weale waited for the barkeep to stream out the soda and handed it to her in a dirty glass. She waited until his back was momentarily turned and wiped the rim with the edge of her sleeve, flashing a huge grin as he turned back to watch her drink. She nodded as she backed away towards a table and sat down alone, her back to the wall and the cantinas many corners visible to her keen eyes.

She checked her chrono. Only a few minutes to go till the auditions began. Her nighttime lodgings had been sparse but satisfactory, not unlike her quarters on Level Four of Glann’s Fortress. She was used to spartan living conditions and saw little need for extraneous belongings. A place to sleep and wash was all she truly required. Anything else was a distraction.

She spotted three other women leave the lavatory together, a human, a Rodian and an Entallian. While no great beauties, the three clearly had dancers physiques and Weale was well aware that there was more to dancing than mere youth or attractiveness. She took a long mouthful from her drink, poured the rest into her water bottle and grabbed her bag, following the women outside into the courtyard. She questioned the logic of having a dance off in the blistering Tatooine heat, but guessed that many nights at the Stumble Inn would get a whole lot hotter than that.

She now had a much better view of her competitors as she slipped her sunglasses on and moved into the courtyard. Fifteen other dancers from a variety of species and genders had congregated by a water barrel that sat rusting in the partial shade of the inns main sign that flickered overhead. It was dusty, dry and brutally hot but Weale felt more energised than she had in an age. Like the twin suns of Tatoo one and two overhead, it was her time to shine.

“Come on, come on, gather round.” An elderly woman rallied the dancers, seemingly appearing out of nowhere and clapped her hands together. “It’s hot and we don’t have all day. Come along.” She clapped her hands again as the sixteen dancers formed a circle around her. Weale stayed near the back, keen to watch others audition before her. Every dancer that went before her gave her the chance to view their moves and watch for mistakes. With any luck she would go last.

Auditions took between three to five minutes and each dancer performed before a live band. The group, Ozzram Boyyd and the Mini-Jets, were a tight and smooth Jizz outfit and Weale found herself subconsciously tapping her foot. She stopped herself immediately when she realised what she was doing, and then almost without missing a beat began to grove again. After all, it’s what young Innga would do.

She’d watched eight other dancers audition when the elderly woman called her name out.

“Marrael, Innga Marrael. Come to the front.”

Innga smiled brightly as she lowered her bag to the ground and half walked, half skipped into the centre of the courtyard. She’d already figured that she was the youngest of the group, and so without saying or doing a thing had managed to annoy a good percentage of the dancers there. Her lean figure looked elegant and rhythmic even when she wasn’t moving. She briefly skipped the dance routine she had worked on in transit through her mind, wondering exactly how Melm had managed to choreograph such an intricate series of moves himself into her briefing flims, and waited for the Mini-Jets to start the number. She unhooked the simple skirt she’d been wearing and underneath was a white leotard. The tune was an up-tempo, high-energy number and as soon as the first notes rang out she flew into the routine.

Her natural energy and skills as a warrior flooded to her as she hit the moves with military precision. What Melm had so cleverly done was set a standard Shadow Warrior warm up exercise to music, and she ran through the progression of floor exercises and stretch moves like a clock ran through its motions. The other dancers watched in awe as she tore through the music, flinging herself around dramatically, injecting the moves with allure and not simple athleticism. Despite throwing herself around she was spotting, picking points around her to keep and eye on what was happening and as she reached the halfway point of her three-minute exercise she noticed a squat, greasy looking Gamp sidle up to the edge of the courtyard and watch her performance with interest. That will be him. Jabba’s operative, come to take a look.

The music slowed down to a crawl and Weale followed suit accordingly, ending the routine with a slow splits and a tuck and roll. Without waiting for a sign to do so she dusted herself down, picked her skirt from the sandy courtyard floor and walked back to her bag, the impressed murmur of her fellow dancers tickling her ears. She stood back next to a tall Sarbulian who nodded, clearly impressed.

“Wow, how long have you been practising that routine?”

Weale gave her Innga grin and hooked the skirt back together.

“Oh, about nine years.”

The suns had set and the dancers had scattered around the compact township, heading back to their lodgings as the nightlife began to swing. Weale was in her room, scrubbing her face with the cleansing pack she had brought from Amagad, a new set of clothes lying on the edge of the bed and a small but satisfying meal in her belly. The holovid played in the corner of the room, the local news broadcasts playing the usual bulletins. It had just gone 19.00 hours and dusk was finally leaving Duneside. Another ten minutes and she would rejoin her dancing compatriots for a drink at the Stumble Inn and learn if she had managed to gain employment there as a dancer.

