Isabela wanted one thing and one thing only from Taris--a way to get the hell off it.
Oh, sure. It’s a beautiful planet, the travel brochures said. Visit the holographic art museums, they said. Tour all the historical penthouses in the Upper City, they said. You’ll have a lovely visit, they said.
Unless you were a twi’lek, of course. Then, you would see humans with signs telling citizens to purge the Upper City of the alien peril. They would leer at you and tell you to get back to the cantina, or shout and throw you back down to the Lower City. The whole place was a planet of oozing bantha shit slicked over with a thick layer of glitter. Sparkly, with nothing but dung underneath.
Taris was a shithole. Still Isabela could handle it. She’d always handled it.
Isabela could forgive Taris all its sins, save one: she couldn’t leave. And all because of the fucking Sith quarantine. Which no civilian ships were allowed to cross.
She saw a ship try it: likely some smuggling vessel, or some criminal looking to make a quick exit. Not five minutes later, there was a flash of lasers as the armada blew it to smithereens before it could make the jump to hyperspace.
Isabela sipped the last of her drink while she watched the pieces fall from the sky and right onto one of the Upper City penthouses.
The Sith were an authoritarian army that rarely loosened their grip once they had an iron fist around a system. She wasn’t foolish enough to wait around for them to lift the quarantine. She hadn’t meant to get stranded here, but she wasn’t about to stick around: she’d find a new ship, hire a temporary crew, and get the hell off.
But first, she’d need money.
With that in mind, she scanned the patrons of the Lower City club she’d sat herself down in. She’d always had an eye for wealth. Looking about was one of her greatest talents. So she had no trouble singling out the few in this rubbish heap who had a credit or two, and she narrowed her eyes on the one who was loose enough with his purse.
It was no trouble to snatch it and saunter off. Unfortunately, while the human wasn’t so astute as to notice, someone else did.
“Thief!” she heard. “Pickpocket!”
Everything happened too fast. The rich human’s slimy Gamorrean attacked, hurling what looked like a throwing axe almost too quickly for her to dodge. She whirled, drew her stunner, and blasted him straight in the face.
It wasn’t enough to take him down. But it was enough to stop him in his tracks so she could give him a proper kick in his teeth. With that, he staggered, giving her enough time to get away.
She was going to dive right into the crowd of raving patrons and get lost. It would have been a perfect getaway too. They were all too intoxicated to do much but flail about to the music, and it would be too difficult for any guard to pick out a single purple twi’lek in the crowd.
Unfortunately, right before she could get lost, she heard a snarl and felt herself ripped away by her wrist. Everything spun a moment and then she found herself looking up to see an angry wookie roaring at her. The wookiee she had seen acting as the bouncer earlier at the door.
“Get that thief out of here!” Isabela heard one of the other guards shout.
And so Isabela promptly was hurled out a back door into an alley, barely catching herself before she fell face first onto the dirty alley. Right as she regained her footing, the wookiee snatched her right off her feet and slammed her into the wall.
“Hrrgh,” Isabela wheezed, trying to recover from the force of that. “Woah there big guy. Buy me a drink, first.”
The wookiee snarled. Isabela tensed and got ready to deflect a claw to her face. Instead, she felt the purse she’d taken ripped out of her pocket.
“Hey, just a second there--”
Isabela felt herself lifted off her feet again, and suspected she was about to be thrown to the ground and potentially have her head bashed in, depending on how bad of a mood this fellow was in.
“Wait, wait, wait!” she said. “First--”
And that was all the distraction Isabela needed to quickly stab the wookiee’s hide with a tranquilizer. Just a small needle, easily hidden in one of her pouches, but it packed a punch big enough to take out three grown twi’lek. And apparently one wookiee.
Hopefully not enough to kill the guy, though. The last thing Isabela needed was another murder charge on her head.
Isabela got another roar as the wookiee dropped her. She clicked her tongue and stepped back, dusting of her clothes.
“I’ll be taking that back, then,” Isabela said, easily lifting the purse out of the wookiee’s giant claws. She checked its contents while her previous attacker passed out completely. She whistled. 500 credits. Not bad at all. Isabela looked over the wookiee's body and noticed they had their own bag slung around their shoulder.
No ship, no crew, no legal passage off planet--but Isabela would make it work. She always did.
With that thought, snatched the unconscious wookiee’s bag for good measure, and continued on her way.
The trouble with ships was that they needed crews. And the trouble with crews was that they were made of people. People who, in Isabela’s line of work, would and could stab you in the back for an extra credit. Like her last crew had. Or like she’d done to the previous captain. Or the captain on the ship before that.
