As quickly as Xallar had turned to her, he bolted from his seat, drawing a blaster from a holster at his side. Within seconds, he had made his way down the stairs from the bridge to the main hold, but Cordira hadn't moved a single muscle, not even to breathe. He was staring straight at her, his beady eyes intensely boring into her, but she somehow managed to keep her focus as she drew on the Force to shroud herself, convincing Xallar she wasn't there...
Suddenly more confused than anything, Xallar looked about the hold as his antennae twitched independently of each other. They had to be picking up on the presence of another person that his eyes weren't seeing, but surprisingly, he was beginning to dismiss it.
"Hey Kreg," he called back toward the bridge as he continued studying the hold. "Weren't there supposed to be a whole bunch of kids with this group?"
Kreg couldn't have sounded less interested. "Yeah, so? They're probably all on the upper deck."
Focusing on Cordira's location again, Xallar holstered his blaster with frustration. "I could've sworn I just saw one of them. A red-head."
"You idiot," Kreg grumbled. "I thought I told you to lay off the deathsticks while we're out on jobs. There's no way one of those kids could withstand the dose we gave them. Those Jedi will wake up days before their younglings ever will."
Angered by Kreg's accusation, Xallar gave Rech a hard, swift kick in the stomach before he spun around and returned to the bridge, swearing the entire way. "Are you calling me a liar? You're one to talk..."
With her heart pounding in her ears, Cordira watched Xallar leave, and as soon as he was up in his seat once more, she quickly reached over and pulled her father's lightsaber off his belt, grasping it tightly in her hands. She hoped she wouldn't have to use its silver blade, but now that she had it, she felt more like the defender her family and friends needed her to be. If only she had been able to stop Xallar and take that kick for her father...
Before either Xallar or Kreg could look back at her again, she sprinted back up the spiral stairs in earnest. She made no noise as she fluidly moved with the Force, a technique her mother had taught her years ago. She had completely hidden herself before, too, but that had been a long time ago, and she wasn't even entirely sure she had done it on purpose. It seemed to be more of a reflex than anything, an automatic response to such serious danger, and she almost couldn't believe that it had worked, especially against such a perceptive Balosar.
Tops and Kaydee met her at the top of the stairs where she had left them, but before they could say anything, she quietly shooed them to the other end of the deck where they wouldn't be overheard.
"Mistress Cordira, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Kaydee," Cordira answered breathlessly. "But...it was a close one. They know something's not right. They're going to be looking for us soon."
Tops beeped and whistled with cautious optimism, but it was quickly quieted by Kaydee. "We most certainly are not going to 'fight our way out,' Tops. I am not programmed for combat, and technically, neither are you."
Tops gave a short spurt of a comeback that Cordira assumed to be a sassy expletive. Kaydee took offense. "I am quite certain that the Paneau Royal Navy programs you astromechs for defense and maintenance only. You are not warriors by any means."
Inspired by Tops' tenacity, Cordira gripped her father's lightsaber hilt with purpose, formulating a plan. "We don't have to be warriors, Kaydee... We just have to be smarter than they are." She turned to the astromech. "Tops, can you fly the ship?"
Chirping affirmatively, Tops rolled a bit closer to her, ready for action. Cordira patted him on the dome as she nodded, and just as she looked to Kaydee, she heard two sets of footsteps headed their way down below.
"Kaydee, can you act?"
"Act? Mistress Cordira, I am afraid that I do not follow."
Without waiting, Cordira herded the protocol droid into the rear supply closet, knowing how short they were on time. "Pretend, Kaydee. Pretend that you're malfunctioning, that your optical sensors don't work when they turn you back on."
"Turn me back on? What do y-"
Cordira reached up and flipped the switch on the back of Kaydee's neck, immediately powering the droid down where she stood. As Cordira closed the door behind her before she and Tops returned to the deck, she was very certain she heard a few chirps and beeps that sounded like digital snickering.
It hadn't taken long for Horatio to find the local slavers he'd spotted earlier, and he had even gotten into what appeared to be their favorite cantina without anyone paying him a second glance. He preferred it that way; he could make the right impression on the right people in his own fashion. He just hoped the credits he had would last him long enough to pull it off.
He scanned the crowd as nonchalantly as he could, making a mental note of the various species represented before taking a seat at an open table near the back. Typical human, Weequay, and Zabrak spacers were scattered about, but it was the presence of a few Trandoshans and Zygerrians that confirmed to him that he'd found the right place. A number of Twi'lek dancers were entertaining select patrons about the room, and after taking it all in patiently for a few minutes, he got a waitress's attention, putting in his order for a bottle of the most expensive drink they offered. He watched her leave and disappear into a back room, and reflexively, his muscles tensed, preparing to make an escape if he needed to. Past experience reminded him just how quickly things could go south for him, and he needed to be ready.