There was a knock at the door. Weale wasn’t fully dressed, the harsh heat of the Tatooine suns only now seeping from the rock walls of her hotel. She quickly wriggled into an orange and yellow dress, as tight as the skin she was born with and quickly screwed her hair into loose bunches.

“Just a minute!” she called out in her Innga voice, hopping into a simple pair of flat shoes and hooking a gaudy necklace over her head. She checked in the mirror and grinned. Not bad for twenty seconds work, she smiled to herself as she opened the door. To her complete lack of surprise, there stood the Gamp, a smile as wide as his head plastered all across his face as he stood in the doorway. Even to someone as slight as Weale the Gamp only came up to her shoulder. He paused and cocked his head.

“You gonna invite me in?”

Weale grinned and shook her head.

“Only if you tell me who you are and what you want?”

“Gemmo. Gemmo the Gamp. I work for a major Tatooine employer who may be interested in hiring your services.”

Weale nodded and motioned for the Gamp to come in. She pointed to the chair that sat in the corner and waited for him to seat himself. He pulled a cigar out from his pocket and lit it, drawing slowly on the thick stoogie.

“I saw you dance today.” He smiled and nodded, an earnest look on his scaly bald features. “Very impressive. You move like an assassin.”

Weale resisted the urge to knock him to the floor and wedge the chair at the nape of his throat with her sitting on it, instead throwing him the vacant Innga smile.

“Why thank you.”

“My pleasure. As I said, I work for a major employer and we’re always on the lookout for talent such as yours.”

Here we go.

“You think I’m talented?”

Gemmo frowned, as if she’d said the dumbest thing ever.

“Honey, you put together more moves in three minutes than I’ve seen in ten years. If the suns hadn’t already baked everything you’d have burned the place down.”

Weale seated herself at the edge of the bed and crossed her legs.

“So, your employer. Does he pay well?”

The Gamp cleared his throat and nodded quickly.

“Oh yeah. Food and lodgings, regular opportunities for promotion. The boss is a real hands-on guy. Guaranteed, you’ll love it.”

Weale made as if she was pondering the offer for a second and then stood to her feet.

“Let me think it over. I’ll know tonight if I got the job at the Stumble Inn. Once I know then I’ll let you know.”

The Gamp stood, which barely made any difference and took Weales hand, planting a dry kiss on the back of it.

“Don’t think for too long. Chances like this don’t come along every day.”

Weale waited for Gemmo to step outside the hotel room and flashed her breeziest Innga grin.

“Don’t worry Mister Gemmo. I never think for too long.”

“Congratulations Miss Marrael. You’re hired.”

Weale remembered her cheesy surprised grin and smacked it across her face as Innga’s dreams came true and Weale’s path to the palace drew closer. She clasped her hands together against her chest and hopped up and down on the spot as the other dancers politely applauded, some smiling, some scowling, but all knowing that they’d been outgunned by a better dancer.

“I don’t know what to say.” said Innga as she moved into the centre of the room, ignoring the lecherous stares of the many males who had filled the Stumble Inn that night. It was early evening but already the place was packed. Food was being served at lightspeed, droids buzzed from booth to booth, table to table and the atmosphere was beginning to build as those workers tired from a weeks hard labour looked forward to their only day off and the opportunity to drink warm ale, eat bad food and watch dancers. Innga smiled again at the elderly woman who had chosen her to be the Inns newest talent.

“Thank you again Miss Quindenn. I’ve always wanted to be a professional dancer, ever since I was a little girl. This is a dream come true.” Innga’s face was a bouquet of glee, but underneath Weale felt saddened. Even though Innga was as transparent as an A-desandian breeze she knew there were a billion young Innga’s out there for real, aspiring to be nobodies, noticed by no one but the letches who ogled their flesh for credits. And they were all capable of so much better, if given the chance.

“To thank you all for your efforts the proprietor is covering the first four rounds of drinks. Enjoy yourselves.”

Weale couldn’t resist the genuine smile that came to her lips. Free drinks. Yeah, get the girls drunk and let them dance away the night for nothing.

The dancers clearly didn’t realise or didn’t care and swarmed en masse towards the bar, grabbing pitchers of drinks and shots of alcohol. Weale knew she wouldn’t be able to get away with just a soft drink so she accepted a Plixx beer and took a long chug from it in front of the girls, enough to satisfy them that she was joining in with the revelry. The last thing she wanted was to get muggy from alcohol and lose her edge. This situation was tricky enough without being unprofessional.

