PDA

View Full Version : Old Soldiers Never Die



johnnyputrid
28 July 2007, 06:23 AM
This is something Ronin and myself have been working on for almost a year. Its gone through various incarnations over the months and more editing than I care to remember! But now it's finally finished and ready for all to read.

To see the tale as it was meant to be seen, please download the attached PDF, complete with nifty cover and a special treat at the end. You can also read the tale in its entirety right here, beginning with Post # 5.

We both hope you truly enjoy this tale of adventure. Cheers!

IzVenjari
29 July 2007, 07:15 PM
That is awesome jp and Ronin.

Beautifully presented, brilliantly written - love the snappy dialogue. Also love the character stats presented at the end.

Well done! :D

cjoey97
30 July 2007, 02:18 AM
Nice story

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:32 AM
Thanks for the kind words and responses! We're glad you are enjoying the story. It was a labor of love on our part (even though it took us almost a year to get out butts in gear writing the thing!).

And for those of you who aren't big on downloading or lack PDF readers or what-have-you, stay tuned for a bit while I post the tale in it's entirety here. It won't have the flash and pizzazz of the PDF, but its still the same words. If you want to see tthe nifty cover and the extra goodies at the end, you'll still have to check out the PDF.

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:36 AM
STAR WARS
Tales of the Cuy'val Dar

Old Soldiers Never Die

*****

(PART 1)

BOR’HELA JUNGLE, PLANET GAALA, 0811 hours (DAY ONE)

Governor Dorsh Fellia had it coming to him. And it did. A high-velocity 12.7mm ardanium slug, custom loaded with borless acid, struck him in the base of his skull as he stood by the side of his swimming pool, a pale green cocktail in an ornate glass held in his chubby fingers. After years of despotism and corruption, it seemed that Gaala, a populous Mid Rim world unallied with the Republic, had finally rid itself of its tyrannical leader. So it would seem.

As screams erupted from his two scantily clad Zeltron concubines, the near-headless corpse collapsed to its knees. The slug’s acid load rapidly began eating away at the vital areas of the governor’s brain and spine, ensuring that medical aid would be futile. Finally, as a pair of black-clad security guards rushed out onto the patio, the governor’s fat body pitched forward into the pool with a thunderous splash, the remains of the head detaching and sinking to the bottom of the crystalline waters.

Nearly a kilometer away, a burly Gran lowered his macrobinoculars from two of his three eyes and looked to the Nikto sniper at his side, who was already packing up his rifle, detaching the scope, folding the bipod, pocketing the brass from the chamber and loading a standard round.
“That’s two hundred grand in the bank,” Majo said cheerfully. “Care of the governor’s aide.”
Garloz Whitefeather glanced at his partner briefly as he prepared to move off. The Gran busied himself removing all traces of their presence, his three eyes keenly focused on his work. As far as they had been able to determine, they had been contracted by the planet’s assistant governor. The fact that the assistant governor was also his cousin made it a family affair, something that Garloz had become used to while working for various Hutt-backed mercenary outfits over the last two decades. Garloz and Majo had long ago accepted the fact that their work was neither good, nor moral. They simply collected their credits and moved on. Few of their targets would ever be missed anyway.

“We get to higher ground and you confirm the payment,” the Nikto said in his hoarse whisper, “or his relatives will be paying the undertaker for double funeral rites.” He set his rifle in a comfortable carrying position and moved away from the firing point in a low crouch, followed by the Gran spotter.

*****
CRUSHING FIST, BLACK FIST MOBILE HEADQUARTERS, 1054 hours
Diermon Aricoza reclined on a battered conform-lounger, a tall double-brandy clutched in his right hand. He sat calmly smoking a t’bac cigar, scanning the local news reports and generally feeling all of his fifty-three years. It had been a week since his last contract and the boredom was beginning to toll on him. The constant messages from his ex-wives demanding child support credits weren’t helping his mood very much either. With six children to feed and put through school, Aricoza needed money soon. It wouldn’t be long before a veritable sea of bounty hunters began dogging his heels.

He heard the clunking of boots on the deck plates behind him and knew without a doubt it was Jesper Ovrii. The leader of the Black Fist mercenaries was a fellow veteran of Corellian Defense Force service and the two had served together on more than a few tours in years past. Aricoza never really cared for the man, but he was a competent soldier and a natural leader. He didn’t have any problems working for Jesper, but he knew whatever he wanted was probably going to involve a lot more danger than he cared for.

Jesper stood right behind Aricoza, tapping his foot impatiently. The commander of the Black Fist was not a patient man, but he usually gave the older human a wider berth than he did now. Jesper knew that his hand-to-hand skills were no match for Aricoza’s, but he also knew that Aricoza wouldn’t harm an old comrade. But that didn’t stop Jesper from being thoroughly annoyed with him.
“You can’t just sit there and drink, you old di’kut.”
“Sure I can,” Aricoza replied bitterly. “I’m getting pretty good at it too.”
“Look, I just got a holo from the assistant governor of Gaala. They’ve got a contract out that pays good. Really good.”
“So why don’t you do it? Or give it to one of them karking newbies we picked up in Seswenna?”
“This one’s hot. 200,000 credits to take out a sniper who just shot up the planetary governor this morning. I doubt any of the newbies could handle this.”
“I don’t karking care about no snipers. And I don’t need the money.”
“The twelve hells you don’t. I’ve seen your debt record, you know. Pretty soon one of your ex-wives is gonna sic someone like Jango Fett on your tail, and then you’re through. Take the job, Diermon. You need the money more than anyone.”

Aricoza finally turned to face his employer. The years had not been kind to Aricoza, but he rarely thought about his appearance. Beneath the close-cropped grey hair and extensive collection of battle scars was a sharp-featured man some considered to be pleasantly handsome. But the look on his face right now was anything but pleasant. He knew that he needed the money, probably more than any other mercenary in the organization. But he was tired. Aricoza had spent nearly all of the last five years working, scouting for the company and performing contract hits. He was sick of the life and wanted out, although that would require a substantial amount of money, which he didn’t have. Every red credit of his pay went towards eliminating his debts and at the rate he was going, he’d die long before he was even halfway close to freeing himself from his financial chains.
“Alright youse karking bastard, I’ll take the damn job.”
“That’s better. Don’t worry Diermon, you’ll love this one.
“Who’s the target? Some snot-nosed punk trying to work his way up the ranks?”
“No, this guy is a pro. Not much on him, but what we do have is scary. A Nikto by the name of Garloz Whitefeather. Ever heard of him?”
Aricoza thought for a second. He’d worked with more than his share of snipers in his day, but never any Nikto. “Nope, never heard of the bastard.”
“The slug that killed Governor Fellia was filled with borless acid. Only one guy uses slugs like that.”
“This Whitefeather guy?”
”Yeah, a real piece of work he is. He’s taken down lots of targets in the past couple of years, most of ‘em high-profile. Once made a clean kill from three kilometers.”
“Great. And youse want me and my pistol to take on some karking freak who can plug me from halfway across the planet? What, did I suddenly sprout a dunce cap from my head?”
“You’re a tracker. Track him.”
“Track him, right. Like it’s gonna be that damned simple. And what’s to keep him from trackin’ me? And how do youse know he’s still there? He could be long gone by now.”
“No, the Gaala authorities found his ship and impounded it. They’ve got all three spaceports on lock-down and the hit was done way out in the jungle.”
“What was a governor doin’ out in the bush? Huntin’?”
“Fellia has, or rather had, a private retreat out there. The sniper got him walking to the pool.”
“Nice. Can’t wait to meet this fella.”
“I suggest taking out his spotter first. Whitefeather usually uses a Gran.”
“Oh, so now its two guys I gotta take out? This just keeps getting better and frelling better.”
“You done worse before. Remember Nal Hutta?”
“That was different. Hutt’s can’t shoot three karking kilometers. And youse had two squads backing me up.”
“So get in close. That’s what you do best, right?”
“When I get back, if I get back, youse are buying the brandy this time.”
“For an old di’kut like you, anytime. Now get packed. I counted on you taking this job, so we’re already approaching planetary orbit. You’ve gotta leave in twenty minutes.”

****
GAALA SPACEPORT THREE, GAALA, 1250 hours
Aricoza stood at the edge of the landing strip facing the steaming jungle ahead. It was already local afternoon and the temperature had soared drastically. Gaala was a hot and humid world, covered in dense jungle and sprawling forests. He’d never even heard of the planet before this morning, and he already wanted to wipe the place from his memory. Jungles were never his favored terrain, but at least he had enough experience in them to pack plenty of water. He’d also had the foresight to bring along some odorless insect repellent. He had heard that certain Nikto were capable of tracking by scent. He didn’t want to be caught with his pants down because the bad guy had been tracking him by his bug spray.