The waitress eventually returned to him with his order, and again, no one seemed to have taken any interest in him, momentarily putting him at ease. Releasing his hand from the handle of his blaster, he took a careful swig of the brandy the waitress had poured for him, letting it sit atop his tongue before it slid down his throat and warmed his entire body from his core to his toes. It had been years since he had last tasted Corellian Reserve, and how ironic it was that the only occasion he had for such an exotic specialty was during an operation to find this Natiyr woman, someone he'd never met.
He still didn't understand the reason he felt motivated to help. The last thing he wanted to do was cross paths with his former partner, Mand Natiyr, again, and yet he had agreed to risk his life for her sister-in-law, possibly jeopardizing the entire reason he'd come to Ord Mantell in the first place. If anything, he should be on the hunt for the missing Rys'tihn ship and the children; that was the other promise he was supposed to fulfill...
Briefly lost in his memories, he snapped back to attention as a deep, aching pain in his chest stole his breath. He still fought a wet, aggravated cough every now and then, a remnant of his grievous injury sustained three years ago in a similar type of cantina. Thanks to the timely rescue and skillful care of an acquaintance, he had only a minimal scar to show for it, but the pain returned whenever he thought of her and the weeks they spent together, as though the two were permanently inclusive of each other. He couldn't afford to be distracted at the moment, though, so he took another drink to dull the pain and to get the waitress's attention again.
After ordering another bottle of Corellian Reserve and an equally expensive dinner, he had finally made the impression he'd intended: an amber-skinned Twi'lek and a blue-haired Zeltron made their way to his table and began a private dance just for him. He sat back and continued to sip his drink, withholding a larger grin as he enjoyed the show he was being treated to. As stealthily as he could, he stole a glance at the table the two dancers had come from, noticing the Zygerrians sudden fixation on him. They had to be the ones in charge, and they seemed wary. The Zeltron earned his attention once more as she leaned closely into him, lightly tracing the contours of his face with her fingertip as her hips continued to sway to the beat of the live music.
"So...do you like what you see?"
He could practically taste the pheromones effervescing off her bright pink skin. "Your bosses have...exquisite taste."
Her smile spread nearly ear to ear, hovering just centimeters from his face. "Rakos will be pleased to hear that. I could introduce you, Mister...?"
"Vasch," Horatio breathed, "Kasimir Vasch. And let Rakos know that I'd be interested in his...private collection. I have a rather lengthy trip to the Core ahead of me."
With another delicate brush of her fingers across his jaw, she rose from him and returned to the Zygerrians, leaving the Twi'lek to continue dancing for him alone. He feigned interest in her moves as best he could, watching the movement across the room instead whenever he could look that way. A handful of low-level henchmen left after a short conversation with the Zeltron, presumably to research his name. He easily made Rakos as he dismissed the Zeltron from his table, and Rakos studied him in return. Horatio decided to take a risk, raising his glass to Rakos with a distinct nod, hoping the slaver would appreciate his confidence. Before he could respond, though, his men returned, giving him their report with haste. Horatio felt his muscles tensing again, preparing for a rapid escape if needed...
Rakos and the other Zygerrians stood from their table and approached him, and though their pace was slow enough to not startle any of the other patrons, it wasn't fast enough to make Horatio think Rakos was altogether too eager for his business. It wasn't until the armed escort hung back a few steps that Horatio slowly let go of the breath he had been holding, watching Rakos step up to him without fear.
"Mr. Vasch," Rakos began with a low, rumbling voice, waving the Twi'lek dancer away, "pleased to meet you. I am - "
"Rakos," Horatio interjected with a grin, settling himself comfortably against his seat. "Your ladies informed me. Both of which are...fine specimens, let me tell you. And I also have to say, I definitely was not expecting such a sight when I landed here."
Rakos' mouth formed a tight line as he clasped his hands behind him. "Thank you. Yes, Aaltie and Naegaala are two of my best. I send them to show my appreciation to my better customers."
"Well, I just got here, and already I feel like I belong." He raised his glass again. "This is my kind of place after all."
"Tell me, Mr. Vasch, how goes spice mining on Malastare?"
So, Rakos didn't waste any time. The Zygerrian's gaze drilled into him, testing him, but Horatio didn't flinch, casually playing it off. "I really wouldn't know. I left that mine about, oh...seven years ago, and haven't looked back since. Been freelancing mostly. I do have some spice in my ship, if that's what you're after. Quality, high-grade, very potent."
Rakos' eyes narrowed as a long, silent moment hung between them, but eventually he grinned, shaking his head. "I'll pass."
"Come on," Horatio bargained, standing from his seat. "I feel like I owe you for those two exceptional dancers, and I don't like having debts. Let me get some for you, and you can resell it yourself, I won't even be bothered."
"Why don't we make a...different transaction," Rakos countered, "and we'll call it even?"
Having gotten exactly what he wanted, Horatio grinned, downing the rest of his brandy. "If you have more to show me, I have more credits to spend."