The night rolled on, and one by one the girls either began to dance, go home or fall asleep. Weale stayed close to the bar, always sipping at her drink but managing to have no more than four all night, and as the party wound down and the last stragglers began to weave and wobble their way back to lodgings, ships or homes she thanked the barkeep again and acting as tipsy as she could stumbled out of the Stumble Inn and made her way back to her room.

The revelry had long since ended and the first birds of dawn were stirring, but this hot summers night was still long from daybreak. Weale turned in her bed, moving the thin sheet across her bare skin to cool herself down. Tatooine nights were often freezing cold and dangerous places to be out in, but tonight it was as humid as the blistering days, a moisture farmers paradise. She thought back to the events of the night, and the camaraderie the other dancers had shown and wondered if they knew the likely fates that awaited them. She certainly knew her own. It had been waiting outside, perched against the windowsill for the last ten minutes. A burly human and a wookiee, waiting for her to fall asleep so they could abduct her. She knew her own fate and destiny better than most and put it down to living an organised life. Or a life of destiny, one or the other.

She rolled out of the bed and threw on a shirt that was tossed onto the chair in true haphazard Innga style. What functioned as her washroom consisted of little more than a basin, a small water container that was slowly filled, vaporator style, by a makeshift contraption the owners had clearly cobbled together, and some towels. Weale knew the only way to sleep and set the scenario for her abduction was to cool down and relax, to be alert and not inadvertently slip into Shadow Warrior mode. If she did the gig would be up, and both human and wookiee would be drinking their meals through a straw.

She wiped herself down with the cloth and ran her wrists under the surprisingly cool water, lowering her temperature and running chilled Trefnarian blood throughout her body. Her keen eyes were still flitting through the darkness outside her washroom door to where she knew the two would be assailants were waiting. Acting as vacuous as she could she wandered back through the sitting area to the small bedchamber and clambered back onto the bed.

Her hearing was as acute as it could possibly be and she could practically hear the ruffle of the wookies matted fur as he moved to the door. The human was unarmed, clearly expecting no threat from the small girl, and why would he. As Innga Marrael she would be no threat. She heard the simple electronic locking device on the door trip and saw the shift of shadows as the two entered her apartment. She kept her breathing regular and shallow, giving away no sign of her predicament. And even as she fought the urge to lance out two precisely aimed fists and down the two intruders she waited until the wookiee clamped a paw the size of her torso around her mouth and lift her off the bed like a tiny doll. Innga struggled and began to kick, and through the fur of the wookiees hands she could see the human move in to speak to her.

“Don’t struggle, it won’t help.” He said in an impossibly gruff voice. She inwardly raised her eyebrows as she faked helplessness.

“No, don’t!” she managed to squeal as she kicked her legs out weakly, giving her best impression of defencelessness. The gruff human grinned as the Wookiee lifted her onto his shoulder and marched across the room to the door.

“My buddy here has a short temper, especially with humans.”

So how does that explain you, exactly? asked Weale of herself inwardly as outwardly she squirmed and struggled as Innga. They left her room and delved into the cover of darkness, towards a speeder that lay waiting, a droid pilot bolted into the cockpit. The human hovered as the wookiee carried her onto the seat and then slid in, sandwiching Weale between the two kidnappers. The human motioned for the droid to hit the accelerator, which it did with a lurch and a grunt of the engine and soon they were speeding towards the outskirts of Duneside and towards the salts flats that acted as the local landing area.

While Innga was panicking, Weale knew exactly where she was being taken and what was going to happen. In a more than bizarre way, even though she knew she was entering a pit of filth and fury, she was excited and eager to arrive. Her nervousness had ebbed away while in character and she had regained her inner calm, allowing all her doubts and fears to be excised through her alter ego Innga. It helped that Weale was treating Innga like another person entirely, and one she truly liked. In a strange way, as she was being carried under the Wookiees arm like a parcel, she felt pity for Innga’s panic and confusion. Her poor other self simply couldn’t get a grasp on what was going on.

“Listen, please!” Innga pleaded as the wookiee marched up the ramp of the battered old starship with her. “You can’t do this, I start my new job tomorrow!”

“That’s right, you do.” said the human as he planted himself in an acceleration seat. “You start bright and early. Sunrise, to be precise.”

Innga frowned and shook her head as the wookiee strapped her in to her seat.

“No, I’m only working nights.”

The human glanced at his wookiee partner and didn’t try to hide the grin.

“You’ll do them too. Nights, days and every hour in between.”