Getting backstabbed was an intrinsic risk in the piracy business, unfortunately.
Not that Isabela was concerned about that at the time. The first step was to figure out how to slip through the blockade. After that, she’d worry about a ship and crew.
So she found another Lower City cantina in an entirely different sector from the club she’d been kicked out of, and listened. Her ear for info was just about as good as her eye for a mark, so first it was only a matter of sitting, watching, and listening.
“--heard some pods crashed in the Undercity, too--”
“--had to have the droid shut down, shame--”
“--say that Brejik’s got something planned for the next swoop--”
“-- need to find a way off this place. We need to find Bastila. And you keep wasting time with these--”
Isabela tilted her head toward the last conversation. In the corner of her eye, she saw the speaker: a human man who looked like he hadn’t slept in days, and his companion who Isabela couldn’t quite see.
“Look,” the man said tiredly. “The Upper City matches were one thing. But you have a duty to the Republic--”
The man, Carth, lowered his voice to a hiss. “We have things we need to be doing! This isn’t the time for you to get into some illegal deathmatch for money!”
Carth’s companion took a long slurp from their drink.
“Yeah, I’m gonna go do the deathmatch,” they said breezily. “See ya in an hour.”
The figure strode away. The human called Carth seemed to look even more tired for a second, leaning back in his seat for a second before getting up to follow.
Isabela considered chasing them down and following. That was, after all, a lead. A weak one, but something to start with. Other people who were trying to slip through the quarantine might have some more leads on how that could be done. They might even be willing to pool resources.
She was still considering it, when a different voice sang sweetly from the other side of the cantina.
“ You must know a way through, then. You’re a Sith.”
Isabela promptly forgot the last conversation and turned to the new voice. She couldn’t see who’d spoken so she had to get up and walk towards it. What she found was a tiny cathar staring up at a human man with large eyes.
“You must know lots of things, being in the army,” the cathar said. “Oh, don’t you want to buy me another drink?”
“Yes,” the man nodded furiously. “I want to buy you another drink. Bartender!”
Isabela leaned against the wall, raising her eyebrows at the scene playing out in front of her.
“Oh, I’m also very hungry,” the cathar said piteously, leaning a bit on his shoulder and giving him the saddest eyes. “It’s been so long since I’ve eaten anything.”
“A hot meal for the lady, as well!”
Isabela folded her arms, a smile tugging at her lips. The man--an off duty Sith soldier, it seemed--was completely wrapped around this sweet thing’s finger.
“Thank you so much, you’re so kind,” the cathar told him. “I’m new here so it’s lovely to meet a friendly soul. Everything here is so strange.”
“Of course, miss.”
The cathar woman babbled on, practically bouncing in her seat. “I’ve been in cities before, but Taris is just so massive. There’s so much city I don’t know how they get food here,” she said. “And there’s always something happening here. Why, just on the way over here I saw a body with a vibroblade right through its chest, just lying there like it was anything.”
Isabela watched the conversation continue, the cathar asking about the Sith’s duties, how the Sith were allowed in the Upper City, and what documents were needed to be able to get there.
“The Upper City just seems so pretty. I’d love to see it sometime. It’s a shame that I don’t have any papers to go up there.”
Isabela had to cover her hand with her mouth. This was just too good.
“Well… I could maybe…”
“Oh, how about we go outside a bit and walk around?” the cathar said, her ears twitching excitedly. “You want to go outside with me, don’t you?”
“I want to go outside with you.”
“Perfect!” her tail swirled, and she clapped her tiny clawlike hands together.
Isabela followed them out. For all her grifting talent, the cathar lady didn’t seem to notice she and her mark were being followed. They left, and Isabela waited thirty seconds before going out to find the two linking arms.
“I’m afraid I don’t actually know anything about the access codes to get through the quarantine,” the man was saying as Isabela peeped out. “The information is strictly prohibited. Only those going off planet get to know, and I have been stationed here for the next few months.”
The cathar’s expression fell. “That’s too bad,” she said forlornly, before immediately perking up. “So, you’ll help me see the Upper City?”
“I…” the man frowned. “I’m afraid we’re not supposed to let anyone pass through the different city levels except on Sith business.”
The cathar let out a disappointed mewl. “Oh that’s a shame. You’ll hand me your documents then?”
“I’ll hand you my documents then.”