Most of the spaceport crowd ignored him as he trekked across the landing strip laden in his new fatigues and heavy rucksack. Hunters and survivalists were common sights on Gaala and another lone figure walking into the jungle was cause for little concern. All the better for him to stealthily insert into the bush. But there was a flip side to that credit. If it was this easy for him to go in, how easy would it be for someone to come out? Granted, the security at Gaala Spaceport Three was impressive, but trying to find one single Nikto, who was probably a master of camouflaging himself, was going to be difficult. Already the authorities had rounded up several dozen of the aliens, but with no luck so far. This Whitefeather character was going to be a tough hunt.

Aricoza had quickly downloaded aerial maps of this particular section of the jungle, and was fairly certain he could make it to the ex-governor’s retreat in good time. From there he should be able to track the sniper as he made his exit. But the sniper had at least a three or four hour head start going for him, so Aricoza was going to be forced to keep a steady pace on his way to the retreat. And with several liters of water burdening him, he knew his knees were going to take a serious beating. But the prospect of becoming 200,000 credits richer was a damn good motivator.

*****
As the human warrior prepared to plunge into the jungle, the Nikto and Gran climbed out of it, to the peak of a nameless mountain after putting a few angles, rivers and valleys between them and the governor’s holiday home. Both were sweating heavily, the Gran with a canteen to his lips as they neared the edge of the jungle. They were just ten meters to the rocky top of the mountain and from there a clear line to Gaala Spaceport Three, landing pad seven, and their transport. And from there a link to their secure Muunilinst account.

Garloz sniffed as Majo put the canteen away at his belt. “That was just water, right Majo? You wouldn’t be drinking on the job again, would you?” He let more than a little irritation creep into his whisper.
The Gran nervously wiped his mouth with his fatigue sleeve, drew his datapad and commpack and began crawling toward the top of the mountain. Garloz followed on his knees and elbows five meters behind, shaking his head slowly and keeping his eyes on the sky. He had no doubt that the late governor’s bodyguards would be combing the jungle with all manner of tracking beasts by now. He and his bovine partner had to keep ahead of them and also keep an eye out for air patrols. All the way back to the city the jungle canopy would keep them hidden from flyovers; even relatively sophisticated sensors wouldn’t be able to identify them in the thick tertiary jungle. And the pair had had plenty of practice at escape and evasion when it came to trackers on foot with beasts. The key was to keep a cool head. Simply fleeing in one direction made it child’s play for the enemy to track you. You had to put some angles in your path, get into a river and come out a hundred meters upstream so any beasts tracking you by scent would have to cast up and down the opposite river bank wasting time. Sometimes you even had to leave the river on the same side you entered, double back on yourself, and set ambushes on your own tail. But being up here on this mountain top, Garloz felt exposed.

Majo got to work with his gear, connecting cables, unfolding a small array and pointing it in the general direction of the starport. Garloz knew that if he got his scope out he could probably make out their ship on its pad, but then who would be on watching their backs? The Gran was a great spotter; after all he had three eyes. But in addition to his occasional drinking, he was also very focused on his work when it came to gear, at the expense of being aware of his surroundings. Thus Garloz found himself with his eyes on the sky and the tree line, ears focused for the sound of repulsors or other engines. He heard nothing.

*****
GAALA SPACEPORT THREE, PAD SEVEN, 1359 hours
Four soldiers clad in black fatigues, blast vests, helmets and soft-soled boots, advanced on an old, but heavily modified YT-1250, the Solstice. Four other similarly-clad troopers covered them from a commandeered luggage speeder. All traffic in the area had been suspended and the port staff withdrawn to a safe distance. The entry team was tasked with breaking into the ship and planting a series of explosive charges aboard. Catching the assassin who had murdered the governor was going to be a difficult task, so it had been decided to get him in an ambush as he made to flee the planet.
Approaching the ship’s hatch, the security team’s tech removed the lock panel with a speed-driver and set to work slicing his way in while the other three stacked on the opposite side of the hatch. The slicer got the lock on his second try and with an affirmative ping, the hatch split in half, the bottom swinging down to form steps up into the unlit interior. Swinging his helmet’s enhancement monocle into place over his right eye, the team’s squad leader led the way into the ship, the whole operation carried out silently and efficiently with crisp hand signals. The leader went in and left, toward the ship’s prow and bridge. The second man went right and aft, the third man following the leader with the tech bringing up the rear. All four stalked through the craft with speed, weapons up and ready to blast any hostiles they found.
“Lounge, clear!”
“Cargo hold, clear!”
“Engineering, clear!”
“Cabins, clear!”
Then the squad leader reached the cockpit and his visored face was bathed in a green glow from the single active screen. It seemed to be displaying banking records.

*****
“Fierfek!” Majo cursed, hammering the rocky ground with a fist. “We’ve been stiffed, the account’s empty! Mother of a Hutt!”
Garloz’s cold black eyes left the sky long enough to silence the Gran’s cursing with a stare.
“And if you keep screaming, we’ll be both dead and credit-less.” In truth the Nikto was just as furious as his partner, but he didn’t want to risk being caught until he’d had a chance to teach a lesson to whoever had betrayed them. He took a deep breath and prepared to crawl back into the jungle when suddenly Majo erupted in foul language yet again.
As he spun about to face his partner once more he noticed a flash in his peripheral vision. The starport.
“I just lost the connection to the Solstice,” Majo started explaining. Then Garloz saw it too, a cloud of smoke rising from the direction of the city…and the starport.
Cursing under his breath, Garloz silently wondered why it always seemed he had to do things the hard way.

*****
Aricoza turned as he saw the smoke cloud rising off in the distance. He’d made good time in his trek towards the now-deceased governor’s retreat, but he knew he was still behind schedule. It was risky, but he figured a quick comm to the Black Fist ship orbiting above might be worthwhile at this point. Retrieving his comlink, he punched in the secure code.
“Aricoza to Crushing Fist.”
“This is Crushing Fist, go ahead Diermon.”
“What in the frelling kark is going on Jesper? I’m seeing smoke comin’ up from the ‘port?”
“We’re scanning the local freqs now, hold on. Alright, looks like the local cops tried to storm your target’s ship. They set a booby trap on board, but the thing went off accidentally and killed a couple of security guards. I guess your man is gonna need a new ride home.”
“Well if I can sees it, so can he. Now he knows his out is blown.”
“That shouldn’t change anything. He’s still gotta come your way. There’s no other spaceport within walking distance.”
“This is just great. Anything else happening there?”
“Nah, nothing you need to worry about. Now stay off the damn comm and get back to work, you old di’kut.”
“Roger, Aricoza out, you frelling grub-worm.”

Feeling thoroughly frustrated, Aricoza continued through the thick jungle, growing more and more irritated by the second. He faced a deadly sniper, who the advantage of camouflage and range, and without a doubt his quarry knew that things had gone south for him. A sniper on the run was dangerous prey, and Aricoza wasn’t sure just how he was going to take the man down.

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:38 AM
(PART 2)

An hour later, Aricoza stepped out of the jungle and emerged in the backyard of the hidden retreat. He had practically run all the way here, but he had no time for rest. Plucking a canteen from his belt, he drank deeply as he made his way towards the pool, the scene of the murder. The retreat itself, though lavishly decorated, was rather small and poorly constructed, and nearly dwarfed by the police cruiser parked in a small clearing close by. Fortunately, the planet’s security officials were too busy with politics and paperwork to accomplish any sort of real investigation into the death of even their own governor. There were a few forensic specialists and police inspectors milling about, but none seemed too concerned with the situation. The late governor must not have been a popular man, Aricoza thought. As he passed a makeshift checkpoint, he held out his contract license and was allowed to pass. Apparently bounty hunters and assassins were much more commonplace on Gaala than on most of the worlds he’d been to.

Pushing aside a young Bothan investigator, he glared down at the headless body floating in the pool. The Bothan noticed the assassin’s contract affixed to the old warrior’s vest and simply shrugged, making a thumb and finger pistol motion with his hand.
“Happens a lot around here,” the young alien said.
“What, murder?” Aricoza replied.
“Yeah. No one is really gonna miss this guy. Crooked as they come.”
“Youse know much about Mr. No Head over there?”
“About as much as anyone. Planetary governor, crooked politician, total scum. He took a lot of bribes and stirred up a lot trouble with the Hutts. Heard he was trying to get some of their action.”
“Hmm. Probably why he was fragged. Youse fellas just gonna leave him floating like that?” Aricoza was slightly shocked that the body hadn’t even been recovered yet.
“No rush is there? His head was blown off by a high-powered rifle slug. Not like we can get prints off of him or anything.”
“Good point. Nice talkin’ with youse. I gotta go kill me a sniper now.”
“Good luck with that.”