Innga frowned at him and then Weale allowed the fog of confusion to rise.

“You’re with that little scaly guy, aren’t you? The one who offered me a job?”

“That’s right, they are.” Gemmo the Gamp moved from the cockpit and into the dim light of the corridor, large cigar wedged into his wide toothless mouth. “And I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re glad you decided to accept our generous offer.”

“But I haven’t!” squealed Innga as the ship rumbled and lifted off into the air. She struggled again and managed to break free of her belt and ran for the ramp hatch. “I’ve got to get off!”

“Girl, you’ve got three seconds to sit down before I stun your butt to sleep.”

Weale could see through the corner of her eye the human with a nasty looking blaster aimed directly at her, presumably set to stun. As herself she would have leapt into action, disarming him and taking the weapon to take down the wookiee, but Innga was no Shadow Warrior, and so she had to remain in character. However painful that action might be.

“Let me off, let me off!” Innga wailed, banging her hands against the hatch. The human shook his head and squeezed the trigger.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Blue concentric circles lashed out and slammed Weale, Innga and her thoughts into the hatch and the darkness of unconsciousness.

The rocky floor was coarse and cold and Weale took a second to gain her bearings. She instinctively contracted into a ball, tucking her knees under her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs to cover and protect herself. She tried to squint in the darkness, her nose stinging from the dank smell of what she guessed to be a prison cell and waited for the minimal light to enter her eye and illuminate her situation. She was sure she was alone, her heightened senses not alerted to another body in the room. Satisfied, she stood and brushed herself down, sand and grit dropping to the floor like hard rain. She frowned as she checked herself. She was dressed only in the underwear she’d stepped into back at her room in Duneside. Annoyed at losing her dignity she ran her hands around the wall until she located the bars to the door. Digging deep she found Innga’s voice and slipped back into character.

“Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?”

She heard a grunt and a snuffle and the rubbing of leather against leather and suddenly to her surprise she was looking down the snout of a Gammorean guard. Innga stepped back with a shriek as the porcine guard laughed heavily, others joining him to look at the human and join in the laughter. Weale steadied herself inside, as Innga kept moving back towards the far wall. She could hear other footsteps come down a corridor, but clearly the guards couldn’t. Another unseen door opened and a figure entered. It was clearly someone of importance, because the guards stopped their laughing almost immediately. She waited by the far wall, looking up and noticing a large grate in the ceiling. She had more than likely been watched as she had slept, and that riled her even more. A silhouette of a figure, large and imposing with snake-like tentacles dangling from its head looked directly at her through the bars of the door.

“Welcome, girl. Get dressed.” The figure threw two items through the door towards her, hitting the floor with the distinct clang of metal. “He expects you to wear those. And this.” He threw something else in, circular and heavy. A neck collar. “Get ready. Dancers work early.”
“I don’t understand, what’s happening?”

Bib Fortuna smiled, his sharp rows of pointed teeth catching the sparse light that worked its way this deep into Jabba the Hutt’s palace. The Twi’lek moved away from the bars and began to walk back up the corridor.

“This is your life now girl. Get dressed. Five minutes.”

Before Innga had a chance to answer back the lights came on, and although they were relatively dim they stunned her with their comparative intensity. She reached forward and lifted the items from the floor. It was a metal bikini, black with silver metal work snaking its way around. She sorrowfully looked up above and ahead at the bars of the grate and door and saw shadows of figures watching. Steeling herself against the indignity of it all, Weale got ready.

It was unbearably hot in the Hutts audience chamber, and rammed full with the scum of the galaxy. As a Shadow Warrior, Weale was privy to information that most other sentient being simply were not, and she was stunned at how many infamous faces were casually sitting around, enjoying the Hutts questionable hospitality, talking business or simply snoozing. If I were here as a Warrior I could make a reputation that would last a lifetime…

She had quickly found herself in a holding room with a handful of other dancers, all dressed in similar attire. A previous dancer, a sweet young human called Erraine had gone out to perform ten minutes before but had yet to return, and the looks of worry and sorrow on the other girls faces as they heard screams and the roar of something large and hungry told Weale that poor Erraine wouldn’t be coming back. Innga looked nervously at her fellow dancers and breathed deeply through her nose.

“So, any advice?”

“Yeah, I got some.” It was a blue-skinned Twi’lek, a tough looking athletic woman. “Whatever the Hutt tells you to do, do it. Don’t argue, don’t question it, don’t even think about it. Do it. That way you’ll get back here.”