And he did, right there as Isabela watched. Isabela had bumped heads, and other parts, with enough Jedi and similar folk to understand how this worked. To announce her presence, Isabela clapped loudly so that the couple turned to look at her.
“Now that’s something,” Isabela said delightedly. “You’re a real pro. Aren’t you, kitten?”
The cathar’s eyes met hers. Sometimes, when Isabela met someone, she would feel something go click in her head, the way it might when she’d just figured out her next brilliant escape plan, or when she’d figured out the perfect route through a particularly difficult asteroid field. When Isabela saw someone and felt that, then she knew immediately they were… something. Something unique, or important, or useful.
She felt it now.The cathar’s own eyes widened.
“I am,” she chirruped, before blinking a bit. “A pro at what?”
“I think we have similar goals,” Isabela told her. “And I think we could help each other out.”
“Mind your own business,” the man snapped at Isabela.
“Don’t be mean,” the cathar said. “Anyway, don’t you have to be going somewhere now?”
“You won’t think about this conversation or about me ever again,” the cathar said with a bit of a sad lilt. “In fact you’ll forget me completely.”
The man nodded and agreed cheerfully. “I will.”
“Oh, and I’m all out of credits,” the cathar said piteously. “Do you have any to spare before you go?”
Isabela snickered. The man struggled for a moment before he pulled out his wallet and handed all his credits over.
“Thank you so much,” the cathar chirped, waving as the man walked away. “Goodbye!”
“Well, you seem to be a woman of unique talents,” Isabela said, closing the distance between them. “What’s your name, sweet thing?”
The cathar’s ears perked as she drew closer. “I’m not much, really. I get by, you know? I just have a knack for--oh! My name, that’s right. I’m Merrill. Anyway, I just have a knack for finding the… best people.”
Merrill’s eyes swept over Isabela as she said that, and then her ears fell back shyly as though she noticed how obvious she’d been. Isabela grinned.
“Merrill,” she said, leaning against the wall. “What a lovely name for a lovely woman.”
“Lovely...” Merrill echoed dreamily. “Oh I mean, what were you saying about goals?”
“I heard you saying you want a way off this planet,” Isabela said. “It just so happens I’m after the same thing. Luckily, I know how to fly just about anything in the galaxy.”
“Oh, you’re a pilot!” Merrill said.
“A captain,” she said. “A smuggler. A pirate. A bit of this, a bit of that.”
“A pirate?” Merrill said. “That’s so amazing! I used to hear all about space pirates. Flying through deep space, taking ships and throwing the old crews out the airlock--how exciting. Have you ever thrown anyone out the airlock?”
Isabela laughed. “I try to make it so that the people I’d throw out it never step foot on my ship in the first place,” she told her.
“Once or twice,” Isabela admitted.
“Anyway, I’m going to need a crew,” she said. “And I’m confident I can find a way off the planet, with a bit of digging.”
“Do you have a ship?” Merrill asked.
Isabela thought of her old ship. She knew it was on this planet, in the possession of her old crew. Before she could take a second and answer, however, Merrill was already pushing.
“You want to tell me all about yourself,” she said. “And of course that includes telling me whether you have a ship and how you plan to get through the quarantine.”
Isabela immediately felt the pull. She stepped even closer towards Merrill, holding herself against the wall with one arm and leaning in close to Merrill’s face, and smiled.
“Of course. You are a treasure, aren’t you?” Isabela said sweetly. “Gifted and beautiful too.”
Merrill’s face and her tail drooped as her play failed, only to light back up at the compliment.
“Think you’d like to try a bit of the pirate life yourself?”
It was then that Isabela noticed the wookiee from before, far down at the end of the walkway. She froze.
“I think that that would be nice,” Merrill babbled on, not noticing Isabela’s reaction. “But I don’t know how long. I can’t--There’s something I need to do. I need to find my people. Ever since the Mandalorians drove us off our home planet… I mean, regardless, if you can help me get off Taris I would love to help you, it’s just that…”
The wookiee from before hadn’t noticed Isabela yet. Isabela kept her expression schooled into an easy smile.
“Although for some reason you didn’t want to explain how you’re planning to do that,” Merrill said. “Which, of course I’d have to hear what exactly you plan before I sign up. Um, that might have sounded too harsh, I mean--”
The wookiee had noticed her now. And recognized her, too. Immediately the wookiee started to charge in their direction, unbeknownst to Merrill.
Isabela shushed Merrill with a finger to her lips. She could see the shiver go through Merrill’s fur at the light touch. Isabela deftly slipped a tiny chip out of her pocket, and leaned in close to Merrill’s ear.