Aricoza made his way back towards the jungle path he’d made for himself, spending over an hour trying to pick up some sort of trail to follow. His progress was interrupted when he caught a glimpse of something high off in the distance. He could have sworn for a second he’d seen the flash of spotting scope, or maybe a pair of macrobinoculars. His gut told him that this deep in the jungle, unless you had a high-powered comm system, you’d have to get to high ground to get a signal. His own comlink had been intermittent for the last forty minutes. He had a feeling that his prey had just made a mistake. Consulting his datapad, he quickly determined the best position to grab a clean comm signal from and oriented himself in that direction. As he figured, it was directly where he had seen the flash. So youse needed to get a signal out for somethin’. Well now I knows where youse is, I just need catch up to youse. Finishing off a canteen in a single gulp, he replaced it and readjusted his pack. Both of his shoulders were already sore from humping the heavy rucksack, but he pressed on. After all, what was a little bit of pain compared to a 200,000 credit payoff?

The next few hours were hell on the old warrior. The intense heat and humidity of the jungle wreaked havoc on Aricoza’s body, sapping the energy from his very bones. He still felt no closer to catching up to the Nikto sniper and he was running low on drinkable water. Still he persevered on, driven by sheer willpower alone. Though his senses were still not fully attuned to the alien jungle, he felt something in the back of his mind that told him he was going in the right direction. It may have been his innate survival instincts or simply a trick of the shadows, but a few times during the long afternoon he felt another presence in the bush.

As the day slowly turned into night, Aricoza prepared himself for a long evening. He came equipped with night-vision equipment, but he wasn’t planning on relying on any technology during the hunt. His eyes soon adjusted to the dim light and his ears were quick to pick up sounds that didn’t fit the normal patterns of the jungle. Nighttime provided the best cover, and he knew the Nikto would be playing by the same rules. He couldn’t afford much rest, but a short breather would do him some good. He found a suitable tree and leaned back against it, his pack cushioning him somewhat. It was then that he spotted the first signs of something other than jungle beasts on the ground nearby. He moved in for closer look and nearly doubled over from surprise. It was a quarter of a boot print. A single, unmistakable mark. There were few species that could make that kind of impression and only one came to his mind. There was a Gran somewhere ahead. Either fortune was on Aricoza’s side this evening, or the enemy spotter was something less than competent. Aricoza didn’t care which one it was at this point.

The boot marks’ direction indicated no clear path, but it did at least give Aricoza some orientation. Using the thick foliage as cover, he quietly made his own path along an imagined line of travel and picked his way on. After thirty agonizingly slow minutes, he struck gold. There he was, a lone Gran, bedecked in camo fatigues and dragging a thick hunk of brush along the ground, wiping his tracks clean. Aricoza dropped to the ground as silently as he could, squinting his eyes to make out details in the darkness. He sniffed the air cautiously and was surprised to pick up the aroma of synthehol coming from the Gran. So Whitefeather’s spotter was a drunk. The revelation sent warm currents of energy back into Aricoza’s tired body and the sluggishness he’d been experiencing quickly faded away. The spotter had made a fatal error in leaving that single boot print, and Aricoza decided to make the most of the opportunity. Rolling over on his side, he extracted his pistol and combat knife, being careful to avoid making the slightest noise unsheathing his weapons. He moved into a short crouch and stepped lightly off the makeshift path, curving around to a flanking position. He hoped to get the drop on the spotter before Whitefeather realized what was going on. The Nikto couldn’t be too far ahead now.

Years of field experience allowed Aricoza to move without sound as he slowly crept around to the spotter’s right. The Gran seemed intensely focused on his task, all three eyes on the ground at his feet. He never heard the old human behind him, and Aricoza gave him no chance to scream out as his right hand cupped the alien’s mouth. His combat knife slipped under the spotter’s chin, nicking the sensitive skin there. The Gran wisely dropped his branch and raised his hands high and away.

“Evenin’, three-eyes. Nice job on the cover up, except youse missed a footprint back there. Youse probably shouldn’t drink on the job neither.”
The Gran made no move to speak, but Aricoza could feel the fear coming from the alien. He leaned in close to his captive’s ear and could easily smell the alcoholic fumes on his breath.
“Nice and quiet out here, ain’t it? Makes it tough to sneak up on people, but looks like youse was a little busy there, huh? Youse can speak if youse want to.”
The Gran was slow to respond, wary of the knife at his throat. This human could kill him in heartbeat if he chose to, but there was little reason to not speak.
“What do want?”
“Yer partner, dead.”
“He’s too good to be caught. You’re wasting your time.”
“Maybe so. But I reckon I ought to chance it anyways. What’s yer name, son?”
“Majo.”
“Majo, huh? Nice to meet ya. I’m Diermon.”
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
“Then this’ll be easy then, won’t it?”
“Do your worst, human.”
“First I need to knows what yer partner is up to.”
”I don’t have to say a thing.”
“No, youse don’t, do youse? But if youse do, I promise to kill youse quick and clean.”
“And if I don’t talk?”
“Bleedin’ out on the jungle floor ain’t a pretty way to go. But its yer choice.”
Majo sighed deeply. He was karked and he knew it. If this human didn’t kill him, he knew Garloz certainly would. Garloz had little tolerance for failure.
“What do want to know?”
Aricoza could tell the alien was nervous. Sweat was beading down the creature’s eyestalks and he could feel him shuddering slightly. He readjusted his grip on the knife and pushed a bit deeper, drawing a slow trickle of blood from the Gran’s neck.
“All I want to know is where Whitefeather is heading. Tell me that and youse go out fast, no sufferin’. Believe me when I says I can make youse suffer.”
“He’s...”
“He’s what?”
All three of Majo’s eyes widened. “He’s close by!”
Aricoza froze. He knew right then that Whitefeather had turned back to check on the Gran’s absence. Perhaps he wasn’t as silent as he had thought, or perhaps the sniper was simply more attuned to the sounds of the jungle than he was. Aricoza’s danger sense began to peak. He felt an invisible marker forming on his forehead and realized that the sniper had a bead on him. It was pure instinct that caused him to twist just a millisecond before the crack of a large-bore slug rifle boomed through the jungle night. The slug found itself buried in Majo’s skull, bursting it into a dozen bloody fragments. Aricoza quickly released his prisoner and dove for the nearest tree he could find. He was shaking uncontrollably, the way he always did when death was close at hand. He expected another slug to follow, but instead he heard the sound of laughter. It was quiet and steady, but laughter unmistakably. The sniper had him cornered. Raising his weapon, he risked a few shots in the direction he’d heard the laughter. He didn’t think the sniper would be hit, but at least it would keep his head down for a moment. Aricoza had no choice but to wait.

*****
That night was probably the longest night of Aricoza’s life. He’d spent more than his fair share of time stalking other men in the darkness, but this was an entirely different situation. The Nikto sniper knew he was being followed and he knew that his follower was good. That made the sniper extra cautious, and even more dangerous. Aricoza spent several long hours hunched beside the tree, wary of making even the slightest move. He hadn’t even taken the time to clean off the blood and bone fragments of the Gran’s skull from his uniform. But eventually his senses told him the sniper had moved on. Most likely the sniper thought Aricoza was scouting ahead of a main force. How many men would have the guts to hunt down a deadly killer by themselves? Aricoza could only think of a handful of men who would do such a thing, and he numbered himself high among that short list.

Risking a peek around his hiding spot, Aricoza detected nothing out of the ordinary in the immediate area, and rolled onto his belly, carefully crawling a few meters out onto the jungle floor. He waited a few moments, and then gingerly stuck his head up. There was nothing except the sounds of the jungle night. He silently cursed himself for laying up this long and decided it was high time to get back on the Nikto’s trail. He estimated that, even crawling, the sniper could have easily covered a kilometer or two over the last few hours. It was more than enough to throw even a seasoned tracker off of the trail, but Aricoza was no ordinary tracker. Even in the darkness, he could see signs of disturbances, slight indentations in the brush where a man-sized being had crawled through. Subtle signs in the dirt gave away a direction of travel and Aricoza was quick to pick up on them. He moved out slowly but steadily, gaining confidence with each passing meter that he was heading the right way.

*****
Garloz's night was moderately more comfortable. Once he felt he had cleared a good distance he had got up into a crouch to move faster, his eyes on the ground; carefully picking his way across the jungle floor, desperate to leave as little sign as possible...though he was now sure that the lone soldier tracking him was highly skilled. No matter how much he ran, how many times he doubled back or tried to throw him off, soon Garloz would need to take him down. He carefully slung his rifle over his back, checked his pistol in its holster and extracted a pair of climbing claws from his belt kit.

One thing Garloz had learned early in his career was that a soldier's life was seldom a comfortable one; sat hunched in a muddy ditch, more often than not surrounded by the corpses of friends while the enemy did their best to reunite you with them. Thus when he could, he took the extra effort to make things more comfortable. In the holodramas, the hero would always lay his head down at night and fell fast asleep, no matter where he was, and wake up perfectly coiffed and ready for another day of shooting his heavy repeater from the hip. It wasn't like that in the Real World and particularly in the jungle.

