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"Friends of yours?" Obi-Wan ducked under a low hanging canopy at the edge of an abandoned courtyard.

Soran huffed, holding her weapon at the ready. "Not exactly. They were sent by Tan Endo."

"The Rodian gangster?"

"The very one."

A series of rhythmic metallic clanks brought any more questioning of Soran to a halt. The Mirialan leapt out from the cover and opened fire, striking a silver and black droid that marched into the open. Armed with two blasters and a head full of optical sensors, the droid targeted both Soran and Obi-Wan simultaneously causing both to dive for cover.

Soran returned fire, but her shots were wild and missed their target exploding against the high walls that surrounded them. The droid brought both weapons to bear against her.

"Where's your," before Obi-Wan could finish the question Soran was on the move. With an exasperated growl, he charged forward, deftly dodging and deflecting the salvo before cleaving through one outstretched arm, but the droid managed to turn and fire one last shot at the Jedi before losing it's head.

The threat neutralized, Obi-Wan deactivated his lightsaber and checked his singed cloak sleeve. He glanced in the direction Soran had been, but all he saw was her disappearing into a distant alleyway.

•••

Racing down the alley, Obi-Wan followed the flow of The Force, letting it guide him through the maze of passages and back corridors beyond the spaceport and deeper into the outskirts of the city. Certain he wasn't being followed, Obi-Wan stopped his pursuit and waited.

Not trouble—or Soran—that Obi-Wan sensed. Far from it. He moved cautiously from one side of the alley to another. A heavy door, sitting askew on broken hinges, creaked softly as he pushed it back. A soft rustle of cloth from within the shadows inside.

"Stay back," came a growl from the unseen depths.

Obi-Wan held out his lightsaber and activated it, splashing the dingy interior with a blue glow. A shrouded form huddled in a corner shifted.

A small lemuroid bounded out between the Jedi and the figure. She bared her teeth, even as she retreated a step.

"What is it, Tik?" a small, muffled voice asked from the covers.

"He's a friend," Soran said from behind as she pushed she broken door closed and activated a small lamp. "He's come to help us."

Obi-Wan glanced over his shoulder at the Mirialan before deactivating his weapon and holstering it on his utility belt.

Soran smiled back, then focused her attention to a cloth pack and rooted through its contents.

The cloaked figure stirred, the hood falling away revealing a young Pantoran girl. Her yellow eyes were milky as her empty gaze stared toward a wall. "When are we going home?"

The Lurmen turned to look at Soran between bouts of careful scrutiny of Obi-Wan. "How long must we remain in this place? How much more are you going to charge to return her to her family?"

"It will cost you nothing more," Soran said. "It may not be home, but this is a far cry from that hole I retrieved you two from."

"A prison is still a prison," Tik said before going to the girl's side and offering her a comforting presence. "It is all right, Isana," Tik said with a soft chirp as she took the girl's thin hand.

Soran stepped close to the Jedi, her fingers roaming under the shelter of the Jedi's cloak. "Come on, Master Kenobi, don't tell me any of this surprises you." A look of surprise flitted across her tattooed features.

Credits jangled in a pouch liberated from the Jedi's belt by the woman. Obi-Wan firmly held her wrist. "Careful," he said and pulled the pouch free of her hold, securing it back in its place.

The woman shrugged. "A girl can try." She turned and retrieved a scanner from the pack. Nodding toward the girl, Soran said, "Her name is Isana Echan." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Her father is the head of Egoway Mining. Unfortunately, he has a bit of gambling problem and got into debt with old Tan and refused to pay."

"And the gangster kidnapped his daughter." It was hardly a new method of getting payment. Obi-Wan had served on several such recovery missions involving family of politicians caught in the same trap. The Jedi nodded in understanding. "That explains the bounty hunters."

"Tan sent his pet Ferro Bast among others."

Obi-Wan thought of the red masked figure from earlier who had been aggressively negotiating with the Sullustan. Glancing to the girl and the Lurmen, he shook his head. "I doubt Tan Enbo can recoup his costs recovering the girl with bounty hunters. This is about his pride."

"Let's just hope that's the only thing they are here for," Soran said. "Otherwise, if they are after the other bit of information, things are going to get very dicey for you Jedi."

"Oh?"

Looking up from the scanner, Soran began to explain, "While I was retrieving that package-"

Tik barked. "Bite your tongue, mercenary."

Soran frowned. "Let's just say, while I was working this job, I came across some curious information. Seems Tan is in league with the Separatists. So I cloned the data and thought the information might fetch a nice price with the Republic." She tipped the scanner toward the Jedi. "The platform looks clear."