“See this? Plug it into a holopad and it’ll show you where my place is. That way, you can visit,” she said, keeping her voice smooth as she watched the wookie running down the pathway. “We’ll talk plans then.”
The wookiee was getting close enough that Isabela could hear the angry sounds. She wasn’t sure how Merrill hadn’t noticed. Perhaps the problem was that screaming or roaring was just background noise in this place.
Isabela took Merrill’s hand, placed the chip in her palm, and gently curled Merrill’s fingers around it. Merrill vibrated at the touch.
“Mrrrrrrrrrp!” was all she managed.
“I’ll be waiting for you, kitten,” Isabela said with a wink. “Unlike that guy from before, I won’t be forgetting about you.”
Then with as much poise and swagger as she could manage, Isabela strode back into the cantina.
The wookiee charged in after her a full minute afterwards.
Her unfortunate rendezvous with the wookiee bouncer from before ended explosively. In the worst possible way.
The wookiee chased her. Isabela ran, occasionally throwing bystanders in the wookiee’s path to slow them down. Eventually she found a speeder and hopped on to steal it, sweeping past her pursuer.
“You know, I don’t think your purse is worth all this effort!” Isabela shouted. “Like really, there were only, what, fifty credits?”
The wookiee responded by tackling her speeder. Somehow.
“Woah woah woah!” Isabela screeched. “You’re going get us both killed!”
The wookie somehow started to climb over the edge.
“Rrahhowo ahao rhraoaor!”
“I don’t understand wookiee, okay?” Isabela said. “I--wait, wait!”
The wookiee climbed aboard and lunged for the steering wheel. Isabela lurched.
“We are a thousand miles in the air above the ground right now!” Isabela said. “Can this--argh--I don’t even have the purse on me right now! Can this wait until--”
And then they crashed. Right into a building, as it happened. They went straight through some of the windows and then hit one of the building’s supportive pillars.
Isabela hopped out in time. The wookiee unfortunately, didn’t.
She felt her face slammed against the ground, and winced at some of the damage. The level of the building they had crashed into had been occupied, but everyone quickly screamed and ran out in a hurry. Isabela stood herself up, and let out a relieved breath as she realized she didn’t have any serious damage. Then, she looked at the wreckage.
The wookiee trashed under the rubble, breathing heavily. Some of the rubble had pierced their hide, and an alarming amount of blood pooled around them on the ground. Isabela blinked, and then scrunched her nose. There was a smell in the air that was rather familiar. She took a moment to puzzle out how exactly before she remembered it was the smell of a leak that was quickly about to turn into an explosion.
“Shit,” Isabela hissed.
She ran towards the wookiee. The bastard swiped at her.
“Woah!” she dodged. “Stop for one second!”
The wookiee swiped again, and got in a good hit across Isabela’s face. Well, probably not very good by wookiee standards, but it made Isabela reel.
“You are going to die in five minutes!” Isabela shouted, clutching her face. “Unless you let me help.”
The wookiee quieted at that, and then struggled to lift the rubble off. No use. Isabela grabbed the first thing nearby that was pole shaped, and used it to pry the heaviest bits off, and then brushed the rest away with her hand.
The smell got stronger, and Isabela started to hear a hiss from the engine.
“Come on,” she said. “Get up, big guy.”
The wookie grunted angrily and tried to stand, only to falter.
“Oh for the love of…”
Isabela took a step back, ready to turn and leave. She’d already done more than enough after all. But now that she’d done that much, it felt like a waste to just go and leave the asshole to die.
She cursed one more time and threw the wookiee’s arm over her shoulder. She staggered under the wookiee’s weight, struggling to support as much as possible so the wookiee could stand. Together, they stood up and hobbled away.
They barely got far enough before the speeder exploded.
Isabela wished that was the end of it. But no, then the giant lug had to faint on her. Likely from the blood that was dripping all over Isabela, too.
And then since the Lower City really was such shit that emergency services didn’t exist, she had to drag the wookie--an entire, fully grown wookiee--to yet another stolen vehicle. And then drive to the nearest clinic.
Isabela dragged the wookiee out to the doorstep, and then huffed as she saw the medic rushing over.
“Don’t worry, you hairy bastard,” she said, patting the unconscious wookie’s shoulder. “Medical technology these days is a marvel. They’ll have your idiotic brute self up to go chase purse snatchers in no time.”
Then, noticing a new pouch strapped to the wookiee’s chest, Isabela snatched it, and went on her way.