First there was the noise; it was almost never quiet. Though Gaala's cities were densely populated, they had nothing on its jungles when it came to wildlife. And while the cities mostly died down at night, the jungle was awake and screeching, hissing, singing and chirping all twenty two hours of the Gaalan day. Then there were the bites. Lying on the jungle floor made you a midnight snack for all manner of predators. Perhaps a big cat would stalk nearby, or maybe a ten-meter constrictor would coil itself around you. But more often than not, you'd wake up to find you'd been the main course for a whole hive of insects. With their larvae now growing under your epidermis or in your ear if you were particularly unlucky. And then there were infections, spores, poison, bacteria and venom. Garloz briefly recalled the time he'd spent on a job on Kashyyyk but quickly pushed that particular nightmare to the back of his mind.

Thus he found himself sat in the fork formed by two branches a good three meters above the jungle floor. He'd had the sense to move on past his chosen tree, leaving tracks into denser vegetation, then backtrack and climb the opposite side of the tree to where he expected the human to come from. The climbing claws were designed to leave marks in the tree bark resembling those of a big feline. But still, Garloz didn't want to attract attention to his hiding place. He laid out his camo net beneath him as a makeshift hammock and wrapped the rest around himself for concealment. With his rifle in his hands and braced atop one of the branches to keep it out of sight, he slowly looked around.

You couldn't see far in the jungle in daytime, and it was currently the middle of the night, but he never rested without planning at least two moves ahead. He remembered a river to the east on his map, running roughly east-west; that would be choice number one and a good way out of the jungle. Option two was a clearing at the base of a slight incline to the north. That would be his fall-back ambush point. Finally he took a round from the top of a spare magazine and drew his knife. He didn't know the tracker's name so he began to carve the Nikto character for 'human' into the bullet in the dim light. After finishing his mark, he set his chrono and allowed himself the luxury of an hour's slumber.

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:41 AM
(PART 3)

BOR’HELA JUNGLE, GAALA, 0732 hours (DAY TWO)
Aricoza had done well during the night. Though he was hampered by the lack of light and the thick jungle foliage, he had managed to travel several kilometers over rough terrain. He was tired, but motivated as he sensed he was nearing his prey. He had spent the majority of his life in the wilds, learning to stalk and hunt other beings as efficiently as a seasoned predator. But this hunt was testing him in ways he had never before been tested. There were few trackers in the galaxy as good as he was, and this Nikto was one of those few. Signs were few and far between, forcing Aricoza to react on instinct instead of training. He forced himself to ignore obvious signs, instead focusing on the traces that were not there. It was difficult, almost as if he was reverse-engineering his many years of field experience. What he didn’t see suddenly became more important than what he did see.

The death of the sniper’s partner had forced caution upon the Nikto. No longer was his primary concern escape. It was now a matter of survival. Aricoza had cornered the sniper in a sense, and now his enemy was alert and wary. Carefully stepping, he made his way up a slight incline, crouching low to keep his profile slim. It was always dangerous heading uphill when facing an enemy proficient with a rifle, the higher ground giving him a distinct advantage. But Aricoza had no choice in the matter. He was positive the Nikto had come this way and he didn’t have the time to circle around and search for a safer path.

Suddenly Aricoza stopped dead in his tracks. He crouched motionless, his eyes scanning, his ears listening for any sounds of disturbance. His survival sense flared to life, freezing the scene around him in perfect clarity. He was being watched. He knew if he made any movement he would be instantly spotted, if he hadn’t been already. There was no decent cover available to dive into, just thin tree trunks and low bushes with broad leaves that offered no protection from a high-powered slug rifle. He had entered a somewhat open section of the jungle and the morning sun began to trickle down as it rose above the horizon. Unfortunately for Aricoza, his weapons were not held at the ready. His danger sense had flared up as he was pushing aside some foliage, leaving his center mass exposed and his arms wide. For several minutes he held his motionless position, praying that the jungle sounds would return to normal. He heard nothing, not even the previously ever-present chirping of the planet’s native insects.

The next sound Aricoza did hear was deafening. The crack of the rifle caused his nerves to twitch slightly, his balance shifting off to the left. It saved his life. The rifle slug careened into his shoulder, spinning him around in a complete circle before dropping him to the ground hard. He felt his rucksack fall to the ground as the bullet tore through the strap and ripped out a chunk of flesh on his upper shoulder. Muffling a scream, he clamped his hand over his mouth and quickly executed a series of blind combat rolls, hoping to find something to hide behind while he regained his composure.

It wasn’t the first time Aricoza had been shot before, but the sheer agony welling up in his arm made it clear that each time was a brand new experience. Even though the bullet had gone straight through, it hit with tremendous force and caused a great deal of pain. Continuing his rolls, he slammed into a nearby tree and quickly scrambled around it, attempting to put as much of his body behind cover as possible. Blood flowed freely from his wound, soaking his right sleeve and numbing his arm. Switching his pistol to his left hand, he fired blindly around the tree, putting several bolts in varied directions. He knew he wouldn’t hit anything, but he had a plan.

He figured the sniper would have hustled away after failing to kill his target, and Aricoza needed a direction. The jungle had become a living thing after the ruckus, with growls and squawks drowning out its previous steady calm. While a trained stalker could easily flow with the natural rhythms of the jungle, once disturbed it would take some time to return to normal. Aricoza counted on that fact as he crept forth from his hiding spot and moved to the next closest tree. A fleeing sniper should cause enough disturbances to make his direction of travel known, no matter how stealthily he moved. Aricoza had only to focus on those disturbances and he would have his prey sooner or later.

It was some time before Aricoza realized that he was following the wrong path. This sniper was good, nearly as good as he was. The Nikto had used the jungle’s own patterns against him, going opposite from the direction of the shot. He must have been far more attuned to his surroundings than Aricoza had thought possible. He had tracked the subtle sounds of wildlife disturbance for twenty minutes, but his path had led him farther away from the elusive sniper. There were no footprints, crawl marks or anything indicating a humanoid had been this way. Frustrated, Aricoza sat for a moment and pulled his aid kit from his belt pouch. With his rucksack’s strap blown to pieces, Aricoza had no practical way to carry it, so he had abandoned the bag where it lay. He had retrieved some essential gear, but his fully stocked medical kit was too much of a burden to carry.

The small aid kit was minimal and had only a few analgesic sprays and bandages. Patching his wound as best as he could, he shook his arm to get the blood flowing back and switched his weapon back to its rightful hand. He wished he’d taken more time to learn to shoot left-handed, but at least now there was enough feeling in his arm to hold his pistol. Whether he could hit anything with it or not was another question. Gulping down a painkiller tablet, he pressed onwards, moving in a circular pattern to see if he could spot any signs of his prey.

After nearly a full day of relentless searching, Aricoza felt no closer to gaining any ground on his hunt. With his water nearly spent and not having eaten anything substantial for two days, his strength was beginning to drain. He spotted the planet’s primary hanging low above the horizon and he realized it was almost nightfall. Hanging his head to scratch an insect bite, he spied something on the ground a meter or two ahead of him. Ignoring the stinging bite for now, he moved in for a closer look. How he spotted the item he couldn’t even imagine. A small green thread lay in the middle of a slight clearing. He stooped to retrieve the thread and held it aloft in the waning light. Of all the karking….well don’t this just take it all. The thread was unmistakably from a pair of camouflage fatigues, much like his own. It must have come loose as the Nikto was crawling this way. Aricoza simply stood in the clearing, nearly dumbfounded. While he thought he’d been traveling in the wrong direction all day, it turns out he was on the correct course after all. He promised himself that once he returned from this mission, he would track down a Jedi and have him run whatever tests they ran to recruit their members. He was simply having too much luck to not have the Force on his side.

Moving at a faster pace, Aricoza trotted through the evening and well into the night. Now that he had a direction of travel, he hoped he could end this unceasing quest to kill the deadly sniper. Though he moved quickly, he still maintained his discipline and padded his footfalls. His right arm, now becoming very sore was going to be his biggest problem. His unique fighting style required the use of both of his arms, and with his pistol arm injured, he was sure he would lose a battle at range. So he needed to get close, close enough to bring his knife and his formidable unarmed combat skills to bear. If he could flank the sniper on his off side, he could lengthen the amount of time his enemy had to bring his rifle around. Aricoza was sure in a hand-to-hand fight, he would emerge as the victor. He’d already had the proof that against a slug rifle, he was outmatched. Only a reflexive twitch had caused the sniper’s bullet to miss his heart. He knew he couldn’t count on that kind of luck to save him again.

