It was a quiet town on a backwater far in the Outer Rim. Just as the star systems near this isolated world were filled with nothing but barren planets, the town was surrounded by a vast monotone landscape consisting of miles upon miles of rocks and shrubs and the occasional low tree. Every once in a while, the homestead of a moisture farmer could be seen with all its old and rusted machinery jutting out like the jagged edge of a broken bulkhead, but even then, it looked more like a ruin than civilization.
“This is the place where the Cartel won’t go? You sure you punched in the right coordinates, Ensee?”
The pilot droid NC-O4, which currently served as the freighter’s co-pilot, turned its head to the pilot, “I’m certain this is the location, Miss Cara.”
“Well let’s hope the rumours are true, then.”
As the surface drew closer outside the cockpit, Cara got her first proper view at the town. It was an array of stocky buildings that fully lived up to her expectations based on what she saw of the planet so far- in short, unspectacular. Far more interesting was the massive metal structure that loomed some distance away from the town. Its design was functional and industrial, suggesting it was a factory or a refinery. Despite this rather mundane purpose however, its rough aesthetics gave it an aggressive look which was amplified by the fact that it was the largest building here.
Cara could not help but be reminded of old legends she was told as a child, tales of so-called ‘Dark Lords’ with supernatural powers who terrorized and subjugated numerous worlds across the galaxy. They had supposedly built great tombs that evoked as much fear as they had when they lived, monuments of evil that are haunted to this day. These were all stories, Cara knew, told to children to scare them from wandering off. Evil existed in the galaxy of course, but they were not ancient, mythical beings. Their name was the Hutt Cartel, and they were very much still around.
The ship landed with a muffled thud. The noise quickly faded as the engines powered down, and soon the only sound was the whirring of servos and the clattering of switches as the droid co-pilot fully settled the vessel into a resting mode. Silence set in for a moment as Ensee finally finished turning off the freighter’s remaining systems, but it was broken as quickly as it came by a series of high-pitched jabbering.
Cara turned around and was greeted by the ship’s mechanic, Izik. He was a Jawa, small beings from the desert world of Tatooine who wore hooded garments that shrouded their faces. Izik was no exception, and his visage was obscured by a large brown hood save for two glowing yellow eyes that shone through. As Cara stood, the tiny alien popped onto her chair, using it to boost himself up so he could peer out the cockpit window. He commented in his language, a string of syllables spoken so fast that they made him sound hyper-excited all the time, though to one who knew Izik well, the genuine excitement in his voice was unmistakable.
“It does kind of remind me of your home,” Cara replied in Basic. “Except with less Hutts.”
The Jawa spoke again in the tongue that was incomprehensible to most, and Cara chuckled, “Yes, that does make all the difference in the galaxy.”
“Miss Cara,” Ensee interjected, “there are four vehicles incoming.”
She leaned her arms on the back of both chairs, returning her attention to the view outside the cockpit. It didn’t take much for Cara to spot what the droid referred to. Four speeder bikes blazed towards their landed ship, leaving a trail of dust in their wake that was impossible to miss. Judging by the direction of said trails, they had come from the town.
“Is the boarding ramp down?”
“Affirmative,” came the response from her co-pilot.
“Stick with the ship, be ready to lift off in case things go badly,” Cara ordered, “I’ll meet the welcome party.”
With that, she exited the cockpit, passing through the old halls of her ship. It was futile to deny that the small freighter was far past its prime, but it was her ship, and to have something of this size to your name in this cutthroat galaxy was already quite an achievement. Most inhabitants of Outer Rim towns like this could only dream of a life among the stars. Cara knew that life was less adventurous and far riskier than spacers usually made it sound, but at the same time she fully understood the desire of those who did not want to be stuck on a single planet forever.
Cara wondered how long she would stay here. Would the Cartel forget her after a few months and focus on more important business that actually gained them credits? It depended on the Hutt, she supposed, but while she did not know the one who was after her particularly well, she was well aware that Hutts in general did not have a reputation for being forgiving. Cara had never stayed in one place for long, but perhaps it would be wise to lay low on this remote world for some time. If they would even have her, that was.
The first impression was not an optimistic one. Cara could see that all four speeders were already stopped around the ship by the time she reached the boarding ramp. When she began to make her way down, a blaster bolt struck the dust at the bottom of the ramp, burning a smoking black circle into the ground. Cara stopped dead in her tracks and her hand darted to her waist where her own blaster was holstered, but the two men directly in her line of sight already had their weapons trained on her.
She did the only thing she could if she wanted to stay alive, slowly raising her arms above her head, “Woah, easy there boys.”
One of the locals, a dark-skinned human male in a Corellian leather jacket, stepped forward, “Choose your next words carefully. Who are you and why are you here?”