Obi-Wan leaned back against the wall. "How can you be certain?"

"I can't, but the mouse droid has been keeping tabs on the joint while I've been waiting for you."

•••

Soran moved ahead and paused at a corner. She motioned a halt as she looked out onto the platform. Leaning against the wall, she reviewed the scanner information.

Lingering in the shadows, Obi-Wan followed Soran's lead and waited. He shifted slightly, trying not to disturb the young Pantoran he held. Her thin arms draped over his cloaked shoulder.

"Is everything all right, Master Jedi?" she asked.

"Nothing to concern yourself with, my dear. You'll be on your way home soon enough," Obi-wan said. He shifted his gaze to the Lurmen who sniffed at the air. The being sense what he—

Blaster bolts lit up the dimly lit storage area sending Soran backwards as she returned fire. "The Bothan!"

Obi-Wan turn to shield the girl from the flair of bolts slamming into cargo crates stacked near the walls. "Tik," he said to the Lurmen as he slid the girl to the ground. The Lurmen was at the girl's side the instant the Jedi moved toward the open. His lightsaber burst to life as he entered the onslaught. Deflected bolts sent the Bothan from the tavern diving for cover.

Spying the wreck still waiting on the platform with it's damaged engine, the Jedi reached out through The Force and activated the loading ramp. Figures moved at the edge of his vision, fleeing the scene as they ducked past his own shuttle sitting nearby.

Hydraulics groaned as the ramp began to lower, clanging and banging all the way. Before the end of the landing touched the pad an object bounced down the slanted surface. Reacting on instinct and with a flick of his wrist, Obi-Wan flung it across the open deck toward where the Bothan had ducked. The concussive force of the explosion sent the Jedi sprawling across the deck, his lightsaber skittering across the metal plating. As he reached for it, a blaster bolt narrowly missed his outstretched hand. Rolling away, he caught sight of a large, armored figure at the foot of the lowered ramp.

"You again," Obi-Wan said as he bounded away from the bounty hunter's attacks.

"I should have known Jedi scum would be involved," Ferro Bast snarled from behind the red mask.

Obi-Wan was on his feet. His ears were ringing. A quick glance about, but his lightsaber was unseen. Blaster bolts set him on the move. He bounded off a stack of burning crates and dodged the onslaught. His boot connected with the helmeted head sending the hunter tumbling backwards.

Ferro hit the ground in motion. A bolero was loosed and slammed into the Jedi's ankles sending Obi-Wan toppling forward, slamming into the unforgiving surface, and knocking the breath out of him.

Heavy boots thudded against the metal plating as the Ferro closed in. Obi-Wan lay panting. "I imagined that Jedi were a lot tougher," the filtered voice hissed. The hunter aimed the blaster muzzled at the Jedi's head. "I hear the Separatists pay well for Jedi. Dead or alive."

"Depends on who is paying," Obi-Wan said as he opened his eyes and made a half-hearted attempt to rise up on his knees. Behind him the sounds of engines firing brought a small smile.

Ferro Bast was in motion, opening fire on the fleeing Republic shuttle as it launched from the landing pad. A moment passed before the bounty hunter realized his mistake. The hum of a lightsaber filled the void left by the departing craft as Ferro Bast slowly turned around.

Obi-Wan smiled. "Forget something?"

•••

"You're late."

Anakin's admonishment was followed by a burst of whistles and electronic squeals as the R2 unit next to him joined in.

"Forgive me," Obi-Wan said, before offering a shallow bow as he walked into the communication center aboard the Resolute. "I had to find alternate transport."

Anakin's appearance was ghostly on the far side of the console, behind a holographic recording of the Selis battlefront, but it could not hide the smile that lit the younger Jedi's face.

The man standing next to Anakin wasn't nearly as amused. Mace Windu raised a brow. "You lost another shuttle?"

"Oh, it will turn up eventually." Obi-Wan had made Soran promise to leave it somewhere easy to find.

Mace sighed. "I fear Skywalker's influence has rubbed off on you."

Obi-Wan politely ignored the remark and recovered the datachip from his utility belt. After a few moments, holographic images and information on the Separatist spies appeared above the circular console. He briefed his comrades on how the data was acquired.

"This is most unsettling," Mace said as he studied the information.

With Artoo at his heels, Anakin circled around the console to face his former master. "And Soran Hath? Any messages from her? Like an apology for last time?"

"I think the tavern owner is still waiting for one from you. As for Soran," he looked down at the astromech, "she tells Artoo hello."

End