Emerging from a thick cluster of trees and bushes, Aricoza arrived at a large clearing approximately fifty meters square. This was it, he thought, the perfect ambush spot. He hadn’t seen another clearing this size throughout his entire trek in the sweltering jungle. If his enemy had truly come this way, he would see its merits as well. Circling around to his left, he scouted the entire perimeter of the clearing, but caught no sign of his adversary. He checked the tree line, but saw nothing suitable to climb. If he had some climbing gear perhaps he could get up into the upper canopy, but that wasn’t an option for him.

Returning to his point of origin, he found a small but thick tree to use for cover and planted himself behind it. He would simply have to wait for his prey. His body was beginning to falter and his joints were becoming sore. Changing the bandage on his shoulder, he allowed himself a few moments to properly clean the wound and quaff another painkiller. The wound was no doubt becoming infected, but at least the pain drugs took the bite off and allowed him some use of his arm. He would need it soon enough. Here he waited patiently throughout the rest of the long night. Sleep beckoned for him, but his will was stronger than his body’s needs. He forced himself to remain alert and ready.

*****
BOR’HELA JUNGLE, GAALA, 0557 hours (DAY THREE)
As the morning light began to break, he felt a presence ahead, rousing him from a brief slumber. He silently cursed at himself for drifting off, but he felt much more aware after his respite. His senses rapidly re-adjusted themselves to his surroundings. He felt more than saw, but his feeling was true. There was another being nearby and he knew without a doubt it was his foe. It was obvious who had been tracked during this hunt. The Nikto had probably followed his scent and circled around him, waiting for him go to ground. Aricoza had been carefully maneuvered into this exact spot. He was quite impressed. In all his years, no being had ever successfully tracked him so well. He figured the sniper would lie patiently and wait for Aricoza to make a move. It was exactly what he was doing after all. He’d heard tales of snipers lying motionless for days, keeping their scope trained perfectly on a particular spot, waiting for their target to fall into the crosshairs.

As the two soldiers lay opposite from each other, Aricoza decided to try and draw his enemy into conversation. It was amazing what enemies would talk about during a standoff, and he saw no reason not to. Perhaps the mere sound of his voice would break the sniper’s concentration, though he doubted it. His enemy was a professional just like him. He wouldn’t fall for a simple trick like that. But seeing no harm, he spoke aloud.
“Hey there, Mr. Sniper. I know youse’re waitin’ on me and I’m waitin’ on youse. So before one of us blows the other away, now might be a good time fer a chat? Whaddya say?”
Hearing no reply from the Nikto, Aricoza pressed on.
“So, youse’re Whitefeather, huh? Can’t say I ever heard of youse, but youse sure are good. I’m Aricoza, but I betcha youse never heard o’ me, either. Just so youse knows this has been one of my toughest hunts. Maybe my toughest ever. Never met too many folks who could track me down, but youse sure did a bang-up job. If I was wearin’ a hat, I’d take it off to youse.”

Hearing nothing from the Nikto, Aricoza decided it wasn’t worth the effort after all. Safely behind his cover, he drained the last of his water and crouched low on his heels. They were at a stalemate. If either being made a move, the other would gain the advantage. Aricoza’s arm was feeling better thanks to the painkillers, and he felt he could put a reasonably well-aimed shot at his opponent. But he still felt hampered by the distance between the two. Most of his fights occurred at point blank range. He estimated about forty meters between the two, though without actually looking, it could be more. He didn’t feel comfortable at this range. He needed to get closer, but how?

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:43 AM
(PART 4)

Aricoza sat tensed on his haunches, sweat dripping down his back. The jungle heat was oppressive, and his knees were becoming more and more stiffened with each passing minute. At fifty-three, Aricoza was in better shape than most men half his age, but the years had not been kind to the old veteran’s battered body. He couldn’t count the number of conflicts he’d been involved in over the years, though his aching joints seemed to remember every one of them with vivid clarity. Regardless of his health, a body could only take so much of a beating before it started to break down. Aricoza was quite sure that his body was doing so.

He remained motionless in position, keeping his breathing in check and sucking up the pain as best as he could. His camouflage fatigues blended in well with the environment, and he had years of field experience on his side. So he waited, crouched against a tree, pistol held high and ready, just waiting for his opponent to peek his head out. He could feel the presence of the sniper, just forty or so meters away. It was a game, a deadly version of cat and mouse in which there could only be one survivor. And Aricoza was determined that it was going to be himself that survived this encounter. For three long days he and his enemy had stalked each other through the dense, steamy jungles of this Force-forsaken world. And now it had come to this, two opponents, both trained in the art of killing other men, just meters apart, both aware of each other’s presence, but neither willing to make the first move. He wasn’t sure of his foe’s age, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep this up for much longer. It all came down to a simple test of willpower and endurance. He just hoped that he had enough of both to make it out of this mess alive.

A sudden twig snap make Aricoza’s heart pound within his chest. His finely honed senses told him that his opponent hadn’t moved, so it was either some jungle creature on the prowl, or there was a new player on the field. Great, just what I needed. Some karking poacher looking for a trophy. He kept tense, his right hand holding his blaster, his left gripping his serrated combat knife. He knew that at this distance, the sniper had the advantage. He needed to get close, where his martial skills would serve him best, but there was too much open ground to cross. He hoped that whatever poor sap that had just wandered along had the sense to keep moving, but he couldn’t count on it. The sound of moist footfalls seemed to echo throughout the jungle as something moved closer to his position.

The footsteps became louder and he finally got a glance at the source: a poacher, just as he thought. Loud, clumsy and as smelly as a Hutt latrine. The poacher’s eyes seemed to be scanning, looking for some prey to take down, but his weapon was held high, enough so that it would be difficult to bring to bear quickly. Aricoza tried to still his breathing, but he could see the steam of his breath rising in the humid jungle air. Then their eyes locked, Aricoza’s piercing grays and the poacher’s dull browns. He knew the man had spotted him. The lurching hunter moved forward cautiously, still unsure of what he was seeing. Aricoza’s fatigues and face paint blended in perfectly with the tree, but his blaster and knife stood out like a sore thumb.

The poacher was just a meter away when his mouth began to open in exclamation. Aricoza had no choice now, he had to react. With blinding speed the old soldier reached out and hooked the muzzle of his pistol on the poacher’s sleeve, dragging him in close. His left hand shot out, knife aiming for the throat. He twisted the poacher’s sleeve, whipping him about, his right foot finding the man’s knee and kicking violently. In less than a second the poacher was held immobile, Aricoza’s knife at his throat.

“Keep yer mouth shut,” he whispered in the poacher’s ear. “If youse move, youse die, simple as that. Got it?”
The poacher nodded his head slowly to confirm. His eyes were wide with terror as the razor-sharp knife pressed in against his flesh. He trembled slightly and Aricoza winced as the man relieved himself in his pants.
”Listen up and listen real good, youse karking monkey-lizard. There’s a bad guy out there and I aim to kill him. Youse can either help me or get yerself buried. I need youse to flap your wings and start screaming the second I release youse. I need a distraction and youse is it. He won’t be aiming for you, so don’t worry about getting shot. Just run like hell and make as much karking noise as yer fat lungs will let youse. We clear?”

The poacher nodded again, his eyes still glazed in fear. Aricoza wasn’t sure this was a practical tactic, but at this point he had no other options. His legs had become numb, the tingling making him move erratically and his back was sore from crouching for such a length of time. He needed to finish this before his body decided to quit on him. Giving his makeshift captive a violent shove forward, he prepared himself to charge. Kark it all, I really am getting too old for this crap.

*****
Whitefeather waited patiently, trying to slow his breathing. After fleeing through the jungle for days, occasionally getting a good glimpse of the enemy stalking him, the two warriors had made a subconscious decision to finish things right here. He had managed to get two rounds off, but had only succeeded in killing his own spotter and knocking the man’s backpack off. Garloz had decided to stop his flight and he felt his nemesis close by.

At first he thought he was being stalked by an enemy platoon. Dorsh Fellia wasn’t the first planetary governor to have fallen in Garloz’ crosshairs and the response was usually a planet-wide lockdown, followed by one of two options. First, the government would send the entire military out to search for the killer. Garloz had always managed to escape and evade large forces, using his innate camouflage skills to avoid pursuit. The second and more dangerous option involved the planet’s special forces setting themselves on his tail. He didn’t always manage a clean getaway in those cases, and he had the scars to prove it. But this time it was different. As the chase wore on, Garloz had become more and more certain that he was being stalked by a single man. And yet he couldn’t escape.

The Nikto heard the crack of damp wood close by, off to his two o’clock. It couldn’t be his enemy; he was sure this particular human was still behind one of the brown-barked trees directly ahead of him. He couldn’t have moved in the time it took the sniper to blink, could he? Garloz promised himself to invest in some of those new optic injections before his next job. Shouldering his rifle, the reassuring smell of oil and cordite filled his nostrils. He swept the area where he had heard the sound, having removed his rifle’s fragile scope as soon as he had dropped the governor. The rifle’s basic iron sights gave him a better view in the densely packed terrain.