“Name’s Cara,” she responded. “I’m on the run from the Hutts, and I’m told they don’t like to come here.”
The man who spoke exchanged glances with his companions. None of them said a word, but they were clearly familiar enough with one another to know what the others were thinking. Cara took the opportunity to size up the group. There was another human male, this one with lighter skin and blonde hair, along with two aliens. One was a male Twi’lek, easily distinguishable by the two long lekku flowing down the back of his head, and the other a Zabrak female, displaying the tattooed face and cranial spikes typical of their people. They were all dressed in various rough leathers and fabrics expected of a remote Outer Rim settlement, but Cara recognized that their blaster rifles, though worn, were quality models.
“We’ll take her to Old Len,” decided the man who spoke earlier, likely their leader. “He’s got a good read on outsiders. Tiv, grab her blaster.”
Cara stepped down the ramp, hands still raised. The Twi’lek walked up to her cautiously, slinging his rifle over his shoulder before reaching out and taking Cara’s blaster pistol from her holster. As Tiv moved back to his speeder, the group’s leader handed him his own rifle as well.
“Just in case she tries something,” he explained briefly before motioning Cara over. “You’re riding with me. And if you do try something, my militia won’t hesitate to shoot us both down.”
The slight look of concern that flashed over the faces of the others told Cara that they likely would hesitate if it ever came to such a situation. However, Cara had no intention to antagonize the locals. She hopped on the back of the militia leader’s speeder and the pair made for the distant town with the rest of the group trailing behind.
Cara had a better look at the state of the town as they drew closer. Most of the buildings were visibly aged and constructed out of bricks, which was unsurprising for a remote settlement like this. The imposing metallic building on the other side of town would normally have been expected as well; many Mid and Outer Rim colonies survived off industry, performing the hard labour so that those in the Core Worlds could build their planet-sized cities and live opulent lifestyles.
This particular industrial complex appeared to lie non-functional for many years though. The complete lack of any sound or smoke coming from it was the first sign. Cara thought they may have still been too far to hear the machinery and she knew not every factory produced visible byproducts. By the time they entered the town, it was clear the facility had not only been abandoned, but there were visible marks of damage, from large burn marks on the rusting metal to broken pipework and even a collapsed tower.
The militia members parked their speeders outside one of the bigger structures at the centre of the town. Judging from the noise emanating from within, Cara figured it was a cantina long before she set foot inside. As the militia leader escorted her through the doors, the chatter gradually died down until all that remained was the music playing from an old jukebox in the corner.
Amidst scrutinizing glances from every patron, they made their way to a table where a man in a wide-brimmed hat was seated alone, quietly drinking. He tipped his hat up when the pair approached, revealing a bearded face about fifty to sixty years of age. A long scar cut across the left side of his face, bisecting the position his left eye would have been, now replaced by a glowing red cybernetic implant.
“What have we here, Gers?”
“She’s the one who landed that ship outside of town,” the militia leader replied. “Claims to be running from the Hutts.”
“She’s a smuggler,” another voice sounded from the vicinity of the bar, this one rough but audibly a woman’s. “You don’t need Len to tell you that. I’ve seen dozens of her kind back when the Cartel ran this place.”
The woman who spoke pushed off the counter, making her way over to the table where they were now gathered. She was almost a decade younger than the one-eyed man and would still be considered beautiful compared to many others half her age, but it was a wild kind of beauty that was drastically different from that seen in holostars and corporate poster girls. Her gaze and her pose gave her a fiercely determined look that was only emphasized by the leather jacket she wore, which was not unlike the militia leader’s. This was someone who was accustomed to a life on the frontier of the galaxy.
“I was a smuggler once too Mica, if you’ve already forgotten,” Old Len commented.
“And I still don’t like you,” she retorted, though the playful smirk that crossed her face made it clear it was only a teasing comment.
The one-eyed man turned his attention back to Cara, “You said you were running from the Cartel?”
She nodded, “That’s right.”
Len watched the expression on her face carefully, “You used to work for them.”
Cara hesitated for a second before responding, “Not that I had much of a say in it.”
“What makes you think we can help you?”
“I hear the Cartel avoids this place.”
Old Len narrowed his eye, “That’s all you know? And you just came here?”
“You must’ve been out of the business for a long time. Smugglers take risks. That’s our job.”
“That was a different life,” Len took a casual sip of his drink. “You really don’t know? Well, I don’t suppose it’s something the Hutts will spread around.”
“I have to admit I’m curious what would make the Cartel scared of a little town like this. No offense.”
“None taken,” Mica chuckled as she leaned on the back of a chair beside Old Len’s. “You’re honest. That’s a good start. Better than Len when he first came here, at least. What’s your name?”
“Grab a drink, Cara. It’s gonna be a long story...”