Chapter 37

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In a conference room aboard the Republic star destroyer Vendetta, Darius Trajan stood over a large digital table. His eyes fixed on a fuzzy area in the stellar holomap. Inside this region surrounding much of the Rodian binary solar system, starships could not safely enter or exit hyperspace. The Halcyon recently appeared outside that zone, forced to journey the remaining stretch in normal space.

And so it begins. Ben's fire teams would be on Rodia soon, in time he prayed to make a difference.

Darius felt like he could stare past the map, into the future when his soldiers returned with the prize. The prize was more than people saved. It was witnessing someone with resources to shape galactic events for the better, and then having the gumption to do them. He was witnessing himself do that. Flattering as that may be to some, it didn't particularly matter to Darius.

Well, maybe a little. After all, he found satisfaction in knowing he wasn't a timid coward, like Master Wendell. But he'd praise any other strong enough to act in this manner, if such a woman or man could be found.

"Absolutely wretched!" exclaimed Tarkin, his accent rolling his r's slightly. "You promised more ships, Jabba."

Darius shook his thoughts and looked at the Commodore, standing at the table's other end and speaking to the hologram of an insufferable, sleezy slug.

Here was a man worthy of admiration. While notable for his pronounced, chiseled cheekbones, Tarkin's most impressive feature lay in his unwavering drive to further the goals and reach of humanity. Many officers sorely lacked that impulse.

The worm conversing with Tarkin slurred a series of hardly intelligible sounds. Mammoth-sized and corpulent, it amazed Darius that the Hutt possessed the muscles to move its wide, cavernous mouth.

"Your protests are immaterial," Tarkin urged. "I've reviewed this roster again and again. We need more ships, following the appointed schedule and routinely checking in. Is this rubbish honestly the best you can do?"

The Hutt bellowed a few remarks.

"No, that you've secured the help of 'the great Rauoo' doesn't appease me. Is he supposed to take on a hundred jookies by himself?"

The alien croaked with annoyance.

"I wrongfully assumed credits provided proper incentive. No matter." To Darius, an intensity suddenly seized Tarkin's face, like a parent adopting sternness to discipline a child.

"Need I remind your father Zorba how severely I can tighten Republic counter-piracy in Hutt Space? Should I 'suggest' a shift of power on Nal Hutta, beginning with the renegotiation of key contracts? Frejo seemed quite interested last time we spoke."

Darius curled his lip in amusement. My, how he enjoyed it when Tarkin lashed an opponent with that tongue of his. That wondrous pretension of indirectness when it went straight for the kill.

The Hutt peeled its eyes, gave a deep guttural laugh, and mumbled something.

"Correct, ceasing our business relationship doesn't economically benefit the Republic war machine. But we keep more than finances in mind. We deal with those that deliver on promises."

The slug huffed and bellowed at the officer.

"Yes, I'll keep that promise: what percentage of the bargain you fulfill, that much of your cousin we'll release from custody. Pray you're on target, for I'd hate to send you just his a head or a tail." Tarkin waited, letting the threat sink in. "So fix this roster, immediately. I don't care what sewer you drag mercenaries from. I need ships. Now. Do you understand?"

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