It was then that the Nikto spotted the source of the noise. A human, dressed for a day out in the bush, his nets, traps, oversized holonetwork survival knife and an imitation BlasTech sporting rifle giving him away as a poacher. Garloz released some of the pressure he’d been holding on his trigger but kept the rifle pointed at the man. And then suddenly, in a blur, the poacher vanished behind a tree. One moment he was stalking toward it, the next he had disappeared. Garloz decided he was definitely investing in those no-blink injections as soon as he got out of this jungle. It had to be him, the one who had been shadowing him for these last three days. For some reason he had taken the poacher. Perhaps his enemy had thought the poacher was Garloz himself. The Nikto sniper smiled to himself.

Waiting for his enemy to make a move, Whitefeather carefully slid his rifle’s bolt lever back and removed the round. His eyes never leaving the tree, he performed the whole operation automatically, sliding the bullet back into his bandolier and carefully chambering an armor-piercing duranium-tipped slug. He wanted to make sure that this time, his nemesis went down and stayed that way. The armor-piercing slug would make sure of that.

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:44 AM
(PART 5)

Aricoza’s captive, now released, did just what he was told. He ran and screamed as loud as he could. His fear was genuine and his enthusiasm was impressive. Unfortunately his balance was rather poor. The poacher ran headlong over a series of thick roots and tripped, falling hard enough to knock himself out. Aricoza didn’t bother watching. Instead he summoned every scrap of energy within his tired body and surged forward. Ducking and weaving, he moved from tree to tree, crossing large amounts of open ground as fast as he possibly could. Twenty meters from his foe, he saw the Nikto for the first time. His head was raised and his eyes moved away from the fleeing poacher and shifted to the old soldier barreling towards him. Aricoza poured on as much speed as he could muster.

At ten meters, the slugthrower rifle began to move in Aricoza’s direction. Unlike a holodrama, time did not slow down for Aricoza. He saw everything as a blur and focused all of his attention on the Nikto’s weapon. He could tell the rifle was large, but its details were fuzzy. He did know that at this range, a slug from the weapon would put a rather large hole in him. So he kept moving, drawing on reserves of endurance he didn’t even know he possessed.

At five meters, the rifle grew in his sight. He could make out the large barrel, and the smell of cleaning oil and cordite began to fill his nose. At two meters the shot rang out, threatening to tear his eardrums apart. Aricoza twisted his body to the left, the slug just barely skimming his shoulder, drawing only a small line of blood. He could feel the sheer power of the round as it passed him, but he remained steadfast in his determination. Closing the gap to just a single meter, Aricoza batted aside the rifle with his right hand. The blow was tremendous, enough to rip the weapon from the sniper’s grasp. Raw adrenaline pumped through Aricoza’s body as he drew within knife range of his opponent.

But Garloz Whitefeather was no stranger to close combat. With blinding speed he twirled around, drawing his blaster in one smooth motion and bringing the weapon up. At the same instant Aricoza saw the move and brought his own pistol to bear. Both combatants fired simultaneously.
Nothing happened.

The empty click of each man’s trigger echoed loudly. Both men looked dumbly at their pistols, but quickly recovered and fired again. With no result. Holding his weapon slightly sideways, Aricoza saw traces of rot on the weapon’s power pack. The humid jungle had eroded the casing and mold had wormed its way inside the energy clip. The blaster was useless now, its power cell corrupted by the jungle itself. Tossing aside his weapon, he shifted his grip on his knife, bringing the blade to bear on the Nikto. Whitefeather in turn withdrew a large hunting knife, its razor sharp blade catching a glint from the daylight peeking through the canopy above.

The two circled around each other, each completely focused and prepared. Garloz took a few measured slashes at Aricoza, causing the older man to back away slightly. The Nikto smiled coldly, his black eyes showing no hint of fear. Aricoza countered with a few thrusts of his own, keeping his opponent at bay. Aricoza knew the first rule of knife-fighting by heart: you always got cut. But he could tell that the Nikto wasn’t as skilled as he was. Perhaps the first rule might be broken today.

Lunging forward, Whitefeather thrust his blade towards Aricoza’s torso with astonishing speed. But the blow was poorly timed and Aricoza ducked away as the knife slashed by him. Taking advantage of his enemies’ miscalculation, he twisted around to Whitefeather’s flank. He could easily have cut the alien to shreds, but withheld, instead reaching out with his right hand to grab the sniper’s exposed wrist. With a firm grasp, he twisted Whitefeather’s wrist down, pinning his knife against the underside of his forearm. With his left hand, Aricoza whipped his own blade across the Nikto’s throat. Holding his enemies’ wrist firm, he pulled back with his knife hand and thrust a leg out, kicking the Nikto in the back of the knee. The see-saw motion caught the sniper completely off-guard. With a final pull, Aricoza brought the Nikto’s back into his chest, holding him in an effective hostage position. Aricoza’s knife dug into the tender flesh of Whitefeather’s neck, but he stayed his hand. He had the sniper immobilized; he could kill him at his leisure.

“Gotcha,” said Aricoza as he applied pressure on the Nikto’s wrist, causing him to drop his blade.
Something strange welled up in Aricoza, a feeling of deep respect for this alien sharpshooter. It was a rare thing for Aricoza to display courtesy to those he was about to kill, but he felt this one deserved it.
“I usually don’t do this, but I’m gonna give youse a chance to talk. So tell me, what….”

Aricoza was interrupted by a chirping sound coming from his comlink. He had thought the device had been fried by the jungle’s moisture, but apparently it was more resilient than his blaster. Dragging his captive’s arm down, he jabbed the comlink’s activation switch, being careful to keep a firm grip on the Nikto’s wrist.
“Crushing Fist to Aricoza, come in Aricoza.”
“Go ahead Jesper, but make it quick. I’m kind busy here.”
“Have you got him yet, Diermon?”
“Yeah, he’s right here, but he ain’t too happy.”
“He’s still alive?”
“For the moment. What’s going on?”
“We’ve had a problem with the credit transfer. Half was supposed to be delivered to your account, which I’ve been monitoring.”
“So what’s the problem? The credits shown up yet?”
“No, that’s the problem. We’ve tried to contact the assistant governor, but no luck. Sorry Diermon, but it looks like you’ve been stiffed.”
“That dirty son of a murglak…”
Whitefeather, despite the blade at his throat, began chuckling to himself. Aricoza tightened the pressure on the Nikto’s wrist, but the alien’s laughter only grew steadier. He did his best to ignore it.
“As of right now, your contract is worthless without payment,” Jesper continued.
“We’ll see about that. You got a location on that frelling bastard?”
“He should be at the governor’s mansion, but they’ve refused all comms.”
“Well they ain’t gonna refuse mine.”
“Be careful Diermon; don’t go stirring up a gnasp’s nest down there. He’s likely to have half the planet’s militia guarding him.”
“Youse just get a shuttle down here to extract me. I’ll worry about that sorry sod.”
“What about Whitefeather, you gonna kill him?”
“Not much point without the credits is there?”
“Diermon….”
“Just send the karking shuttle, willya? I got bigger fish to fry now.”
“Shuttle’s on its way. You just keep yourself in one piece until it gets there.”
“Will do, Aricoza out.”

Ignoring the still-active comlink, Aricoza regarded his captive. He could kill the sniper and collect the credits from the corpse of the assistant governor. He could also let the Nikto go, but there was no telling what he would do. He could certainly use some help taking out the scumbag who had swindled him, but he wasn’t sure if he could trust Whitefeather. The man had lost his partner to him and had shot at him twice already. But Aricoza was a practical man.

“Tell youse what Whitefeather. I’ll betcha youse got stiffed with yer payment too. Youse know I could kill youse right here without a lick of trouble. And if I lets youse go, youse’ll probably snipe me later on when I ain’t expectin’ it. So let’s try somethin’ else. Howsabout we go and waste this fella and grab enough credits for the both of us? Then we can both be on our merry way. Old soldiers like us never die, we just get even. So whaddya say?”

*****
This old bastard was good. Garloz had never seen anyone move that fast, and especially not someone as old as this Aricoza. And his skill in close combat...
Garloz swallowed and the point of Aricoza's knife brushed the cartilage protrusion in his neck. He knew that he couldn't get a hand up to stop the blade fast enough. His mind went to other methods, perhaps reaching back and grabbing a handful of the human's manhood. Good enough if Garloz was in a sleeper hold with a bit of time to struggle, but no good here.
He could try and slam the back of his head into the man's face, but no good again, the old human had him off balance and Garloz's head was tight against the man's chest. No room to play with and it wouldn't stop that blade. It also ruled out slamming his hips back into the man's crotch. He had to admit, he was quite helpless.
That left the Nikto with but one choice...