“And then what?” asked Innga as the curtain was yanked aside and a Weequay guard motioned for her to follow. The Twi’lek smiled sadly and looked away.

“Then you get to dance again tomorrow.”

With that sobering thought in mind Weale left the holding room and followed the guard into the main chamber. He stood to one side and watched as she moved past him and into the centre of the audience chamber, her bare feet padding softly on the sandy floor. It was her first face-to-face sight of the mighty Jabba and despite herself she felt a shiver of nervousness and excitement. Well, here I am in the belly of the beast. Hope that doesn’t turn out to be a prophecy.

Without thinking about what she was doing she moved lightly up to Jabba’s dais and stepped onto it. Jabba eyed her with a mixture of interest and confusion and motioned for his many guards to lower their weapons, a smile cracking across his face as he realised what she was doing. Reeling in the spooled up yoke from the dais she clipped the chain to her neck collar and bowed her head in respect, dropping lightly off the dais and back to her start position. The look of amusement and satisfaction on the Hutts face was easy to read. As far as he was concerned, she was his now.

The band struck up with a high tempo number and Weale relaxed inside. She was worried that she would have to dance to a slower number. This way she had no time to think, only the beats of the music to attack and hit. She threw herself around the chamber, twirling and spinning, casting looks at her new master, cracking the chain like a whip, bouncing and undulating like a thing possessed. Weale knew that she would only get one chance to impress the Tatooine ganglord, and this was it. And while the last thing she wanted was to become his favourite and be required to sit close by the Hutt and withstand his attentions, she also couldn’t afford to be just another dancer. No, this way she would curry favour with all and be able to move around the palace and gather information for her real master, Glann Cipple.

The number ended and she could feel her heart pound, the thinner air taking more out of her than she realised. A sheen of perspiration bathed her and she glowed in the dankness, her white skin accentuated by the velvet blackness of her bikini. Jabba nodded slowly as she stood silently before him and he slowly gripped the chain, pulling her slowly, ever so slowly towards him. Weale walked in rhythm with the reeling, here eyes remaining fixed on the Hutts. When she was a meter away from the dais he stopped pulling. She could feel the floor had changed beneath her feet. She was standing on a trap door.

“What is your name girl?” asked the Hutt.

“Innga Marrael master.” she replied. Weale thought her situation through and decided that Innga would readily heed the advice of the Twi’lek girl and play totally into the subservient role.

“Innga Marrael.” Jabba rolled the name around his mouth, clearly thinking deeply. “Why do I know that name?”

Weale stopped breathing for a second, and her mind froze. Melm had said that it was a fabricated name, invented for the mission. If ever there had been a real Innga Marrael, and the Hutt knew of her then she was in trouble. Although she was sure that trouble wouldn’t be bothering her for too long.

“Perhaps you saw me when I danced in the Core Worlds?”

The Hutt smiled.

“I don’t go to the Core. The Core comes to me.” He narrowed his eyes as he surveyed her, looking her up and down. “You’re a tiny little thing Innga. Be careful.”

Weale almost choked out a laugh as she imbibed what Jabba had just said, but kept control enough to simply nod and step back.

“I will master.”

With that she unclasped the neck chain and lightly walked away into the rear of the audience chamber and back to the relative safety of the slave girls room.

The atmosphere in the chamber was charged and as early as it was, the party was hitting full stride. From the rows near the front close to Jabba himself, through the many tables and groupings of people right to the rear of the chamber conversation was rife and business was good. Even to the darker hollows that led out of the chamber and down to the dungeons, where shady deals and deathly dealings were the norm. Two figures huddled close together, hoods obscuring their faces, one a huge bulk of a creature wearing a mask, the other lean and muscular draped in a robe. They turned from the chamber and began to walk slowly towards the exit.

“Still think this is a mistake?”

The large figure shrugged as he brushed off a Rodian who was barging through people like skittles.

“She did well. I’d be happier if I could stay and watch over her.”

Melm cast a glance at Himbimimam and gave him a wry smile.

“The last thing she needs now is a chaperone. She’s in place, the situation is set. Ready or not, it’s up to her now.”

Era: The Golden Age era, Three years after Episode IV – A New Hope

Histories: The story of Glann Cipple replacing Jan Lomona and Goah Galletti with Goah’s younger sister Weale as his source of information in Jabba’s court. Using her skills as a Shadow Warrior, this story shows the strides she had taken since her first job in Jan Lomona and the Sirens of Amagad, and shows her importance in Glann operation. Also, this is one of the few rare stories to utilise established characters and locations from the Star Wars saga.