"Deal," he said, nodding a fraction but making no other movement. They both knew that Aricoza was in charge of the situation. The knife assured that. When he was finally released, he slowly walked over to his rifle and retrieved it, checking it over carefully. It had been jarred badly when Aricoza knocked it from his hands and he'd need some time to recheck the alignment. He then retrieved his knife and sheathed it, then his blaster pistol, its power-pack clearly corroded by the jungle.
"Morellian," he muttered to himself with a nod. It was foolish of him to carry a blaster pistol on a mission like this. If he made it through this he promised to buy himself one of those nice, big Morellian slug pistols.

Aricoza had watched him all along, wary that the Nikto might try something, but it seemed he was more concerned with the condition of his weapons.
"So, how're we gonna do this?"
"You don't have another blaster? You're unarmed?" Garloz asked. Firstly because they needed to know what weapons they had at their disposal. Secondly, it would make betraying this human so much easier later.
Aricoza smiled and held up his serrated combat knife, to which Garloz shrugged, "My mistake."
"That’s a couple youse’ve made."
Garloz paused and changed track. "Our tight-fisted employer believes that you have killed me"
"So it seems."
"Does he know that you are in contact with...your comrades?" Just how many friends do you have, Aricoza? How many would come after me should I put a slug in your head when this is over, old man?

Aricoza could see what the alien was doing. The green bastard was trying to find out what their mutual enemy knew, pooling their intel...while at the same time finding out all he could about Aricoza. It almost made the old man chuckle.
"Chances are he don't know that I know I've been stiffed. That's what youse're gettin' at." A plan was forming in Aricoza's mind. He was pretty sure the Nikto had the same plan. And he wasn't sure he liked it.
"Arrange to collect your payment," Whitefeather stated simply.
It wasn't a good plan, or a particularly safe one from Aricoza's point of view. If the deputy governor, now most likely the governor himself, didn't have Aricoza shot as soon as he saw him, Garloz would probably do the deed as soon as this decidedly uneasy partnership had run its course. It was up to Aricoza to pick a meeting spot that would benefit them, hinder the deputy governor, and ensure Aricoza could make it away with his head intact.

But first the deputy governor needed to be told that the job had been successfully completed.
"You didn't happen to bring along my partner’s comm gear?" Garloz asked.
"No, some di'kut shot it off my back," Aricoza replied sarcastically. For a brief instant, Aricoza felt somewhat stupid. The thought of picking up the spotter’s gear had never occurred to him.
"That comlink of yours can reach orbit?" Garloz asked, another probe.
Enough games. "Let's get us up a rise, an' I'll get a signal to Gaala City," Aricoza replied.

Nodding an affirmative, Garloz ran a finger along his gnarled jaw in thought, and then strode toward the other side of the clearing, the direction Aricoza had come from. Soon he found the poacher, still unconscious. The man reeked of urine. Being a Nikto and thus having a heightened sense of smell could be a double-edged sword. He knelt and took the man's cheap rifle then popped the power pack out and inspected it.
"Looks clean," he observed and drew his blaster pistol to reload it.
"I'll take that," Aricoza interrupted. "Youse already got yerself a rifle, youse greedy green bastard."
Garloz tossed it to Aricoza, who checked it himself before loading it into his own sidearm.
"You realize what that means?" Garloz indicated the power pack.
"That he hasn't been in the karkin' jungle for three days. So his ride must be round somewheres, meaning we ain’t gotta hump it to the extraction point. And it means youse'll think twice about double-crossing me."
Garloz actually grinned.

It didn't take Aricoza long to follow the poacher's trail back to his vehicle: a cheap rental speeder bike. Aricoza hated speeders. He had ridden several over the course of his long career, but he favored his own two feet for transportation whenever he could. Neither was keen to take the pilot's position and have the other behind his back.
Garloz shrugged, "I can't pilot with my rifle over my back."
Muttering under his breath Aricoza swung a leg over the bike and began to power it up.

johnnyputrid
3 August 2007, 07:46 AM
(PART 6)

BOR’HELA JUNGLE, GAALA, 1049 hours
While Aricoza squatted in the clearing atop the high hill, Whitefeather waited nearby, rifle ready, keeping an eye out...and an ear on the man's conversation.
"This is Aricoza. Get me the deputy governor."
Garloz strained to hear the response but couldn't.
"Well, congratulate the frelling gravel maggot on his promotion and get his carcass on the line. Now."
Aricoza was forced to wait several moments for the reply.
“This is the governor speaking,” Aricoza noted the emphasis on the word governor. “I take it you are Mr. Aricoza, my hired assassin?”
"Job's done." Aricoza said after a moment's pause. "Where can we meet? I want my money, then I want off this rock."
Garloz watched the older soldier as he listened to their employer's reply. From his expression it was clear Aricoza didn't like what he was hearing.
The governor’s reply was terse. "Riverside port. Pier four. Tonight at 1930.”
“Governor, with all due respect, youse must be a karking di'kut." Any lingering doubts about the safety of the job vanished from Aricoza's mind. This suit was planning on stiffing him good and proper, and without a doubt, intending to slot him. Hearing the whine of the approaching extraction shuttle, Aricoza suddenly came up with a plan.
"I tells you what Mr. Governor sir, I gots a better idea..."

*****
GOVERNOR’S OFFICES, GAALA CITY, 1911 hours
"I got him," the Corellian announced, downing the proffered glass of water in one gulp, setting it on the table in the middle of the veranda. Out of the jungle and back in the city he was starting to feel the days in the wild, the gallons of sweat, insect bites, cuts, scrapes and dried blood. He could only guess what he smelled like to the well-dressed, newly-sworn-in young governor before him. He hadn’t stopped to change uniforms, barely pausing to even change the bandage on his wounded shoulder. Aricoza hoped that his stench would thoroughly soil the fancy decor of the young bureaucrat’s office.

The soft, pale skinned bureaucrat smiled with relief. The other two individuals with them on the balcony, personal bodyguards, shifted to a more relaxed posture. These fellas sure look like they want to karking slot me.
"I found the bastard, like I said. And he told me how youse most unprofessionally stiffed his green hide. And how youse was most likely to do the same to me."
The new governor’s eyes widened and his pupils closed to pinpoints. The two muscled bodyguards tensed and hands reached inside tailored suit jackets to holsters. Aricoza walked past them without concern.
"That's why he’s got youse in his sights. Right now." Moving in close, Aricoza punctuated the last two words with prods to the man's bony chest. The bodyguards immediately began scanning the surrounding rooftops while sweat beaded on the governor's forehead.

"Don't bother looking for him. That green bastard could slot you from the other side of the city," Aricoza said as he began to circle the man, also surreptitiously moving himself out of Garloz’s line of fire, and nearing the closest guard.
Finally the young governor summoned the nerve to speak. He laughed nervously.
"This balcony is ray shielded. And you're unarmed. If I choose not to pay, there's not a thing you can do about it." He even managed a smile.
Aricoza shook his head as he casually wandered toward the nearest guard, who stood by the balcony's edge. Ten floors up. The bodyguard, with a well-sculpted, chemically-enhanced muscular frame, smiled at the old soldier from behind his shades as Aricoza lit a cigar. The smell of the cigar’s pungent smoke wrinkled the man’s nose. He noticed the guard still had a hand inside his jacket. Fat lotta good that’s gonna do youse.
"Well, y'see," Aricoza began, returning the muscled goon’s smile, "youse clearly didn't read the forensics reports that Bothan investigator put together for youse. Yer uncle's place was protected by ray shields too. Didn't stop Whitefeather from putting a slug in the back of his head now, did it?"

The closest bodyguard began to draw his pistol, a nice shiny Merr-Sonn DeathHammer. Aricoza, with one quick step, was in front of the man, the gun arm still rising in front of him. The old soldier seized the man’s wrist and twisted it, hearing the bones shatter, and with a firm shove he sent the man screaming over the edge of the balcony. At the same time the head of second guard behind the governor exploded as Garloz took his first shot. Aricoza felt satisfied as he heard the wet slap of the guard’s body strike the permacrete below. Within three seconds, both guards had been dealt with. Professionally, Aricoza thought. He thought it was high time some professionalism was in order around this place.

This now left Aricoza and the now considerably less confident governor alone on the wide veranda. When Aricoza, his eyes never leaving the other, knelt to scoop up the dropped DeathHammer, the governor bolted for the door back into the building. As he reached for the door’s button it exploded in sparks. Garloz’ shot was precise and efficient, the lock completely destroyed, but leaving the door itself intact. This caused the man to stumble backwards, into Aricoza’s clutches. The old soldier stuck his pistol to the man’s temple and directed him back toward the table. He then smashed the empty water glass, selected the biggest shard, and held it to the quivering governor’s throat. He now had the man just where he wanted him: he could control his hostage with the makeshift blade and had the pistol trained on the door in case anyone did make it through. In the back of his mind he hoped the door would still open; it’d been too many decades since Aricoza had rappelled ten stories.

"Wh...what...what do you want?" the governor stammered as the rough broken glass tugged at his Adam’s apple.
"Ah, now why couldn’t things’ve went like this from the start, eh? Well, me and the Nikto, we is just humble soldiers. We just wants our pay for jobs well done," Aricoza said into the man’s ear. Apparently the pressures of office and the hiring of professional killers hadn’t left room in the governor’s schedule for cleaning his ear canal. It was like a candle shop in there.
"But you didn’t..." the man blurted out then stopped himself.
"Didn’t what? Slot your predecessor’s assassin?" Aricoza asked, "Very astute of youse. I can see why youse is the new head honcho. But youse see, I did find the guy who hired the assassin, didn’t I? Now that should be worth a little something, don’t youse think?" He applied more pressure on the man’s throat, just lightly breaking the skin. A shaving scar, nothing more, unless the governor went uncooperative again.
"You...you make a good point," the governor managed in a constrained voice.

The door then haltingly slid open and an aide flanked by two uniformed guards in blast vests with pistols drawn ran onto the veranda. They hadn’t taken two steps inside before one of the guards heads exploded in red mist, and the other two halted as Aricoza pointed his pistol at them. The second guard, apparently not paid enough for this sort of thing, quickly dropped his weapon and raised his hands high.
"Just some...negotiations, Hule," the governor said to the wide-eyed aide as confidently as he could. He even managed a smile. Slippery bastard, Aricoza thought and motioned with the pistol for the two men to step away from the door. He didn’t want them obstructing his view of the door in case there were more uninvited guests.
"So, two hundred thousand each, right?" Aricoza stated.
The governor gasped and began to protest.
"You must be....aaagh!" The man sputtered as the Corellian pressed the broken glass against his throat harder. "Okay, okay, how about two-fifty?" he squealed. Aricoza eased up on the pressure. The governor nodded towards his aide, still frozen in place.
“Arrange the transfer. Do it now!”
The aide, still petrified, removed his comlink and began the process.

After a tense minute’s wait Aricoza got confirmation of the transfer from Jesper aboard the Crushing Fist, to both his own account and the one Garloz had given him the number of. Now it was just a matter of getting off this dirtball.
"Nice doing business with ya,” Aricoza said, shoving the young governor forward, still training the DeathHammer on him. It was a good pistol with considerable punch, but this particular one was more for show than combat. It wasn’t his preferred BlasTech DL-18, though the Merr-Sonn weapon was more than sufficient for Aricoza’s needs at the moment.
"Youse just stay where youse is, until I calls from my comlink. If youse moves so much as a centimeter, or anyone tries to stop me, Gaala’s gonna hafta elect another governor tomorrow, understood?"
The man nodded quickly, keen to get the old Corellian and the Nikto sniper off his planet as soon as possible.

*****
CRUSHING FIST SHUTTLE, BOUND FOR NAR SHADDAA, 2213 (DAY FOUR)
Aricoza had managed to persuade Jesper to give the Nikto a lift to the Smuggler’s Moon. If anything, this confirmed his suspicions that Garloz worked either for the Hutts or one of their fixers. Besides, the Black Fist mercenaries always knew there was work to be had around Nar Shaddaa, so the trip would not be for nothing. Jesper had also grudgingly offered Garloz a job with the organization, but the Nikto had just shook his head and whispered that he had other obligations. He had then spent the rest of the journey in the shuttle’s cabin cleaning his rifle and gear. Aricoza had also spotted him carving something onto a bullet, though he couldn’t get close enough to read it, and it probably wasn’t in Basic anyway.

When the shuttle eventually touched down and several of the Black Fist’s crew headed off towards the entertainment district, Aricoza followed Garloz down the ramp, taking in the dirty star scrapers enshrouded in smog, a dark mirror-image of Corsucant. It had been several years since Aricoza had been here, and his last memories of the place made him want to leave as soon as possible. Conversely, Garloz seemed as if he had returned home. The Nikto appeared less tense than usual.

His rifle slung over his back, Garloz stopped at the bottom of the ramp and turned back to face the old Corellian. Aricoza returned his stare with equal measure.
“So,” Aricoza said.
“So,” replied the Nikto.
“Coupla contracts outstanding with the Hutts, then?”
“A few.”
“Well, if I’m ever in town....”
“A drink perhaps. Off the job, of course.”
“Right. We seen were that gets youse. No hard feelings about yer partner?”
“He was a drunk. He paid for his mistake.”
“Suppose so.”
The two warriors stood for a long moment in silence. The hostility that Aricoza had sensed from the Nikto had seemed have mostly disappeared. Perhaps he had earned the alien’s grudging respect after all. But Garloz was a difficult person to read. At the very least, Aricoza hoped the Nikto would at least wait a few years before plugging him.
“Is it true youse once nailed a guy from three kilometers?”
“Three and a half, actually.”
“Kark me. Well, if youse ever need a job or a spotter, youse got my number.”
“Maybe someday. Maybe not.”
“Does this mean I gotta start looking over my shoulder, then?”

Garloz slowly walked back up the ramp and held out his hand, palm up. Aricoza hesitated before putting out his hand and taking the object: a bullet on a short loop of leather cord. He rolled it in his hand and noticed the three strange characters roughly carved into it.
“Whats it say?”
“The first is Nikto for human,” Garloz explained in his husky voice. “It was to be the bullet I took your life with. It is yours now. The other two can be roughly translated as old soldier.”
Without a further word, Garloz turned and strode away into the depths of the Smuggler’s Moon.

THE END

The adventures of Aricoza and Whitefeather will continue...

cjoey97
20 August 2007, 11:43 PM
Awesome story, too bad it's the end

Ronin
21 August 2007, 05:39 AM
Well, it's not quite the end...
in my signature there's a link to a story called "One Shot" which features Garloz and Aricoza. The other stories feature clone commandoes trained by Garloz and Aricoza. I think I and JP are going to be working on more eventually too...

johnnyputrid
21 August 2007, 02:51 PM
There's more a-coming in the not-too-distant future. I'm plotting out the future adventures of Aricoza presently, though its gonna take some time to do the actual writing part, Now, if somebody would only pay me for my efforts, I'd write Aricoza and Garloz stories all day!:D

Jax Nova
7 September 2007, 01:46 PM
Hey, didn't have time to read it all but I loved what I read!

This is an excellent piece of work. *claps*

Ubiqtorate
7 September 2007, 03:56 PM
Hey, just downloaded and read the PDF, and I really enjoyed it! Thanks especially for putting the whole thing up in a compact, downloadable format. I like reading the stories, but reading them directly from the Holonet isn't always the most convenient for me. When I can get a great product in a great package, it makes me want to get my hands on more.

Ronin
7 September 2007, 04:13 PM
Thanks for the praise guys! :)
And thanks to JP for the presentation. Over the year or so we wrote it, the story got steadily bigger and bigger, so it seemed worth putting in a PDF, and Johnny did a real nice job on the presentation.

johnnyputrid
7 September 2007, 08:35 PM
Indeed, many thanks! The writing itself was a lot of fun, but the big payoff is when people say they enjoyed reading it. That makes all the long hours of editing and such all worthwhile.

Hopefully Ronin and myself can find the time to put together another Aricoza/Garloz tale and present it in the same manner.

Stormrider
15 September 2007, 06:36 PM
Just read the story and all I can say is wow. Very impressive stuff! You two really did a bang up job on this one. and I dearly hope you do another one. :)

Poe
21 September 2007, 08:33 PM
Originally posted by johnnyputrid
Hopefully Ronin and myself can find the time to put together another Aricoza/Garloz tale and present it in the same manner.
I hope so, too.

I've finally gotten around to reading this one. I quite enjoyed it. At a few points I found myself thinking about that '01 movie with Jude Law, Enemy at the Gates. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enemy_at_the_Gates) Obviously the stories are very different, but the hunting motif is probably what made me think of that movie.

Have either of you two seen that movie? I really only mention it because if not, you might like it.... Urban snipers hunting each other in WWII Stalingrad.

Anyway, nice work on Old Soldiers, inspired. :D

Ronin
21 September 2007, 11:45 PM
Yeah, I saw E@tG a few years back, good stuff.

JP is putting fingers-to-keyboard on the next story (between Old Soldiers and One Shot) and, time permitting, I'll be putting in some too! :)

Dro Koon of Dorin
5 October 2007, 04:36 PM
I downloaded the story almost three months ago, but hectic life kept me from reading it 'til just recently. Very nice work, men. Top notch.

Really looking forward to the next one!

:plokoon: